If I haven't found the right extracurriculars, can I still appear to be a dedicated student?

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Our counselors answered:

If I haven't found the right extracurriculars, can I still appear to be a dedicated student?

Jill Greenbaum
Founder, Independent College Counselor Major In You

Well-rounded classes not students...

Many students are under the impression that colleges want well-rounded students, when in fact colleges are looking for well-rounded classes, made of many different students.  Discovering and following your passions, skills or hobbies, digging deeply into one or two areas, committing to them, and gaining experience with expertise is really of more interest to colleges.  It’s important to figure out who you are rather than trying to be something you are not.  Start with your interests, talk with friend,s and read to learn about the vast range of extracurricular activities-those in school, in the community, and abroad, then sample some. There are so many possibilities!

Stephanie Meade
Owner The Collegiate Edge

Follow your heart to your extracurricular activities...

How enthusiastically you engage with your extracurricular activities is more important than which or how many you have, so look for activities that sound genuinely fun and interesting. Do you love sports and get along well with younger kids? Then maybe assisting a coach at a camp or after-school program is a good place to start. You can do something similar with almost any interest. Many students discover an activity they love by volunteering, so take the interests you already have into your community, and you may end up discovering a passion! Try volunteermatch.org and dosomething.org to get started.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Co-Curriculars: another window into who you are...

For most applicants, the value of co-curricular activities is less about the activities themselves than about what those activities reveal about who you are.  Joining countless clubs, but making little impact may say much about your inability to make a commitment.  An aspiring pre-med who has never volunteered in any medically related area is an applicant festooned with red flags.  If you are not sure of your passion, try something.  Demonstrating your willingness to venture into a new area is no small thing—and the search for the right activity could actually prove to be a great essay topic.   

Donnamarie Hehn
Director of College Guidance Canterbury School of Florida

One activity or fifty? ...

Trying on activities is analogous to the buffet line in a restaurant.  The choices are tantalizing but sooner or later, you must pick a favorite, or two, or three.  It is great to be open to new experiences but you should also show commitment to specific activities.  Students, who successfully grab the attention of admissions directors, are passionate about their activities and have evoked change in their communities through their involvement.  Consider revitalizing a dying club or organization, starting a group to serve the needs of a specific community, or creating a link between two global communities.

Jane Klemmer
Founder Klemmer Educational Consulting

Exploring interests is a life’s journey and not just for college applications!...

Passion and involvement are good, though not for the reasons you believe.  Think beyond your college applications; interests and activities you develop today will hopefully enrich your life long after graduation. Finding a passion usually starts with a willingness to try new things, whether through participation in an after school club or activity, or taking a job as a camp counselor. Talk to friends, family and teachers about how they found their interests. There is no singular path; just approach your quest with an open mind.  Genuine interest and commitment are what matter, not the number of activities on your list. Trust me: colleges know the difference.

Hamilton Gregg
Educational Consultant Private Practice

Follow your passion...

Quality not quantity is something to remember when engaging in activities. Too often students think that they need to do everything and be great in school. If you are searching for an inspiring activity and nothing seems to match, take some time to evaluate what you have tried. What did you like and what did you not like and why? Even by not finding some activity that suits you is a learning experience as long as you take the time to determine why you did not like it. What is your passion? Take your passion and make it work for you?

John Frahlich
Counseling Department Chair Hudson High School

Activities dilemma presents a personal growth opportunity...

You are who you are. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow. If your list of activities does not paint a picture of being well-rounded, it would be disingenuous to portray yourself otherwise. This dilemma can be a personal wake up call for you to take a risk, leave your comfort area, and engage in a meaningful activity. Ask people who know you, your family, friends, teachers, and counselor for ideas. This might be a struggle for you, but I encourage you to embrace this problem, worry less about how things look, and focus on finding meaning in this dilemma. Then share your journey with colleges!

Monica Inzer
Vice President & Dean of Admission & Financial Aid Hamilton College

With extracurricular activities, sometimes less is more...

Yes, colleges want to enroll a well-rounded class.  But that doesn’t always mean that every individual is well-rounded in his or her interests or talents; rather, collectively, a class is made up of a mosaic, and each tile shines in different ways.  Your contributions should be sustained and meaningful.  Find things you care about and do them well. Perhaps you will lead, perhaps you will support; but make sure you contribute.  Your significant activity might even be a job where you learn a lot.  Commitment and depth is far more important (for your application and for your life!)  than joining a bunch of clubs to make your list longer. 

Joanna Shultz
Director of College Counseling The Ellis School in Pittsburgh, PA

Dig more deeply into an interest you already have!...

You can’t expect to reinvent yourself, but you can develop one or two of the interests you already have.  If you are interested in listening to music, for example, volunteer to work on the tech crew at your school.  Learn to work the sound board and research period music for stage productions.  Volunteer to do publicity for small music venues in your area.   Start taking music lessons.  In this way, you can dig a little deeper into an activity that you already know you like and you might actually discover a true passion.

Susan Marrs
Director of College Counseling Seven Hills School

Being well rounded isn't the key...

Colleges are more interested in building well-rounded classes than a collection of well-rounded students.  What that means for you is that you DON'T want to do a little of this and a little of that.  It's far better to invest yourself in a few things that really interest you.  How to find them?  Do some soul searching about what does interest you.  If it's film, for example, but there isn't a film club at your school, start one--you'll get points not only for the depth of your interest in that area but for your initiative too.