Diversity is what you need in your resume to get selected to the topmost colleges. Imagine numerous students with the same resume, passion, hobbies, and activities in the same class; colleges don’t want that. They always look to maintain the right mix of talent in their classrooms. Extracurricular (EC) and summer activities can help you achieve balance. Colleges are always on the lookout for students who can do much more than just achieve good grades.
EC is a broad term that encompasses something extra and outside of the curriculum. When you get involved in such activities, it signifies that you’re making an effort to expand and stretch your capabilities; colleges love that. One shouldn’t be limiting themselves to just good grades; in fact, they should explore their personality by interacting, participating, and researching.
Boosting your resume doesn’t mean you get involved in superhuman ECs that are out of reach for most people. Instead, it signifies bringing diversity, so you should explore different options. Colleges are interested in knowing what excites you and how passionately you follow it. You must indulge in multiple activities that intrigue your mind, symbolizing a star that has multiple sides. Don’t limit yourself to be one-dimensional, representing a moon that has no sides. Also, avoid getting too influenced by the opinions others have. Instead, embrace your personality and explore options that you think are meant for you. Look into the mirror and analyze your interests, hobbies, skills, etc.
Extracurricular activities are a reflection of how gainfully you utilize your spare time and it will play a key role in your college applications. What extracurricular activities you have participated in, is more crucial than the number of activities you have been a part of.
Your application and story are unique, so do not try to ape someone else’s list of extra-curricular activities. Many students I work with just become taggers: they simply tag on to every opportunity that comes their way. We all know people who have their fingers in many pies – e.g., he’ll be part of the basketball team, a member of the student government body, intern at a reputed institution, volunteer at the local orphanage, participate in debates, do community service at an old age home and may even find his way into the school band. In all likelihood, he’ll be also pursuing the maximum number of AP Courses as well.
Such individuals often fail to showcase their ingenuity, intent, tenacity, and academic goals in their applications. This is because they just do not stand out from the pile of applications. Instead, focus on those one or two activities that you can go deep in and create an impact.
In short, you need to think out of the box. You need to take on activities that you are passionate about, but you can also make a substantial difference in.
The following is an action plan that you can adopt:
1. Allocate time in your timetable for extra-curricular activities. This is the single biggest mistake students make. They will only take on non-academic activities like these during their summer breaks. That is wrong – if you want to do something substantial and important, you have to do it each week, every week. Therefore, dedicate 2-4 hours a week in your schedule to the extra-curricular that you want to pursue.
Discard unimportant programs to lighten your burden. As I said earlier, students fill up their plate with additional courses and activities just to show the numbers. You might have enrolled in a bunch of elective classes – e.g., music, dance, art, football, or drama as well. Discontinue or avoid everything that is additional to your core academics and activities that are important to you.
Grab an opportunity by its horns. Simply grab whatever really inspires you, and allocate as much time and effort as you can to it. Yes, this will take up a lot of your time, but it can eventually be the difference maker in your application.
2. Identify a Mentor. While you can’t just shop for a mentor, look for someone who will help you in your pursuit. Your extracurricular activity will dictate who your mentor should be. If you are keen on participating in scientific research, you should identify some of the best minds in the academic arena and then approach them to mentor you. Or for instance, if you are keen on fundraising for rural education, look for NGOs who are working in this space and approach the project leader to mentor you.
This is easier said than done. Especially when you have no experience in reaching out to unknown people for support, asking such favors from total strangers can be very intimidating. To ease the strain, you should look for a personal connect while choosing a mentor. Your parents, relatives, neighbors, high school staff, or friends will definitely be able to help you with this.
You can use the following email template when reaching out out to a potential mentor:
Dear Dr. Sen,
I’m currently studying at The Cathedral & John Connon School – I’ve attached my resume, and have been an avid bird watcher. I’m interested in the migration and breeding patterns of the greater and lesser flamingoes and recently read your article by about this.
However, if you will be unable to take on a student like me, it will be helpful if you can suggest any person you know who is looking for a research assistant. Also please advise me on any more available reading related to this subject.
If you require any further information, do email me.
I’m keenly awaiting your response.
Stay positive even if the possible mentor fails to revert. Most professionals have hectic schedules and responding to a high school student’s request is not very important for them. Simply keep at it and you will eventually find somebody who enjoys mentoring.
3. Make it an extracurricular event – not just an activity. When you take the road less traveled, your achievements will be distinct and dissimilar from your peers as well.
You should look at additional avenues that you can explore that are connected with the activity you are pursuing. You can also choose to go deeper and take on my responsibilities in the activities that you’re taking on.
As you can see, there’s no limit to what all you can do while pursuing just one extracurricular activity. All you need to do is be open to exploring unchartered possibilities.
You just need to be passionate, committed, enquiring, and tireless in your pursuit.
ECs can surely help you strengthen your college application, but all your efforts will go in vain if you aren’t smart enough. Since the pressure is high and a lot is at stake, we always think that we do not have enough on our plate. You need to understand that colleges are looking for the unique experiences that you have passionately pursued in the essence of learning life lessons. You sure can look for variety but not just with the vision of resume padding.
You need to understand that you have a limited time to make a lasting impression with their resumes and activities, so they must choose wisely when considering ECs.
Listed below are some of the extracurricular activities that many of my students who successfully gained admissions to multiple highly selective universities undertook.
The most salient takeaway of being part of the Student Government is that it infuses you with leadership skills.
Extracurricular activities at colleges where Student Government is an option have additional functions like being part of the honor council that is responsible for the university’s honor code as well as being on the judiciary board to hear and pass verdicts in disciplinary cases.
You can participate in extracurricular activities at colleges such as Student Government only if you have done so in the past and exhibited leadership qualities.
All colleges look for such qualities in applicants so when you have demonstrated these qualities in extracurricular activities, colleges are bound to be interested in your application.
There are many universities in the US like Stanford University, University of Florida, and the University of California, Los Angeles, – to name a few, who are reputed for athletics.
By choosing athletics as one of your extracurricular activities, and studying at a university that further hones your talent, it could well pave the way for you to become a professional athlete.
An added incentive in choosing sports is the possibility of getting financial aid to pursue your studies while participating in the university’s sports/athletics team.
With such qualities in extracurricular activities that are demonstrated and not simply mentioned in your personal statement, your college application will be high up in the pile of applications.
If you have the qualities of being good at debating, it can well present you with career options – you could become a lawyer, politician, broadcast analyst, etc.
When you choose to intern as one of your extracurricular activities, it immediately signals that you are focused and intent on achieving your academic and career goals.
By doing an internship, you are willing to work for free if necessary to gain experience.
All colleges look for such qualities in applicants and the college will be further assured that you will be willing to take on tough study programs and challenge yourself.
While choosing an internship, ensure that it is related to the major that you wish to pursue at college. In doing so, your efforts in enhancing your extracurricular activities will have direction and purpose.
By choosing to do volunteer work and community service, you demonstrate your desire to do what you can to make a difference to your community or the larger world.
By becoming involved in local groups or international organizations, you can participate in such extracurricular activities.
When Volunteer Work and Community Service is mentioned under extracurricular activities in your application, every college admissions office will place you a few notches higher than other applicants. The experience you gain with such extracurricular activities is what colleges look for in students to make their college a better place.
When you initially choose to volunteer or offer community service in an area that you love, e.g., something related to the environment, helping stricken animals, etc., it may influence the study program you choose and may even lead to various career options.
An added advantage of volunteering can be in getting selected for a job because you already have working experience.
The chances are that you might be able to edge competition based on your ECs. It’s important to understand that colleges are nothing but communities looking to add diversity among them. While they expect everyone to be in academics, ECs are often perceived as the differentiating factor, and this is one area where you can plan and reap benefits. You need to understand the basics right and choose ECs that interest you. You need to plan effectively on the activities and manage life while being successful in the undertaken ECs.