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How Extracurriculars Can Help You Grow and Show Your Strengths

The holiday season reminds us to appreciate what really matters: family members, connections with friends, and good health. It’s also a time to reflect on the past year and on priorities for 2015.

As a busy high school student, you may find yourself wondering whether any of your sports, clubs, or summer commitments will make a difference in the college admission process. These activities do matter to admissions officers, but not because they are the “right” ones. They matter because you are highlighting what you value and how you have grown, as a result of specific interests and activities.

With that in mind, here are our tips for identifying key extracurricular interests next year.


What Do We Recommend?

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  • Be authentic. Seek out and take full advantage of opportunities you truly enjoy. If you enjoy service, for example, combine it with another interest. If you’re an athlete, try coaching a youth sports team. If you are in an a cappella group, encourage your peers to visit a nursing home to share your love of music with the elderly. If you love robotics, mentor a middle school FIRST LEGO league team. Remember, while overseas service trips are terrific, there are many meaningful ways to serve the community right in your own neighborhood.

 

  • Use your summers wisely. Academic programs are a great way to enhance your learning if you study a topic that is not offered at your school. Attending a program on a college campus will not, in most cases, improve your chances of admission to that college, but if you find a course that is exciting and offers the chance to explore a new topic, go for it.

 

  • Learn something new. Stretch yourself. In school-based clubs, find an opportunity that helps you develop new skills. If you’ve always been apprehensive about public speaking and your school offers Model UN, try it out! You may not be in the spotlight on the first try, but you can work your way up to being a delegate. If you love baking, serve on a fundraising committee and combine your bake sale know-how with leading your peers. As you increase your involvement, challenge yourself by taking on a leadership position. You never know what you might learn!

 

  • Use your summers wisely. Academic programs are a great way to enhance your learning if you study a topic that is not offered at your school. Attending a program on a college campus will not, in most cases, improve your chances of admission to that college, but if you find a course that is exciting and offers the chance to explore a new topic, go for it.

 

  • Don’t overschedule yourself. Build in time to reflect. Have you heard the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none”? This idea applies to extracurriculars! Students today have overflowing plates, with classes, homework, and standardized tests. Pick a few key activities that you enjoy, that give you opportunities to grow, and stick with them. When you apply to college, the depth of your involvement will be noted with appreciation.Every four to six months, take stock of how your extracurriculars are going. Are you enjoying them? Are you learning about yourself through your involvement? Are you deepening connections to others through your engagement? Give yourself a pat on the back for what has gone well; think about how to improve anything that hasn’t.

 

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If you love learning by doing, consider an internship. Identify an area of interest and ask your parents, your school’s alumni office, a counselor, or a teacher if they know a professional who might take you under his or her wing for at least three weeks.

Read! As exciting as structured activities are, reading for pleasure helps with schoolwork and reading comprehension. It also feeds your soul and exposes you to new and interesting ideas. Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, novels, articles from qz.com, anything goes: just find a topic that excites you and read about it!

As your extracurricular profile develops, advisors, teachers, supervisors, and counselors will take note. If you feel you’ve made an important connection with someone and done an exceptional job with an activity, that advisor or supervisor may be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you. Take him or her up on the offer. Carefully chosen recommendations help admission officers to appreciate not just your work, but also your values.

As important as it is to look ahead and plan for the admissions process, it’s vital to stay in the moment and take advantage of every opportunity to learn about yourself, and others, through each commitment. If you invest time and energy in your activities, you’ll reap real benefits – and by the time application time rolls around, you’ll have plenty of authentic, important experiences and insights to share.

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