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Extracurricular Activities And College Admissions

Stephen Friedfeld, Ph.D
07/31/2014

Over the summer, high school students should look to the future and ask themselves a few questions: What will college admissions officers think about my application? How will I be viewed in their eyes?

College admissions is a holistic process. When evaluating your application, admissions officers consider many factors, such as GPA, standardized test scores, essays, recommendation letters and extracurricular activities.

Your extracurricular activities can give admissions officers a sense of who you are, what you like, what makes you tick and how you will become active in their campus community. If you aren’t involved in any activities in high school, then you’ll just come across to them as a transcript and test scores.

But which activities should you participate in?

Follow your passions and your strengths – or try something new. If you’ve always been involved in a sport, try out for the JV or varsity team. If you don’t make a team, then consider becoming the team manager, or maybe the sports editor of the yearbook or a sports columnist for the school newspaper.

Maybe you’ve always been creative. If so, join the drama or art club, or play in a musical group or sing a cappella. Do you have a passion for a cause? Look to join a political or environmental club.

There is no “correct” extracurricular activities list. And there is no need for your activities to only be limited to school-sponsored organizations. Instead, you can volunteer at a senior citizens center, or become an EMT or volunteer firefighter, join a travel soccer team or cheerlead with a local group.

Also keep in mind that you don’t even need to participate in an “organized” activity: work out at the gym several times a week, keep a daily journal, blog about music, paint, take acting lessons, play basketball with your neighborhood friends. And if you work to make some money, terrific – colleges want to learn about that too.

Most applications limit the number of extracurricular and work activities that you can provide and ask that you list them in order of importance to you. You don’t need to tell colleges about everything you’ve ever tried in high school – just list the ones that mean the most to you, the ones that you participated in for two, three or all four years, and the ones that you’ll likely continue in college.

Most importantly, become active – you’ll meet others with similar interests and you’ll learn more about yourself in the process.

(Stephen is the COO of AcceptU (www.AcceptU.com), a college admissions counseling group that connects applicants with former admissions officers. He has 10+ years of admissions experience at Cornell University and Princeton University. )

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