High School Extracurriculars: What Matters in the College Application Process?

High School Extracurriculars: What Matters in the College Application Process?

Jazz Band! Volleyball! Student Council! Grill Club! Today’s teens are shuffling from one after school activity to the next, hoping that their involvement in an array of clubs, organizations and sports teams will make them more attractive candidates in the college application process. The “overscheduled child” is no longer viewed as a negative but, instead, has become the expectation. Does all of this involvement really make a student stand out in the eyes of admission officers? What actually makes an applicant a more attractive candidate to a university?

Focus on Depth, Not Breadth
There is a common misperception that the more activities a student can rattle off on their applications, the more impressive they’ll be to the dean of admission. The reality is that students who demonstrate a deep commitment and passion for a few clubs or sports, as opposed to listing many where they’ve had just a superficial level of involvement, will be much more impactful. Colleges want students who have shown dedication to, and leadership within, the activities in which they’ve been involved. Joining many clubs to simply fill up a resume demonstrates just the opposite. The same rings true for community service opportunities. Demonstrated involvement over time sends a different message than a one-day project done to fulfill service hour requirements for school.

Jobs Count
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for teens has been steadily dropping for years. As high school students’ schedules become loaded with homework, sports and clubs, there is little time left for an after school job. However, admission officers around the country agree that employment counts on the application just as much as listing membership in a club. A job shows responsibility, independence and commitment, and for many, it provides another opportunity to demonstrate leadership. If your teen is wavering on how scooping ice cream or being a lifeguard at a local pool might look on their application, assure them that it gets a thumbs up from the admission desk.

“Pay to Play” Programs and Trips
There are many fee-based summer programs that offer global experiences for high school students. While these excursions typically offer fantastic learning opportunities for teens, there is no greater value placed on a student studying lions in Zimbabwe as part of a paid program versus a student who explores the U.S. National Parks on a family road trip. Both could make for excellent college essay topics, so don’t discount organic experiences and feel the need to pay for opportunities to impress admission officers.

Grades Trump Activities
No matter how many activities a student is part of, or how many leadership roles they hold, hyper-involvement will never overshadow the importance of a strong academic record. The key here is for students to maintain balance between being academically successful and demonstrating dedication to their extracurriculars. Colleges are looking for students they know will be able to successfully balance the academic and social aspects of college life. Students should keep their grades up and dive into meaningful activities that provide them an opportunity for leadership and growth.

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