Sophomores and juniors in high school have so much to do. You’re reading, writing, problem-solving, creating, collaborating and practicing, all while you’re spending time with friends and family and trying to figure out what you care about most. When you start thinking about applying to college, you may wonder about the role activities play in the process and how you should assess your involvement.

Let’s start with what activities aren’t for – impressing admissions committees. While this may be an outcome of the activities you participate in, it shouldn’t be the reason you choose or develop an interest. Why not?

  • If you choose an activity you have little interest in, it will be difficult to stick with it. You may end up investing valuable time in something that you quit or keep doing an activity even if it’s drudgery – instead of going deeper into an activity you care about.
  • If you suddenly add a slew of activities later in high school for the sake of padding your application, admissions officers will see through that and may wonder if you have real interests.

What are extracurricular activities for?
Activities are a way for you to grow and develop as a person, explore your interests, express yourself, and learn how to interact with a variety of people in different settings. Activities can help you build your talent as an athlete, musician, artist, actor or problem solver. They can give you the opportunity to practice both leadership and collaboration. Activities can give you a platform to develop your ideas and speak your mind, or find a way to engage with a community you are drawn to.

How can I get more out of my activities?
Once you’re involved in activities you care about, don’t stop there! Deciding to go deeper within your existing activities will enhance their meaning and often take you places you never knew you could go. How?

  • Set goals for yourself. Think about what your role has been up until now and ask yourself how you might bring new energy to the group or set personal milestones you want to achieve. Think about this before each semester starts and write it down. It’s a great way to keep you moving toward your goals.
  • Set group goals as well. Often, groups have similar events spaced throughout the academic year. Ask your group how you may improve existing events or if there is something new you could work toward together.
  • Keep a list of what you’ve done and what you’ve learned. This does not have to be long –  just a bulleted list to jog your memory and help you see how far you’ve come. Being able to articulate your successes, failures and growth will help you understand the impact of your participation. This will be a great tool to have when you do start working on your college applications. It will help you explain your own progression and will likely give you essay topic ideas as well.
About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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