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When is an extracurricular good enough?

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By Tim Parros

Every student is different. They have different passions and are driven for different reasons. Some students don’t aspire to attend highly selective schools so they are not too worried about the activities that they are involved in outside of school. But even if the school is not selective these activities can be to key to being awarded merit (free) money from the school and set them apart from their classmates.

Students also have to balance many competing obligations, including rigorous course loads, standardized test prep, family obligations, and after-school jobs. They often don’t have much time for extracurricular activities. So with limited time, it is important to be involved in the right activities.

I am frequently asked, “what activities should my student do?” I would like to answer by breaking it down from the eyes of an admission counselor at a college!

Here are some things to consider regarding what actives to get involved in:

IS IT UNIQUE OR ORIGINAL?

Many students who participate in Key Club write for their school newspaper or are members of their school’s Robotics Team. As a result, while these activities can provide helpful evidence of your interests and involvement in your school community, they generally won’t let you stand out from the crowd of other students applying to the same college. BUT that doesn’t mean that you need to give up these activities, especially if they are important to you! What I encourage you to do is to ask yourself whether you could explore your interests by taking on more unique activities. Perhaps you could start a new service project to address a local issue or support an underserved community? Carry out an independent research project on robotics, with an eye towards publishing your work? Pushing yourself to look beyond school clubs and to be creative with your activities will also allow you to experience the activities on a deeper level

DOES IT HIGHLIGHT YOUR ACADEMIC PASSION?

A students’ passion for particular academic subjects is so important to highlight. This can be done by developing an especially strong extracurricular background in one or two disciplines. This allows students to provide evidence of their love of learning and give admissions officers a sense of their possible college majors. Students should pursue activities that align with their passions. Do you like creative writing? If so, why not attend writing-focused summer programs, edit your school’s literary magazine, and submit your own pieces for publication and awards? Or perhaps you prefer international relations. If so, Model UN, an internship at an embassy, and a published research project on the dynamics of an international crisis would provide great support for your stated interests during the admissions process.

ARE YOU DEMONSTRATING LEADERSHIP?

All colleges would like to enroll engaged and inspiring students who are likely to do great things in their lives. This means they want students who are natural leaders, actively pursuing subjects that are important to them and encouraging others to join them. Students applying to college can demonstrate their leadership potential by serving as president of their class, school clubs, or local organizations. They can also launch initiatives that are important to them, founding clubs and service groups or developing free workshops for underprivileged students. In addition, students can demonstrate leadership by carving out space for themselves in local or national organizations, serving as a teen liaison to the town council or spearheading a movement to get young people involved in a political group.

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your activities:

  1. Does it benefit your community?
  2. Could it lead to any awards?
  3. Is it possible to write about it and have it published?

As we discuss extracurricular activities with our students we try to get them to think outside the box and go beyond with their peers are doing. We’re not encouraging students to give up activities that they enjoy, but we hope that asking these questions will spark something and stretch the student in what actives they spend their time on. We would like to talk to you about this and to explore how we can help you in your college planning journey.

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