High school students that are looking to boost their college admissions chances may want to look at what extracurricular activities they pursue.
Many students and parents think that quantity and variety are the most important factors regarding extracurricular activities on the student’s application. Think “well-rounded.” However, that is a misconception. College admissions counselors are much more concerned with what students do with those activities, not how many. In short, quality is much more important than quantity.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
It doesn’t matter what extracurriculars the student selects.
What is most important is that the students are passionate and involved in those activities. Did they join the hunger awareness club just to add it to their resume, or are they organizing activities, raising funds, and volunteering their time to make a difference?
Low-threshold activities versus high-threshold activities:
Shirag Shemmassian, an educational consultant in San Diego, says that low-threshold activities are easy to join and easy to explain. They are less impressive to a college admissions counselor.
“Let’s take the typical student who wants to go for well-rounded,” Shemmassian said. “Science quiz bowl, model UN, decathlon, track team, five AP course. All of this is very easy to explain.”
Instead, students should focus on high-threshold extracurriculars, which are by their very nature hard to explain easily.
“If I told you that there is a student who started a statewide network of art kit distribution to cancer centers, explain that,” Shemmassian said.
“Work backwards and put together those steps. You may be able to, but at various points you’re going to stop and you’re going to think, I don’t know, what’s the next step? How do they do that? If the activity sticks together in your mind, it’s not impressive, but if it’s harder to explain and think through, that becomes more impressive.”
For example, Shemmassian is working with a high school student, who loves both teaching children and art. She combined those two loves by creating an art kit for young children with cancer. She working with local hospitals to distribute these kits to children. Impressive, right?
How much time is the student devoting to the activity?
Extracurriculars that matter take time. The extracurricular activities a student lists on their application should be those that require the student to attend a meeting or contribute his or her time and energy. The student should not feel pressured to list every activity that he or she has ever signed up for in order to impress admissions counselors. In fact, they will see right through this false padding.
Keep in mind the amount of time you have available to commit to the organization, but don’t let it have an impact on your grades, test scores, or your health. Time management is also a character trait that admissions counselors look for in your application.
Take a leadership role:
Taking a leadership role or founding a new organization shows that you are invested in the activity and took on some real responsibility. Propose a new project within the organization, volunteer to head up a committee, or organize a fundraiser. These all show that you have passion for the organization.
How do you use the Common Application to explain your activities? The Common App has room to briefly include a long list of activities, but you should focus more on the quality of activities by using the comments section to share what the student did and how that shows the students’ involvement, passion, values, and character.
If you need further help organizing your high school activities and setting goals for the future, conduct us to schedule a college planning consultation.
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