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Extracurricular Activities: Going the Extra Mile

One of the best ways for students to explore their interests is through involvement in extracurricular activities. However, simply joining a club or activity isn’t where students should stop with their ambitions. Going the extra mile in clubs and activities can not only help students better identify and focus their interests, but it can also help them stand out when applying to college.

Extracurriculars as a “Soft Factor”
Colleges and universities use admissions rubrics to read applications, and extracurricular activities are often one of the most important soft factors, or application elements that aren’t the numbers like grades and test scores, that colleges evaluate. In fact, 1/3 of colleges and universities rate extracurricular involvement as “considerably important” in the admissions process. Extracurricular activities can provide extra context to students’ applications, making them three-dimensional to admissions officers, allowing them to better advocate for students in the decision-making process.

Here’s how you can go the extra mile with your extracurricular activities and stand out when applying to college.

Start Your Own Club or Initiative
Often when determining which extracurricular activities to pursue, students simply feel like there are not enough options that match their interests. This is where we say, “If you can’t find it, found it!” There are a number of ways for students to pursue their own new or unique extracurricular initiatives. For example, if you’re into STEM but your school doesn’t have a robotics club, look into starting your own! Interested in music and theater? Start a fundraising drive for your school’s spring musical. What’s important here is initiative – showing colleges that you’re willing to put in the extra work to pursue the things that matter the most to you. Not only does starting your own club, activity, or independent project show initiative, it also shows you can think outside of the box! You’re a leader (more on that later!) and you’re willing to go outside of your comfort zone to demonstrate your interest in a particular subject or field. Which is important because colleges want specialists.

Prioritize Quality Over Quantity
We can’t stress this enough: students should be involved in a few activities that they truly enjoy – not a long list of clubs that they’re only superficially interested in or think will “look good” to colleges. The quality of students’ activities is paramount. Colleges wants to see students wholeheartedly involved in activities throughout high school – rather than just serial joining clubs and initiatives in order to add a line to their resumes. This is where it’s important to really evaluate your passions and interests and focus them. Are there clubs or activities you should drop? Are there other ways to pursue your passions that you haven’t explored yet? Take time to evaluate your extracurricular commitments and look for areas where you can expand your influence, or scale back your involvement in activities that are not genuinely interesting to you.

Be a Leader
Leadership often means having an important title in the mind of teenagers, but there are many ways to be a leader in your extracurricular activities. Sure, being club president or treasurer can imply leadership, but how did you use that role to further the goals of that club or activity? Being a leader is much more than having a position of power. Often colleges admissions officers are looking for “gluey” kids when examining extracurricular activities. Those are the students who may not be the official “leader,” but they’re working hard behind-the-scenes to advance the club’s mission, keep it moving in a positive direction, and make an impact in their community. Leadership is critical so take some time to evaluate where you are with your activities and what you can do now, and in the future, to show leadership. Start small by volunteering to host the club’s next meeting at your house. Offer to help the fundraising committee make and distribute signs and flyers. Pitch in where you’re needed and see if that sparks any other ideas about how you can help keep the club or activity moving forward!

Make an Impact
We talk a lot about the importance of “impact” when pursuing extracurricular activities. Colleges want students who will positively contribute to the campus community, and those who are already making an impact in their local community with their extracurricular initiatives are prime candidates. Making an impact can be as simple as volunteering to tutor after school at the local Boys and Girls Club, or as big as organizing a donation drive for the town’s animal shelter. Identify a need in your community, or even just in your after-school club, and find a way to address it. You want to leave a lasting impression on your activities and give younger students an idea of what it means to be a leader. Making an impact not only directly helps those involved, but it also sets the stage for future students to continue to try to meet those same needs.

Going the extra mile in your extracurricular activities can help you stand out when you apply to college and provide extra context on your interests, goals, and motivations – which is key to helping admissions officers get to know you better. If you’re struggling with identifying meaningful activities to pursue, or need some help to better hone in on your interests, contact us today for information on our IvyWise Initial Consultation, where students receive detailed activity recommendations, or our comprehensive college counseling programs, where students will be guided through every component of the college prep process, including extracurricular involvement.