There are multiple components of the college application process which determine whether a student will be accepted to his/her college or university. One of those components is a student’s extracurricular activities. Many students may be surprised at the weight these activities carry when being reviewed by an admissions counselor.
Extracurricular activities give admissions counselors a glimpse into the student’s world outside of the classroom, a peek into their interests and personality. Studies have proven a link between a student’s engagement in activities and enhanced academic performance, as well as attendance at school.
Selecting Your Extracurricular Activities While In High School
During high school, a student should begin to think about their intended major for college and focus many of their activities so that they align toward the intended major. This alignment in activities will assure the college admissions counselors that you are serious about your intended program of study and have given thought to how you can enhance your social and intellectual activities in preparation for the college environment. With that being said, it should also be stressed that the student should be authentic in their activities.
For example, if a student is interested in an Engineering field, I would expect to see the student engaged in clubs, competitions and activities that focus on engineering. However, I should also see other interests such as:
- Music or the Arts
- Community Service
- Model UN
If a student has limited activities due to work, then that also tells us about the student and their life outside of the classroom, so this should not be looked down upon.
Your extracurricular activities paint a picture for the University admissions counselor. It will tell how deeply interested and engaged you have been in your intended major for college. It will tell them if you are engaged in your community or have an interest in social or political issues. Your activities will also let the admission counselors know if you are a leader or a follower. Is there an entrepreneurial spirit waiting to be unearthed, or has that spirit already been born? Is this student outgoing or do they stick to their comfort zone?
Strengthening Your Recommendation Letters
Extracurricular activities can assist with the validity and strength of your letters of recommendation as well. If your LOR’s (letters of recommendation) align with your activities, that shows the commitment you have made to these activities and the recommendation will not only clarify your level of involvement but give an additional layer of information pertaining to your skills, abilities, and leadership.
Starting As A Freshman
If you are a student who is just starting high school, or has a limited number of activities and looking for guidance on how to enhance your extracurricular activity list below are some recommendations:
- Quality over quantity! If you only have a few activities, but you have been committed to those activities and showed a progression of responsibilities and leadership in the organization, this will be viewed positively.
- If your school does not offer a club or organization in an area that you are interested in, start one!
- Take a class at a local college or university during the summer or even during the school year. Most colleges now offer online options, which makes it quite easy for high school students to register. The great thing is, you could receive college credit for the course once you get accepted and enroll in college.
- Call around to local nonprofit organizations and ask if they need volunteers. Community service is always looked upon favorably.
- Investigate competitions in your area of interest, especially those on a state, regional or national level. If it is a team competition, once again, you can showcase your leadership skills by coordinating the team.
- Never assume that you have an activity that does not have value. Every activity does not have to have “wow” factor. If it is something that is meaningful to you, then it is work including.
Starting As A Senior In High School
If you are a student entering their senior year of high school, and staring at a blank activity sheet, then below are my recommendations for you:
- Join one club at school that you can make a quick impact with and gain some leadership experience.
- Start a blog or vlog that addresses your academic or social interests.
- Register for a college level course at a local college or university that will give some academic punch to your profile.
- Engage in a community service project or start one where you see a need.
- Reach out to colleges, businesses, or organizations to see if there are opportunities for you to engage in a research project in your area of interest.
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Never Too Late To Start
It is never too late to start or enhance your extracurricular activity list. Opportunities abound for the student who is open to new opportunities and ready to engage. The more time you have before the application process, the greater your opportunities.
However, even a student who is late to the process can still make a big impact, by choosing the right new activities and enhancing their current activities. Be authentic in your interest in activities. Too many activities without commitment shows the admissions counselor that you did not give thought or direction to your involvement.
Lean into your academic interest, but also lean into who you are as an individual, and with an admissions counselor you will be able to build a picture of who you are and how you will engage in the academic and social community of the college or university you are admitted to.
Angela Griffin is a Senior Admissions Consultant at Solomon Admissions. Angela has over 30 years of experience in higher education with a unique combination of skills from working in college admissions, student affairs, and academic advising.