When applying to college, the goal of most students is to “stand out.” They want to know what they can do to differentiate themselves from the thousands of other applicants they are competing against to win a spot at their top-choice college. Some students think a stellar essay will separate them from the pack. While others think a lengthy activity list, or an outstanding teacher recommendation, will tip the scales in their favor. While these are all important elements of college applications, one of the best ways to stand out when applying to college is to show how you’ve made an impact with your interests inside – and outside – of the classroom.
What is “impact?”
At IvyWise we talk a lot about the importance of impact, either in your school, your activities, your community, or in some other area. But what is impact exactly? By definition impact is “to have an effect on” or to “influence” or “alter” something. It’s another way of saying to “make a difference.” It’s not enough to do something in order to add it to your college application. Students should strive to positively influence or change the things they’re involved with. This is something colleges, especially highly selective ones, are looking for as proven in the “Turning the Tide” report issued last year.
Why is impact important?
As we said above, colleges have demonstrated that impactful things, like meaningful community service or quality activities, are something that they’re looking for in applicants. Colleges don’t just want to admit students who will perform well academically. They also want to admit students who will have a positive influence on the campus community, who will come in, take leadership positions, identify needs on campus and fill them, and make the school an overall better place. Colleges want citizens – not just academics. Schools will look for impact when evaluating students’ applications, and it can be an important way to stand out, especially when applying to highly selective institutions.
How can students make an impact?
There are a number of ways that students can be impactful. First, it starts with identifying your interests and the things that you’re really passionate about. Do you love animals? Do you enjoy working with groups in your community? Do you have a special talent that can bring joy to someone else? Find the things that really interest you and get involved! Joining a club, volunteering for an organization, or finding other ways to get involved with your interests is the first step toward eventually making an impact.
Be a leader in extracurricular activities.
One of the best ways to make an impact is to take on a leadership role in a club or other activity that you’re involved with. Now, getting elected club president doesn’t mean your work is done. A leadership position doesn’t mean much if don’t do anything with it. Being a leader, whether you have a title or not, is about working toward a common goal with your peers. Does your club want to raise money for a local charity? Come up with ways to accomplish that goal and implement those ideas. Is the organization you volunteer with needing more supplies? Find a way to solicit donations from local businesses. Leaders identify needs and come up with ways to drive forward progress. You can be a leader – and in turn make an impact – no matter how big or small the task.
Making an impact often means taking initiative. Leaders take initiative, and initiative creates leaders. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you see a problem and have a solution. Also don’t be afraid to seek out other opportunities for engagement with your interests. Many times getting involved with the things that interest you starts with simply asking if you can join. Interested in theater but didn’t make the cut for the latest production? Ask if you can volunteer on the costume crew or help with creating the set. Take the initiative to get involved and use that opportunity and your skills to help the others involved achieve their end goal.
Make a long-term commitment.
It’s hard to make your mark on something if you’re only involved for a few days or weeks. In order to have the time to make an impact you need to make a long-term commitment to the activities that are important to you. This is where quality comes in over quantity. If you’re involved superficially with dozens of clubs or activities, it’s going to be very difficult to show colleges how your participation helped shape or influence those extracurriculars. Evaluate your interests and activities and determine if there are a few you could drop in order to devote more time to the things that you really love – and that you think you can make an impact in.
Be present in the classroom.
Impact matters at school, too. Your teachers and counselors will write recommendation letters for you, and in order for them to write a compelling and thoughtful letter they need to get to know you! Making an impact in the classroom can be as simple as being present. Participate in group discussions, ask questions, engage other students in thoughtful conversations, and ask your teachers for help if you need it. By being a thoughtful and curious student, you can help shape the classroom environment and help make it more engaging, fun, and a place where other students are excited to participate. Every student has the potential to positively impact their classroom environment – and it’s something that teachers will notice.
Making an impact can be a simple as being a thoughtful classmate, or as grand as making positive changes within the surrounding community. No demonstration of impact is more valuable than another as long as you show colleges that your participation was genuine. Again, colleges are looking for students who will positively influence and change their campus, and showing the impact you can make on a smaller scale in high school can go a long way toward convincing a college that you would be a good addition to its student body.