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College Admissions: 10 Extra-Curriculars That Colleges Notice

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Membership in a diversity-oriented club such as a high school's Gay-Straight Alliance indicates to a college that you bring much-desired leadership to their campus.

As families regenerate this summer and look toward the next school year, it’s a great time to review what your child is participating in outside of class. Often, when students get to 11th grade and suddenly realize that their resume is blank for college as far as participation in activities is concerned. And colleges are suspicious when an applicant suddenly adds clubs in junior year. Other students wake up halfway through high school

and see that they have been too narrowly focused on sports. So, here are 10 extra-curricular activities that colleges love to see on student resumes:

1. Student Government

Colleges like students who are engaged in formulating and executing policies and procedures at their school. Elected offices and those that have responsibility for finances are also highly regarded. Colleges feel that these students are likely to be responsible citizens on campus and give back in the form of college government participation.

2. Debate Team, Mock Trial

These clubs are particularly well thought of because they help students develop critical thinking and analytical skills. Debate fosters an ability to think on one’s feet and to formulate a well supported argument for issues. Mock Trial teaches students legal procedure and research skills. Both produce students who are engaged, thoughtful participants in class discussions.

3. Academic Teams: Math, Envirothon, Robotics, Decathlon, etc.

Nothing shows a passion for academics better than a rigorous math meet, unless it is an academic decathlon, robotics competition or Envirothon. Colleges want students who are willing to put time in outside of class to compete locally, regionally and nationally in their field of choice. It shows a genuine academic interest that transcends the classroom.

4. The Arts: Music, Theatre, Visual Arts

Colleges value creativity, whether you play the cello in the state youth orchestra, have the lead in plays, or paint your heart out in studio art classes. The arts help brain development and they lend vibrancy to campuses.

5. Internships, Research Opportunities

Performing research outside of school is highly valued if you intend to pursue a medical or scientific career. It shows a student’s commitment to their field and gives colleges the confidence that they understand higher level research protocols. However, internships in any field will impress a college, from working in a law office to shadowing a sports trainer. Any opportunity that you seek out to learn more about a career path is valued by admissions officers.

6. Diversity Club

It doesn’t matter if you belong to a multi-cultural organization, an interfaith group, the gay-straight student alliance or a group that integrates students with disabilities. One of the hottest topics on college campuses today is tolerance for individuals who are different. Colleges want students who will be leaders in teaching acceptance in their dorms and classrooms.

7. Community Service

At most competitive colleges (and even at many less competitive colleges), community service on a student resume is a MUST. Many colleges want to see at least 50 hours per year, or about one afternoon a month. I recommend that students think about what they love to do, and then find a volunteer activity that matches. If you love to play baseball, be an assistant coach for a little league team. If you love to play the piano, help teach piano in an inner city music organization. This will make the time enjoyable and it will serve as a proof point that you are passionate about that activity.

8. School Newspaper, Literary Magazine

Too many students today lack writing skills, and yet writing is one of the most critical factors for success in college. So, get on the staff of your school newspaper, write a story for your school literary magazine or a national youth journal. Being published is a powerful asset when you are building a portfolio of accomplishments for colleges.

9. Job

For some students, sports and clubs are a luxury they can’t afford. They must work to help support their families. Colleges rarely penalize a student who can’t participate in extra-curriculars because of family circumstances. Holding down a job shows responsibility and commitment. If you can demonstrate consistency and movement in attaining higher level positions (asst. manager, etc.), that’s even better.

10. Sports

I put sports last because so many students today are athletes. Seasonal sports have become year round, and travel teams dominate the lives of many high school kids. There is no doubt that sports are a great opportunity to learn team work and stay healthy. However colleges see SO many athletes, that unless you are recruitable, it doesn’t stand out at many institutions. And sadly, many students have to sacrifice clubs at school to play sports. So, a student who plays soccer and Lacrosse doesn’t have time to be on the debate team or in the school play. It’s a tough call, but balance is the key. Students should have a range of 4-6 different types of activities that they are consistently involved with throughout high school—not just sports.

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic college counseling, SAT prep and athletic recruiting services www.collegeadvisorsonline.com.


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