Are there activities/organizations that impress highly selective colleges?

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Our counselors answered:

Are there activities/organizations that impress highly selective colleges?

Rod Bugarin
Former Admissions Officer Columbia, Brown, and Wesleyan University

Are there activities/organizations that impress highly selective colleges?

Here is my video response to the question.

Nina Berler
Founder unCommon Apps

Activities and Organizations

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.

Helen H. Choi
Owner Admissions Mavens

Olympics, Nobel Prize, Curing Cancer

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.

Suzan Reznick
Independent Educational Consultant The College Connection

Depth and breadth of involvement is what impresses!

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.

Marjorie Shaevitz
Admissions expert, author, speaker www.adMISSION

Stand-out" Activities

“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.

王文君 June Scortino
President IVY Counselors Network

nationally recognized programs

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.

Chip Law
Co-founder Managing Director Educational Avenues

What's impressive is to an elite school may not be you might think it is!

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.

Patricia Aviezer
President Inside Track To College, Inc.

What's In A Brand?

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!

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures


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.

Trevor Creeden
Director of College and Career Counseling Delaware County Christian School

Are there activities/organizations that impress highly selective colleges?

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.