Academics is important to the college admissions committee, but it is not the only factor that will be considered in the admissions decision. You have to strive for excellence in ALL aspects of your high school experience. Beyond your coursework and the grades you achieve in classes is your extracurricular record. Your extracurricular record is probably the most significant non-academic factor that admissions will consider.
Why are extracurricular activities important to college admissions?
The admission committee’s primary goal through the selection process is to build a college community, comprised not only of bright academically-capable students but also of students who will bring passion and experience to activities on campus. Their evaluation of your activity resume serves two purposes. First, most applicants to highly selective schools are well qualified academically so one of the major determinants of admission would be what talents and interests they would bring to campus. Admission’s reps will use your special interests, skills, and talents as a selection tool to decide which academically qualified applicant will gain admittance. They seek students who will make the campus come alive with spirit and excitement beyond the walls of the classroom and labs. Secondly, admissions officers use your activity resume as a way to find future leaders, not only for campus activities, but also for positions in society after they graduate from college.
How are extracurricular activities evaluated?
Do Not be a dabbler in many activities. Be a contributor in several focused activities.
Do NOT make the big mistake of sending a laundry list of activities in as part of your college application. Too many students think that it is the number of activities they engage in which most impresses admissions officers, but this is far from the truth. The admissions committee will look closely at the breadth AND the depth of activities that you engage in. What they would like to see is a balance of involvement in several activities and a deep interest and drive to excel in a few. It is far more important to show evidence of the IMPACT you have made in the activities that interest you. The admissions committee will then compare the involvement and level of skill and expertise you have acquired with other students all over the country. For this reason alone, if there is an opportunity to attain any national recognition in an activity that you have engaged in, go for it! A national award will set you apart from the other applicants, and this is all part of the college admissions game!
How do I build a strong record of extracurricular involvement?
It is very important that you don’t wait until your senior year to get involved in school and community activities. It will be much too late by then to show evidence of depth of involvement. In fact, if you do wait this long, this delay will impact you negatively when your application is reviewed because it will indicate to the admissions committee a lack of genuine interest and motivation on your part.
You should start exploring different activities both in school and in the community during your freshman year. You don’t need to be a “jock” to have an interesting resume of activities. Are you really interested in the performing arts? Or journalism? Or are you more interested in politics? Perhaps you have a desire to help people and you find your greatest joy in service organizations. There is a wide range of activities beyond athletics, and it is so important to find your niche.
How do I make my extracurricular resume stand out?
Did you know that Harvard and other Ivy League colleges get hundreds of applicants who are class presidents, editors-in-chief, and captains of their varsity team? You can set yourself apart from all of these students by taking a different route to be unusual and eye-catching. For every activity there is the standard way of pursuing it and the unusual way. The non-standard way is what will make you stand out. Put yourself in the position of the admissions officer evaluating extracurricular activities: Would you rather read about a student who was interested in politics and chose to run for the class council for 3 years and then became student council president in his senior year, or would you find it more interesting to read about a student who volunteered in the office of a U.S. Senator during his freshman and sophomore years, then applied for and was selected to participate in the Student Page Program in Washington in his junior year, and returned to his high school in his senior year and set up a student campaign office in support of a political candidate?
You can also set yourself apart from others if you excel in two or more widely divergent fields of interest. An example of this type of student would be the varsity football captain who has composed a symphony and has been invited to conduct a symphony orchestra in its debut. Another example could be the science buff who has won first place in a state-wide poetry contest. You might be blessed with similar special talents. Don’t hide them! Be proud of your extraordinary abilities and showcase them.
Whichever strategy you choose to use, remember to balance your activities, increase your depth of involvement every year, and culminate your participation with some type of a leadership position in your senior year. Just by following this advice, you will build a strong profile of yourself to present to any admissions committee.