Are there activities/organizations that impress highly selective colleges?
It’s generally not the activity or the organization that impresses a college – it’s the quality of your participation and your commitment to it over time. Sure, it’s impressive when someone raises all the money to build a school in a developing country, and goes there to help with the construction – but it’s not the fund raising or the school that’s impressive. Some activities carry more “weight” than others, I’m sure, but what is really important is that you follow a passion (even if it’s drawing and publishing cartoons, or becoming a black-belt-underwater-basket-weaver…………) and do it with character and commitment.
No one can tell you what activities and organizations to join to impress highly selective colleges. There is no secret to getting in. Highly selective colleges are interested in your grades, level of difficulty of course work, test scores and YOU! There are not specific activities and organizations that impress them more than others.
Any activity that you are genuinely and meaningfully engaged in will give the college an honest sense about who you are. I recommend you participate in organizations that really interest you. Don’t just join clubs or groups to impress someone else. Do it to contribute to the larger good, to test out a career field, or to expand your understanding of the world and your life’s purpose.
The most impressive activities/organizations that colleges are interested in are those that a student has been engaged in for a long duration. This reveals a students consistency, promotions within organization or passion for organization. All activities should show growth, not merely having many activities and all are respected.
Yes, highly selected colleges are keenly aware of all of the activities and organizations available to students. One of the most important things is to keep in mind that colleges are not impressed with activities that cost a lot of money or that are prearranged by some sort of a corporate firm. The best thing students can do is explore activities and programs that offer something of interest and of substance. Usually these programs require an application, are not well advertised and cost little to no money.
For example, many students are not aware that there is only one journal dedicated to reviewing and publishing historical research done by high school students (Concord Review). While it is highly selective, students who submit history papers often attend best schools in the country because colleges assume that if you are good enough to be selected for something so elite than you are good enough for their college.
Keep in mind that students can start as early as middle school. The best thing to do for any student is to stay away from the run of the mill activities that everyone else is doing because in the end that does not help them stand out.
Pose this question to the colleges and they all will claim that they are looking for quality, not quantity. There are some things, however, that seem to make a bigger impression. I have noticed that a position like Student Body President makes an impression (probably because there is only one at each school). The same goes for any national win where a student beats out large numbers of contestants. For the rest of us mortals, however, the most important thing is that your activities show some sort of passion for something that matters. Dabbling in this or that is not the same as 4 years as a member of the varsity debate squad. Try not to create an identity for yourself from a series of good deeds, because these schools have seen every game out there. Be yourself, and participate in what feels right to you. The most impressive thing you can do is to show who you are by how you spend your time.
Colleges are impressed by students who take leadership opportunities to new heights not by particular activities or clubs. If you have a passion and can take it to a state or national level, that make an impression. If you create a club or organization to meet a need or fill a void in your school or community, that’s impressive.
Here is my video response to the question.
There are a great number of “urban myths” about this subject. The truth is the best activities/organizations are the ones that you are truly passionate about. If you love sculpture then that is the best activity for you. I would say the more important issue is how much initiative you take to deeply pursue the activity or organization. It’s absolutely fine to choose something “out of the box” to pursue, but make sure you are fully engaged in the activity and that you take on leadership where possible. Yes, we’ve all heard that every college needs a bassoon player, but that may not be your passion. Choose what you love and dive deep into it!
The answer here is to think about quality versus quantity. Admissions counselors do not want to see a hundred clubs and organizations on your resume that you just happened to join all at the same time. Rather, what they would like to see is depth and commitment. Your best bet is to seek out activities where you have a sincere interest. Whether its volunteering in your community, joining a club or organization or playing a sport (just to name a few), if you have identified opportunities that help build your brand, then you will be more likely to stick with them and seek out leadership roles.
What’s a brand? Well, I blogged about it back in November and you can read it on my website at: http://www.doblercollegeconsulting.com/1/archives/11-2011/1.html. The quick and skinny of it is seeking out and securing opportunities that reflect your long-term goals. Business students taking business-related courses in high school and developing their own business. Nursing students taking AP biology and/or chem while volunteering at a hospital. Journalism majors maintaining a blog or writing for their local Patch.
The bottom line: when you devote yourself to coursework and activities that are reflective of your values, interests, personality-style and skills, colleges will take notice and understand that you are a more serious applicant than the student who just goes out and joins as many clubs and organizations as possible.
It is difficult to say which activities and organizations impress which colleges, because students and admissions officers are individuals with their own priorities and interests. However, if there is one type quality that I have seen as important in the last admissions cycle, it was the degree to which a student showed not only his or her passion but also leadership. Is an athlete a team captain? Is a debater a team leader? Is a student a writer for the online paper, or the editor of that paper? Regarding specific organizations, I hear that groups such as governor’s schools are very impressive. However, elite schools have too large a volume of candidates from which to select. In a particular admissions year, certain credentials may be more or less valuable to that college.
The question isn’t what activities “impress” college, but rather which activities interest you? Colleges aren’t impressed by particular activities per se — they are impressed by your commitment, talent, and passion for an activity! It doesn’t matter if you are one of the “smart kids” who love Model UN or one of the ‘artsy kids” who love Drama Club or one of the “athletic kids” who spend hours in the pool swimming laps. What counts is that you show a deep commitment to doing something that you love. And remember — that could mean something that you love to do outside of school like ballet, writing comics, skateboarding, or community service!
Here’s some advice that we heard from a Harvard admissions officer a few years ago when she was speaking on the subject of extracurriculars:
1. Do what you love
2. When you do what you love, you’ll do it a lot
3. When you do something a lot, you’ll become very good at it
4. When you are good at something, you can be a leader in your field
Pretty good advice, right? And you’ll note that she never mentioned that you had to be ‘well-rounded” and she never said that playing violin or playing water polo or helping the homeless was essential to getting into college. Just do what you love and do it well. Impressive.
The question isn’t which activities “impress” colleges, but rather which activities interest you? Colleges aren’t impressed by particular activities per se — they are impressed by your commitment, talent, and passion for an activity! It doesn’t matter if you are one of the “smart kids” who love Model UN or one of the ‘artsy kids” who love Drama Club or one of the “athletic kids” who spend hours in the pool swimming laps. What counts is that you show a deep commitment to doing something that you love. And remember — that could mean something that you love to do outside of school like ballet, writing comics, skateboarding, or community service!
Here’s some advice that we heard from a Harvard admissions officer a few years ago when she was speaking on the subject of extracurriculars:
1. Do what you love;
2. When you do what you love, you’ll do it a lot;
3. When you do something a lot, you’ll become very good at it;
4. When you are good at something, you can be a leader in your field!
Pretty good advice, right? And you’ll note that she never mentioned that you had to be ‘well-rounded” and she never said that playing violin or playing water polo or helping the homeless was essential to getting into college. Just do what you love and do it well. Impressive.
Schools need to fill their sports teams, their theater, their orchestras, their newspapers etc etc. So, there is not one type of activity in particular that would especially impress them. What they are really looking for is not the student who has joined 20 clubs in High School, but perhaps the students who has founded and lead maybe just one club. They want students who have shown a deep commitment to maybe two different activities and have demonstrated talent and leadership. Schools are no longer looking for the “well-rounded” student but what they describe as the “pointed” student, so that they can put together a well-rounded freshman class.
“Stand-out students” begin the admissions process way before they actually complete their applications. What this means is thinking ahead to make sure you take a rigorous academic program and get the best grades, without overwhelming yourself in the process. It also means getting the most out of the standardized tests you can, usually accomplished through some kind of test prep. An important third ingredient is well-written essays that reflect who you are as a student and person.
In addition to grades, test scores, and essays, admissions people are very interested in what you do with your time when you are not in school. They look for students who show long-term involvements in something they love. Among the “stand-out” activities a few successful applicants have identified in their applications are:
* A teen who saw that his school was littered with all kinds of paper lunch bags, water bottles and trash. He was so upset by the mess that he decided to do something about it. On his own, he designed, got manufactured and then sold recyclable lunch bags to students, with the profits going back to his school.
* At five years old, a student began playing chess. Because he didn’t yet read, he asked his mother to read chess moves to him at night instead of bedtime stories. He became better and better at chess, received chess tutoring and entered competitions through the years. One day he won a national chess championship. In high school, he developed a chess program for his town’s school for homeless children.
* Born with a profound hearing impairment at birth, a girl used her strengths to overcome the disability, specifically choosing to take on activities that were hearing neutral, as in computers and working with animals and cooking. To help other hearing impaired students, she began a newsletter that focused on what hearing impaired students could do with their time and lives, and also emphasized how few things they couldn’t do.
• A lover of animals and science, a girl became a teen volunteer for a city zoo. She was then accepted to a special program in which she taught classes to the public about endangered species and animal conservation. This then led her to being selected as an Arctic Ambassador to Polar Bears International, where she spent time with students from around the world in the Canadian tundra, studying polar bears, the effect of global climate change and ways of preserving natural resources.
Each one of the above stories were used by students as part of their successful applications.
competitions that gain national recognitions are normally the ones that attract most selective colleges.
the time committment for each activities is also the key fact to consider.
it is not able how many different activities that you have participant in the past, it is all about how do you spend your time with passion and contribution to the society.
When choosing your high school activities and organizations think about these characteristics: Leadership, commitment, authenticity and depth.
Leadership-this is an extremely important skill and attribute that you should cultivate and nurture throughout your high school years. Examples, of course, include the captaincy of a an athletic team, elected officer in student government, the lead in the school play etc. These will put a few notches on your belt when schools look at you. But what about other kinds of leadership? Some possibilities: Getting your school to “go green” with a school-wide recycling program, getting the funding and launching a school based radio station, or becoming the school’s link to helping with a community issue and playing a key role in getting it solved. Look carefully and aggressively seek out ALL opportunities for leadership. You will find the rewards to be far greater than the challenge of finding them.
Commitment: maybe you play an instrument, or you are an avid singer/dancer or have distinctive hobbies. Whatever they might be, a top school wants to see that you have really been dedicated to an area that drives your passions. The key is to have invested your time and effort into showing excellence or mastery in a particular area. If it is unique it may be a solid differentiation of your candidacy for admission so even things like model airplanes, rocketry, stamp collections, etc. are all fair game.
Authenticity: schools want to know the real you. Just like the expression of your personal “voice” in the essay of the college application, your activities and the organizations that you choose to join should also reflect the values and characteristics that best fit you. Being in 10+ clubs, doing charity or community service work just to rack up the hours will easily be spotted as flaws by college admission experts. Most of the selective schools today evaluate an applicant in a holistic manner, so in this case more is NOT better and this means that an admission decision rides on the total picture you paint of yourself. All of your clubs, sports and activities should be representative of YOU.
Depth: Whatever you choose to do, the schools that will evaluate you will be looking for a level of expertise, and proficiency that goes beyond a casual approach to an activity or the organization you join. Did your knowledge base contribute significantly to your debate team’s national title? Did your hundreds of hours of extra practice or research help you garner a winning music or science award?
So you see, it’s not so much about specific THINGS as much as how you go about them that will make a difference in having the top schools see you uniquely.
Involvement should have little to do with impressing highly selective colleges and more to do with defining your interests and expressing your passions. Entering High School really offers so many opportunities to “get involved.” Which should you choose?
In the college admissions process, you will sometimes hear the term, “Branding.” What the counselor is trying to relay is the concept of “packaging” your application so that the materials you submit clearly display your interests and passions. One of these ways branding works is through your activities and organizations. Students who decide to “collect clubs,” especially at the last minute, will not win friends in the admission office.
With all of that said, students who are admitted to highly selective colleges often have very clearly displayed passions, and are highly recognized and acclaimed for their talents. During a visit with the Director of Admissions at Harvard several years ago, he described some of the individuals who were included in that year’s Freshmen class: Olympians, internationally reknowned pianists, published authors, nationally awarded science and math students and the list goes on and on. These are very powerful human beings!
My best advice? Be involved, be consistent, be a leader, be yourself!
There are certain very prestigious and selective programs and awards that provide evidence of experiences that impress highly selective colleges, however there is no magic activity or organization. Selective colleges are looking for students who have an intellectual passion that motivates them to do extraordinary things. This means a love of learning which means being a voracious reader.
No matter what activities or organizations a student is part of, selective colleges want students who have participated in creative and interesting ways and are able to learn from there experiences and articulate what and how they learned.
Activities and organizations that you are very involved in impress admission committees. Your activities tell the committee what your strong interests are. It is much better to have two clubs you are extremely active in than 10 clubs you aren’t active in. Show your involvement and leadership…that counts.
The highly selective colleges aren’t interested in the amount of things you do (doing 10 things for 10% of your time each). If you only did two things for 50% each of your time, how committed were you, how did you grow and gain more responsibility in those things that you did, were you a leader in that specific activity? These are things they want to know. These colleges are also looking for spectacular things you did. How did you stand our over your peers and go above and beyond. These are the things that highly selective colleges pay attention to you. No matter what, your grades, course selection and test scores will play the biggest factor. After that though, do well on the essay(s) and then they like to see words like “leader”, “director”, “editor”, “president”, “founder”, etc.
What impresses any college including highly selective ones is what you have done with your activity or organization. How involved were you and did you play a meaningful role in the organization. How consistent is your involvement? Why is it important to you. These are the questions you should address when describing you extra curricular activities.
Colleges are looking for students who have committed themselves to an activity or organization. They are looking for leaders, not followers. It will impress the committee if you haven’t just dabbled in a bunch of different random experiences, but rather you’re involvement is sustained over time with an increasing amount of responsibility/depth of experience. Whether this activity is musical, theatrical, political, athletic, etc. does not matter as much as demonstrating by your involvement, how passionate you are about the organization.
There’s not one “silver bullet” activity or accomplishment selective colleges are looking for. Rather, they want to see sustained commitment to an activity or two, over the years. Sometimes students make the mistake of trying to get involved with every organization they can. This is not the way to go. Find a few things you are passionate about and really invest yourself.
Yes…everything. Ignore the term “well rounded!” Colleges seek students who are interesting, intellectually motivated, and passionate. This means, specifically, trying to complete a seven-page resume is useless, counterproductive, and, most often, hurtful to a student’s application. Choose activities you enjoy. If you love music, play in the bands or orchestras; if you enjoy planning and organizing events then join the student councils; if you believe in community service then perform service activities. Colleges will admit students with diverse interests and backgrounds. Clones are not needed or wanted. So, spend time doing what excites you, do that activity well, and try not to “impress” colleges with the number of activities you choose. Surely, Quality is so much more valuable than quantity.
There is no specific activity that is more impressive to highly selective schools than others. It is all measured in the framework of the student wanting to apply to their university. Whatever organization or experience that was energizing, challenging, and fulfilling to that particular candidate is the one the colleges want to know about.
Yes there are. They are the activities and organizations that are most important to you. This means that you have illustrated commitment, leadership, initiative, or passion in these activities. There are also big name awards/organizations like National Merit or Intel Science that all highly selective colleges and universities adore.
Colleges often view community service as prestigious acts. Students even evince academic gains from volunteering in their communities and it gives them a chance to apply academic learning to real life situations. By becoming a volunteer students will also expand their scholarship and grant opportunities. A student can receive non-monetary recognition that will enhance their student resume. There are also many honor societies and by being a member will show highly selective colleges that you are a valuable student.
This question has a whiff of how do I “package” myself to please top tier admission counselors. Be yourself and follow your interests and passions and your talent in these areas will shine through. Colleges and universities are getting turned off by the inauthentic student who chooses activities only to increase his odds of gaining acceptance to a highly selective institution. The result is that these schools are seeing the same type of extracurriculars (NHS, INTEL FInalist, Hospital Volunteer, etc). Admission Committee’s are building a class, each student with his own personality and genuine interests.
Passionate involvement in a few activities, which demonstrate leadership and initiative will impress colleges. Becoming an Eagle Scout is an example of such an activity.
Demonstrating strong intellectual curiousity, such as doing significant independent research while in high school, will also impress colleges.
I believe that what schools look for is community service and well rounded students. I believe they also like to see a student who has an interest and tracks that interest through high school, whether it be art, music, robotics etc…
Rather than looking for extracurriculars that you hope will impress the highly selective schools, find and pursue activities that are meaningful to YOU. Colleges want to see that you can cultivate and pursue extracurriculars in which you have an authentic investment and participate in them over time simply for their own rewards…not because they might impress the admissions office. Activities and organizations that you participate in should be about helping you grow as an individual and become an active member of your community. Your experiences and what you gain from them will influence your life long after your undergraduate career is behind you. That’s what really matters.
Stand out by doing something different. Too many students see what they think some students did to be successful and try to follow in their foot steps. Follow your interests and passions. Try something new, challenge yourself to do something creative and then reflect on what you have learned. There is no “magic” activity that will get you in, it is what you have learned about your self in the process.
There has been a lot of emphasis on “leadership” and “Community Service”. These are both good things. But remember that being a leader does not necessarily mean you are the president of an organization. Many students are leaders just by being committed to a club or organization. Being a responsible member, helping others take charge of activities are both aspects of leadership.
Avoid, by all means, doing activities because they “look good” on your resume. Take a real interest in what you are doing and find ways to b committed. Also, avoid over participating. Students often feel that if they have a long list of activities they look impressive. Keep the number of activities or memberships to a minimum and be a conscientious member.
Activities on a state or national level. And I am not talking about National Honor Society. If you stand out on a statewide or even a national level for your organization, that will help you to stand out for these colleges.
I’ve heard that admissions offices look most favorably on philanthropic activities aimed at disabled woodland creatures, so you should think about starting a charity for three-legged squirrels…
…or I’m joking, and there probably isn’t one activity/organization that impresses highly selective colleges the most. In truth, there are a variety of activities that could impress a college, but what stands out more are the ones which you initiate yourself–a club or organization that you started, for example–and ones in which you took a leadership role. Just being a “member” or an organization doesn’t say much about, and might not impress a college, because how much effort does it take to attend a few meetings or be on an email list? Colleges like to see where you stand out in an activity, not merely be a follower.
More importantly, pick an activity/organization (or two) early on–like in 9th/10th–grade–and stick with it/them. Admissions officers can be a bit dubious when a student claims to be participating in 437 different activities/organizations while also maintaining a 4.5 GPA, taking SAT prep classes, etc., because in reality nobody has that kind of time.
Colleges want to know that you’re doing something more than parking yourself in front of your Facebook after class ends, but remember that extracurricular activities can include jobs (shows maturity and self-sufficiency, and supports your family!), taking care of younger siblings, being involved in faith-based activities, and a number of other things–up to and including the helping those three-legged squirrels.
The short answer is No. It’s not what you do; it’s how far you take it.
It doesn’t matter what the activity/organization is. What matters is what you did in it. While being “President of National Honor Society” may be a seeminly impressive title, it doesn’t mean much without an explanation of what kind of impact you had by being a part of this. Admission officers are impressed when they can feel that the organizations you served have felt your presence. Creative, purposeful projects impress; interests and skills that are taken beyond their conventional context impress; fancy titles/organizations with little explanation leave something to be desired.
Here are a couple of examples of what I’m talking about:
1) A student who loves art created a program connecting middle school students with the local art museums in the area. Her program has expanded and is being picked up by more middle schools.
2) An all-star lacrosse player hosts a lacrosse camp for students who haven’t been exposed to the sport.
3) A Hispanic/Latino student who was raised speaking Spanish decides to pursue learning other Romance Languages. In addition to enrolling in the most advanced Spanish classes, she takes the highest levels of French available at her high school and spends a summer in France improving her language skills. She also studies Italian at the local community college. Her language abilities are substantiated by high scores on AP and SAT Subject tests.
Let me say that even these activities aren’t enough. These students also had excellent grades/testing and were involved in other activities in their schools and communities.
I’m not sure that there is any one activity or organization that will impress colleges, highly selective or not. There are two things that I think make an organization or activity stand out for any student. The first is that you are passionate about that activity or organization. Whatever it is, you should be doing it 100%. Whatever you do, it should say something about you; that this is something you truly love. Secondly, demonstrate a level of commitment and loyalty to that activity/organization. Attend meetings and activities organized by that organization/club. If you are able to, be a leader in that activity. One last note: Don’t join an organization/activity just to put it on your application. Colleges are also looking for authenticity and transparency in your application. They are experts at reading application and can spot a student who is trying hard to market themselves. Be yourself…including your activities.
There isn’t a singular activity (by name) that highly selective colleges are looking for. What they are looking for is leadership or innovation, and for your passions to come out in your application. As far as leadership goes, it is important to get involved in clubs, activities, and athletics early on in your high school career. This increases the likelihood of getting voted as an officer or captain later as an upperclassman. I see a lot of students trying to scramble and add to their college resume late in their high school career, and colleges can usually see through this. If there is not an club or activity that you are interested in, start one. Some of my most successful students, saw a need in the school or community, and started a community service program to address that need. Being innovative gets the attention of selective colleges and scholarship committees. Truly being involved in Community service, changing ones community, (beyond just the getting a few hours in here and there) is another way to get the attention of admission committees.
Yes and no.
If the college is looking for someone to play center on the basketball team or someone to play the tuba in the band, then someone who demonstrates those abilities will have a greater chance at being admitted (as long as they also meet the admission requirements).
Now, more importantly the colleges are looking for students who are involved in their school and greater community. So first they are looking for involvement. Next, they are looking for commitment. Did you join for 6 months and quit? Did you stick with it for two years? Then the biggie, how did you demonstrate leadership in that activity? You do not need to be the president of the club or captain of a team. You can introduce new ideas and attempt to implement them. You can arrange for volunteers to help with a community service project. There are many ways to show leadership.
So being involved in a few activities with a longer commitment and the opportunity to display leadership is what colleges are looking for in candidates.
Highly selective colleges are looking for unique individuals that want to make a difference. That being said, there’s not a specific organization or activity that you should be doing. Instead, focus on something you’re passionate about. If you see a social wrong that you can help to right, do it. If you see a gap that needs to be filled, fill it. Ultimately, you want to focus on those things that move you.
For me, it was helping and mentoring high school students. I developed a mentorship program that provided opportunities for me to speak at high schools, churches, etc. I expanded this program overseas as well. A good friend of mine found out that refugees at a particular UN camp were often lacking medical supplies. She started a program to send supplies which garnered international attention. Needless to say she was accepted to Harvard’s Kennedy School.
The specific activities are less important than the nature and extend of your involvement in whatever you choose. Each activity says something about you, but a wide range with limited depth may say little more than that that you cannot focus—and that is not good. A smaller number of thing to which you are committed, in which you have had a chance to show leadership or initiative, is preferable and will serve you better. Too, the way they connect with the rest of your application helps create a fuller picture of who you are, what matters to you, and what you will be able to contribute to their school community the admissions office is trying to build. Commitment and passion are more important than any particular type of activity.
Colleges love community service, everyone can join a sports team or participate in FBLA. It takes a caring person and a particular kind of student to have a passion and caring for their own community. It shows that you have an innate sense of good about oneself and that you are are not selfish.
No, not in the way that you think. It’s important to highly selective colleges that you are involved in some type of active or organization. One or two is just fine. The most important part is that they see longevity. To be a part of 30 organizations for two month each is not as impressive as being apart of two organizations for four or six years.
Colleges want to see that you have a passion for something. There is no one specific magic thing you should do to get into a college, but what they do love is consistency and dedication. Whether it’s horseback riding, sports, the violin, colleges want to see that you stuck with your activity throughout high school because you love to do and aren’t simply trying to impress them. This being said, being well-rounded is a great quality too, but being a dilettante is not. You want to go deep rather than broad, but having only one activity isn’t the best either. Community involvement/ volunteerism is a trait colleges love to see, but rather than try and stick it into your application, see if there’s a way to work in what you love to do with helping others. Athlete? A sports camp for elementary schoolers would be a great way to give back. If you’re a musician, try giving a concert to the elderly at a home. Colleges want to see that you go beyond what you are simply told to do. If you take initiative with whatever you do, that’s great!
Parents and students often assume that highly selective college admission offices are seeking renaissance men/women. But, colleges are seeking a well-rounded community, not necessarily well-rounded individuals. Highly selective colleges are particularly impressed by students who have demonstrated a depth of involvement in a particular area of passion. Students who parlay their passion into a service project or school leadership role are especially impressive. My advice regarding extracurricular involvement for every student: push your passions for personal gratification, not college entrance.
Yep. But, here’s a quote to live by, from the Dean of Admissions at Amherst, from an interview on NPR.
“There are years that it’s great to be a runner and there are years that it’s great to be a lacrosse player, and there are years that it’s great to play the piccolo and there are years that it’s great to play the piano. But the candidate doesn’t know that.”
In a vacuum, though, what impresses?
Academic programs (RSI, SSP, Telluride)
Crazy leadership (the Congressional Page Program, back before they disbanded it)
Intense sports (Olympic-level at times…if nothing else, success in a coveted sport. Remember: Ivies can’t give athletic scholarships, so they need to recruit nearly double the squad. Also, remember this: Ivies have wacky sports, like fencing, squash, and equestrian. These are good to have an involvement in.)
However, I believe that admissions is moving beyond this “impressive” phase and more into the “people” phase. It’s gotten to the point now where everyone is doing something intense over the summer. I’ve had 9th graders working in materials science labs at Stanford! And – surprise, surprise – it’s usually the well-off kids that get involved in this and other impressive activities. In my opinion, the tide will soon turn, and once “impressive” activities will be seen as nothing more than one aspect among many.
The way to impress admission staff members of highly selective colleges is to be AUTHENTIC. Being involved with activities/organizations for which you have a true passion is impressive. Sadly, too many students and their parents try to find the “magic formula” of involvement, when in fact, doing what you love is what allows you to speak enthusiastically about it during interviews, and write effectively about it when doing essays.
Be comfortable being YOU-we don’t need for ONE person to do all activities, but will use talented and dedicated students to construct a well-rounded entering class.
Yes, highly selected colleges are keenly aware of all of the activities and organizations available to students. Unfortunately, many times students are not aware of all of the activities and organizations that impress the highly selective colleges. One of the most important things is to keep in mind that colleges are not impressed with activities that cost a lot of money or that are prearranged by some sort of a corporate firm. So,
the question is what the students do? The best thing is to explore what they’re most interested in and seek out various activities within that area of interest. For example, many students are not aware that there is only one journal in the country that publishes student papers, and that is the Concord Review. While it is highly selective, students who submit history papers often end up going to the best schools in the country. The reason for this is because colleges assume that if you are good enough to be selected for something so elite than you are good enough for their college. Keep in mind that students can start as early as middle school. For example, there is an Arrow Space camp they can attend as well as countless opportunities for girls in terms of leadership, writing, art, etc. The best thing to do for any student is to stay away from the run of the mill activities that everyone else is doing because in the end that does not help them stand out.
Feel free to contact me if you would like any additional suggestions as I have compiled hundreds.
The campuses of highly selective colleges are like stand-alone communities, and students are its citizens. Thus, the quality of campus life is highly dependent on the contributions of its student inhabitants. You may hear admissions officers mention “leadership” as a desirable quality; consider it as people taking the initiative to make life better. High school and community opportunities exist to support student experiences in leadership at several levels: local, state, national, even international. It’s up to the student to reach beyond the familiar to help realize a vision, perhaps supported by the resources of an established activity or organization. It’s not the activity or organization itself, it what one does with it that matters. .
Any activity that you commit to for consecutive years that has you involved in a leader-type position will impress highly selective colleges.
Things to keep in mind…
1. A list of activities and organizations is all well and good however, what is more important is how did these extracurricular activities impact you and how did you use the skills obtained for the betterment of others? Think: Self-Fullfilling vs. Selfless
2. Remember to articulate your desire to continue to be a student committed to the total school program throughout college. If you wrote articles for your high school newspaper, consider doing it for college. You should think about emailing the editor of the school newspaper to express your interest in pursuing the activity if you attend their school. Get involved!
3. When explaining your activities, get to the point. If you plan on utilizing the space provided with lengthy descriptors, your participation may be deemed as exaggerated or leave the reader confused about the activity. Be precise!
Highly selective colleges are interested in the focus and commitment a prospective student has made to her or his activities. Does s/he excel in a particular talent? Has s/he founded or created a club, organization or activity at school or in the community? What leadership skills have been developed through these activities? What intellectual and personal growth can be clearly attributed to involvement in one or more activities? What impact on others has the student had through activities and organizations? How does the student evaluate his or her participation? Does s/he plan to continue to develop in this or similar activities in college?
Although we all recognize the honor of Eagle or Gold level in scouting and Olympic athletes and published writers are recognized for their achievements, students can show their level of commitment and mastery in any number of different activities, whether or not the organization has a national or international reputation. For example, has volunteerism in a single focus enhanced the student’s understanding of career or future involvement opportunities or significantly improved the lives of others? Has a language studied in high school been taken into the real world and put to test? Are chosen activities congruent with the interests and objectives the student highlights on her or his application?
You may have heard that squash is the “big thing” for kids to have an edge in the admissions process, or that playing a hard-to-find instrument like the bassoon is your ticket to admission at the college of your dreams.
I hate to break it to you, but none of this is a sure bet for you to impress highly selective colleges.
That said, when you’re thinking about organizations to participate in, there are some things to consider:
1) What are you most excited about doing?
That might seem a little odd to some of you, but frankly, an admissions officer’s job is mainly trying to get to know you, to understand what gets you excited, and how invested you are in it. Remember, highly selective colleges tend to have tons of student organizations and clubs in which their students participate. You’ll hear about everything from juggling clubs to Model Government organizations, and they want to keep those going, to know that you’re truly excited about these things or about creating new ones that they can highlight.
With that in mind, though, the thing that will make a difference is:
2) How much of an impact you are creating in these activities?
These colleges want to know not only that they have tons of student organizations, but that they also have the best ones around. So if you’re a world-class violinist, or a community-changing student leader, or yes, even a renowned juggler, you’re bound to impress admissions officers. Now, not all of us have these talents, but we all have ways in which we can impact our communities and those around us. So the point is that colleges want to see you taking that to the highest level you can, ideally in a way that not only benefits you but also those around you.
The last piece to remember is,
3) what opportunities have you had at your disposal?
This matters, because admissions officers aren’t looking at applications in a vacuum. If you have the time and the freedom to participate in student organizations, they’ll want to see you being productive and making a difference in the things you care most about. But if you have to work to help out at home, or take care of a family member, or simply have circumstances that prevent you from participating in many things, share that, and don’t fret. Admissions officers are looking at you in your particular context, and what matters most to them is your attitude towards it. If you can overcome them, or do them in the best way possible, do it, and just explain it.
When considering all of this, remember one last thing: Admissions officers have your grades, your test scores, your essays, your recommendations, and in some cases, you interviews. If all of those things don’t come together and consistently demonstrate your excellence, one student activity, no matter how well you do it or how unique it is, will not change things around.
So participate in activities you care about, as many as you like, and be sure to be healthy and sane about it, keeping up your grades and doing your best. Only then will you be able to make the impact needed to make a difference, not only in the admissions process, but in your life overall.
Leadership, evidence of intellectual curiosity and genuine commitment.
What I continue to hear from college admissions is that they would much rather have a student have less activities but show much more in-depth involvement in them. It is much more important the student does activities that resonate with their interests and NOT do activities just to build a resume for “highly selective colleges.”
Colleges build student bodies that are diverse in interests, hometowns, cultures, etc. That’s why there are no “right” activities/organizations that colleges are looking for.
Activities and organizations that will impress highly selective colleges, or any college for that matter, will be as varied as the admissions staff reviewing the information. What may impress one may not impress another. However, as a rule, unique and different experiences, i.e., things they don’t see every day, will stand out. Also, activities that may be common but that the student has taken to the highest level or made an unusual impact are more likely to impress. The best advice is to stay true to who you are and don’t participate in something solely because you think it will impress others.
i think colleges are more impressed by passions rather than activities/organizations. I do believe they want to see you doing authentic activities rather than paying for expensive programs that are just for privileged kids. Please find internships and other ways to get experience. Please join non-profits that do work that you share. Please start your own business or student organization. Please try something you never thought of trying. That is what matters. Selective colleges want kids who are deeply involved and committed to pushing themselves and their communities.
Commitment and passion!
Schools are less interested in specifically what you do than your commitment and passion in what you choose to be involved with. Colleges want to know that you are going to be a positive addition to their college community. They are not looking for cookie cutter students. They want individuals, students who have taken the lead in whatever pursuits they engage.
Even if you have not been able to get involved in extra-curricular activities because you have had to work to help out your family, colleges see that as a commitment and the ability to take responsibility.
As Joseph Campbell affirmed: ‘follow your bliss.’
That is what colleges are looking for.
First of all, remember that your most impressive credentials are your GPA, the rigor of your course load, and your standardized test scores. NEVER sacrifice any of these credentials for extracurricular activities, EVER.
Once you have achieved a strong threshold of quantitative accomplishments (GPA and SAT), then extracurricular credentials can be a tie-breaker for highly selective colleges.
The obvious activities (and we’re talking about one or two, not six….depth not breadth):
Leadership and commitment in a varsity sport (one, not three)
Deep involvement in a performing arts activity (music, acting, dance, tech theater)
Leadership and commitment in one community service activity (scouts, church)
There are a number of activities that will definitely stand out to a college-competing at the Olympics, being a solo (and successful) recording artist, having the lead in a Broadway show, running a profitable business based on an original idea etc. However, for the vast majority of applicants, who will not fall into any of these categories, the most important thing is to be involved in activities in which you show initiative, accomplishment and growth. Try and find activities you enjoy by 9th grade and pursue them throughout high school. See if there’s a way to broaden your interest-if you’ve founded a high school club, is there a way to establish branches in other schools or join a countywide council of students interested in the same subject? Try to seek opportunities outside of your high school. If you’re interested in politics, in addition to being on the Student Council, maybe you could work for a local or state candidate, write a political newsletter or even blog about political issues for a local newspaper. Selective colleges get thousands of applications from students who are president of two high school clubs, have won an award in Model Congress, play a varsity sport and have organized a fundraiser for a charity in 11th grade. See what you can do to stand out and think outside the box.
I’m sure that a few may disagree with me, but I believe it is more important that you have longevity with an activity/organization rather than what said activity/organization is. Find clubs/organizations that truly interest you, stick with them, and try to get a position as an officer down the road.
And, if you find yourself disinterested with what’s a available to you, consider starting your own club/organization. Your high school should have procedures on how to do so.
Best of luck!
There are two aspects to your extracurricular involvement that help you stand out from the crowd. These are leadership and depth of commitment. Regardless of the activity, holding a leadership role is a sign of future involvement and success at the college level. In addition, colleges like to see that you have committed a good deal of time to a few activities rather than attending a meeting or two of a long list of clubs. Revealing a leadership role in activities that date back several years is beneficial to you. Beyond leadership, many activities and organizations have regional and national awards related to participation. Recognition of your service and commitment can increase the value of your application. Also, look for activities outside of your immediate school surroundings. Consider the thousands of others applicants to each school you apply to. How many of them will be members of National Honor Society, key Club, and the Band? What activities did you participate in that make you unique? Starting your own activity or organization is always an option. This also reveals an entrepreneurial spirit.
Most important is developing activities in which you have real interest. Colleges like to see depth of commitment to activities, so settle on a few activities in which you have shown growth/leadership. In terms of organizations, of course, highly selective colleges will welcome academic honors as well as depth of activities.
As summer approaches, I will focus my answer on this important time of year. Utilizing the summer break is critical to a successful application process. Admissions officers look for engagement in activities 12 months of the year, not just during the school year. So, what you do with your summer’s matters. There is no right or wrong way to spend this time, but let it be unique to your own situation, goals and needs – just make sure you do something! Studying at Harvard, Stanford or Yale is not all highly selective universities look for or care about – though many have very well known and highly reputable summer programs that look great on college applications – participation in these type of programs doesn’t get you in. Some students spend the summer focusing solely on test prep or taking classes at a local community college or online (MOOC’s, too). Others work full-time or part time, and there are some students who travel, volunteer, go to camps or focus on a sport or sports. Most students do a combination of one or more of the above over the summer months, and the ability to demonstrate balance of a set of meaningful activities is a great characteristic to be able to highlight in your application.
Yes & here are a few:
1. Working with or tutoring the handicapped or disabled
2. MADD, SADD
3. Becoming an Eagle or Sea Scout
4. Working with homeless organizations
5. Starting your own fund raising organization highly impresses colleges, & I speak from personal experience
6. And many more
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