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Why Universities Want “Active” Students

Stephen Friedfeld, Ph.D
09/23/2014

College admissions can be daunting for high school students – competitive colleges consider strong academics, compelling essays, a flawless interview, glowing letters of recommendation and high scores on standardized tests.

With all of these factors, why do colleges also stress that they seek students who have extracurricular involvement and leadership? Consider the following:

1) Colleges are looking for active students who will become contributing members of their campus community for four years. If all students had perfect test scores and grades but didn’t participate in any activities, college campuses would be boring communities. Instead, campus life is full of activity – politics, athletics, school spirit, community service, religious groups, literary clubs, and so on. Colleges want to find students who will participate in all sorts of groups to create an active, healthy and vibrant community.

2) Leadership matters. It’s true that not everyone can be a leader, but colleges do find it appealing when students have leadership qualities – they take on responsibility, innovate and bring together smaller groups of students. If you’re in high school and you’ve joined clubs, consider a greater level of involvement – become the secretary, treasurer or president; try to become an editor or captain; or, better yet, found a club or activity at your school. Show initiative.

3) Active students tend to be more committed to graduating. Research shows that students who are active on college campuses will “persist,” that is, stay through graduation. If a student feels a commitment to his or her college or peers, then that student will likely want to continue there; if a student does not feel connected, he or she might transfer to another university – which is lost tuition revenue for the college.

4) Active students often become active alumni. If a student is active in high school and then becomes an active member of the college campus, chances are high that that student will feel a much greater commitment to the university, namely because his or her experiences were enriching and rewarding. This could translate to an active alumnus who contributes to the university as a volunteer or as a donor.

Colleges have good reason for wanting students who are active in high school. Students don’t need to join 100 clubs and activities – this would look disingenuous. But students should strongly consider joining four or five or six activities over their four years of high school. And students should consider activities outside of school if their school does not offer activity opportunities. Colleges consider grades, scores and essays in the admissions process, but yes – they are certainly paying close attention to your non-academic résumé as well.

(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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