Extracurricular Activities: Get Engaged Early and Be Authentic

At The College Advisor of New York, we begin talking to students early in the admissions process about the importance of a strong high school resume. For rising sophomores and juniors, it might seem premature to begin putting their achievements on their resume but, actually, it’s quite the opposite.

Colleges want to see active students, engaged in a variety of pursuits, who also do well academically. That said, quality is better than quantity. Participating in too many activities rings hollow with most admissions professionals.

It’s critical to find causes about which the student is sincerely interested. And at no time is this more important than when displayed on a student’s college application. We do not encourage students to participate in activities just for the sake of expanding their resume, but we do ask that students think outside the box early in their high school career to consider how they will be viewed when it’s time to present themselves to a college.

Having a profile of extracurricular activities is also a great help when approaching teachers for a recommendation. They may know a student in their classroom, but a recommendation letter can be enhanced if the faculty member has a deeper knowledge of the student as a person and a good resume works well here.

Most college applications ask for 10 extracurricular activities. These can include school-based, church, community, service and even employment experiences. In fact, having a job or an internship is a great way to show work ethic. Such work experiences can also shed light on potential college majors or career paths.

Sometimes parents ask us if their student is at a disadvantage if they do not play a high school sport. Not at all, but it is critically important for students to find enjoyable activities—theater, community service, science research, entrepreneurship, language clubs, the list goes on–at which they excel.

Students should ask themselves: How do I enjoy spending my time, and how can I expand my experiences and contribute in the community doing those things?

We recommend keeping track of these activities as a student progresses through high school. Parents may keep a record of this, but more often students have to go back and try to re-create what they did over time. We have found that many students, and some parents, easily forget the afternoon spent in ninth grade at the local soup kitchen or the job as a youth baseball umpire in the summer of 10th grade.

Students make contributions in their home or community in many ways, and the important thing is to be authentic. Students who are unable to participate in clubs, activities or traditional community service may spend their time taking care of a family member who is sick or has a disability. This would be considered meaningful and authentic experience by a college admissions officer. Tracking experiences for all activities throughout high school will help accurately present this when it comes time to apply to college. We see the benefit of using a mobile application like Passport for Good because it captures your time and talent as you go, and provides an authentic profile of your commitment inside and outside of school. It allows you to showcase your unique contributions over the years, and even provides a journaling feature so that you can turn reflections into papers, scholarship applications or your college essay.

Participating in extracurricular activities is an important component of the college application process. For those just entering high school, we recommend starting to think about your passions and interests, and beginning to get involved now!

Dr. Dean Skarlis is president and founder of The College Advisor of New York. He and his staff of 10 professionals help high school students and their parents navigate the complicated and expensive college admissions process. He has helped clients throughout the Capital Region, and in 15 states and five foreign countries find, gain admission to and select colleges that are a great fit socially, academically and financially. Dr. Skarlis is considered an expert on college admissions and affordability and has been quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and numerous other local and national publications. Learn more at www.CollegeAdvisorNy.com.