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By Elizabeth LaScala

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About this blog: I post articles to offer timely and substantive college admission guidance on important topics and issues. Originally from New York, I have a B.S. from Hunter College in NYC and advanced professional degrees from the University of...  (More)

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What Extracurricular Activities Will Get Me into College?

Uploaded: Jan 2, 2014
As a college admission advisor, I hear this question often from parents and students alike. Sometimes students try to amass an array of activities to adorn their applications and impress college representatives. But this is usually not the best way to go. Instead, think of the extracurricular activities you pursue as opportunities to discover those you really care about and can remain committed to for some time. The temptation to collect numerous activities is strong, but remember that college admission officers are interested in meaningful engagement, not perfunctory participation. They are smart and experienced enough to distinguish between the two. That said, here are a few rules to guide your extracurricular involvement:

START EARLY. Too often we adults talk to young people in the abstract, admonishing them to 'do something to put on your college application!' This is not as helpful as showing them an application and going over the various sections so they have a sense of what needs to be done. So, soon after I start working with a student I show him or her 'real' college application. Most young people are quick to register that there are places on an application for academic awards, school activities, educational programs (beyond high school), employment, and summer activities. When the light goes on, it is easy to start brainstorming ideas about where to start. And, of course, starting early is best. The middle school years are often the time when the fire of service is stoked, passion for sports ignited and joy of making music with others discovered.

DO WHAT YOU LOVE. Colleges strive to admit a balanced and diverse freshman class with a wide range of talents and interests. If you're not interested in student government, sports or leadership, set those aside. Perhaps you love to draw and there is a place for you as the student artist for your school's newspaper; or perhaps you can establish a new wrestling club, something students have talked about for ages. Colleges are interested in students who engage in a few meaningful activities and demonstrate their commitment to those activities over time. Students who participate extensively (10-20 hours per week) in a few (2 – 3) pursuits will always outshine comparable applicants who dabble in a multitude of activities.

GET INVOLVED IN YOUR HIGH SCHOOL. Think of your high school as college and your surrounding community as the world outside of your college campus. These analogies are useful because when colleges review your application, they are looking at it from this perspective (e.g. what he or she did for her high school and community is what she will likely do for our college and surrounding community.)

You can support your high school in many meaningful ways. Venture beyond your high school to your local community and find your niche, like singing with a chorus or playing your violin for a church ensemble at weekly services; take your voice or instrument out into the community to provide entertainment at senior centers during the holidays, for example.) There are so many ways to get involved; once you begin you may have trouble finding the time to do all you would like to do!

THE LIVING IS EASY. Relaxation time is surely important. But hanging out all summer is not wise. Use your summer to secure an internship, take a class, or enroll in a camp that will allow you to further explore your interests outside the classroom. If you want to make an impression on your college application, extracurricular activities can teach you more about yourself and your interests; you can forego some lazy summer days and use your vacation to discover yourself.

SHOW ME THE MONEY. Securing employment signals that you are mature, practical, and ready to take on the responsibilities associated with adulthood. A job that relates in some way to an area of interest is a great way to learn more about a career path, even if you are just organizing an office or answering phones. Working teaches you lessons about the world of work, and the value of money, savings, and responsibility.

THE FINAL WORD. Get involved early, strive for authenticity, and college will take care of itself.

Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admissions. She develops best match college lists, offers personalized interview and essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth helps students from all backgrounds to maximize merit and financial aid awards. Visit Elizabeth Call (925) 891-4491 or email her at elizabeth@doingcollege.com.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Jan 5, 2014 at 11:35 am

What kind of volunteer matters to universities? Is there any kind of volunteer work that doesn't count on a college/university application?

Posted by Elizabeth LaScala, a resident of another community,
on Jan 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Hi Cholo,

My personal view is that all volunteer work counts to the community/non profit being served. I would imagine that most colleges view all volunteer work in a positive way as well, but may discern a difference between mandatory volunteer work that high schools require and students perform because they must, versus a sustained commitment to volunteer work that students perform because they are passionate about service. There are so many groups that benefit from volunteerism, so all volunteer work is of value if it fills a need.

Hope this helps!

Posted by Danville Resident, a resident of Danville,
on Jan 8, 2014 at 9:38 am

Our experience is make sure your kid does well on the SAT\'s invest in a tutor if you know your kid will score below 1800...

Also have your child take and pass AP class\'s so they don\'t have to take them in college.

Also after they graduate HS that summer have them take 2 class at the local JC that will be accepted at the college they will be attending so the work load the 1st year will be lighter thus hopefully insuring a successful Freshman year.

The article above is dribble....

Posted by Debbie Carmel, a resident of Alamo,
on Jan 8, 2014 at 9:47 am

Thank you Ms. LaScala for passing on valuable and timely college information to us parents that can be given to our children!

I also appreciate comments from other parents who have already gone through the pre-college process as it seems difficult to find all of the much-needed information in a specific book or location although the Career Center Staff at SRVHS (Candy Jewett) are very helpful.

Any other helpful comments from the community on your experiences regarding extracurricular (or other related info./thoughts/resources) are much appreciated...

Posted by Rohn, a resident of Alamo,
on Jan 8, 2014 at 9:53 pm

20 hours a week of extracurricular activity????? Whawhuwhat?

Posted by Rohn, a resident of Alamo,
on Jan 8, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Flabbergasted at the nonsense being spewed as a recommendation to get into college. Nose to the grindstone - get top grades/top SAT and that's all you need. Those who get top jobs and are successful are FOCUSED and DISCIPLINED. I toss out applicants who waste their time "volunteering". That doesn't take talent, doesn't take effort, doesn't take discipline. Let them go work for the government or competitors who are failing...

Posted by Conservator, a resident of Danville,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 9:44 am

It would appear that some of the responders to Dr. LaScala's offered opinions and encouragement did not fully comprehend lest likely read the full context of what was written. Based on purely unsubstantiated conjecture (on my part), I read the two dissenting antagonists to this column as looking at all industrious collegians as being tomorrow's bench engineer or lab scientist. In those circles, the pursuit of "top grades/top SAT" is "all you need" has become the norm when it comes to hiring at an organization where the primary product is downloaded from iTunes or the like. As surprising as may be to some, not all future collegians long for a STEM education, nor should they.

?If a man does not keep pace with his companion, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.? Thoreau (Walden).

Posted by Cholo Pololo Mololo, a resident of Livermore,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 10:48 am

I walk dogs, play with puppies to help socialize them, and volunteer for 2 other organizations. In the past, I never volunteered for anything because I believed that it was a waste of time. I needed to make money so that I could provide for myself and a few others.

I don't believe that volunteering is necessarily good for anybody. Even now, I dislike being aware of all the slick moves I've witnessed at some organizations that frequently seek volunteers. If an org. can't hear what I as a volunteer am concerned about, I split.

Posted by Cholo PM, a resident of Livermore,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 10:52 am


Posted by Pololo, a resident of Livermore,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 10:54 am

volunteer and end up eating porkchops and raisins for the rest of your life...i rest my case...

Posted by Danville Resident, a resident of Danville,
on Jan 10, 2014 at 8:56 am

Conservator I would agree with one of the points you make;
"not all future collegians long for a STEM education, nor should they. The world still needs dishwashers and cooks and housewives....

I would believe the majority of the folks who are your neighbors in Danville would disagree and I don't think they attained the level of success in life without 99% of them excelling in education.

I also don't feel one should volunteer their time and effort to a cause for anything else than personal satisfaction and let it go at that...to volunteer and want to receive a benefit from it in the form of recognition would reveal ones character...

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Jan 10, 2014 at 9:59 am

Hi Grasshopper(Danville Resident), are you noble or what?

What exactly do you mean by "noble". Pretty fancy talk coming from a cucaracha
like you.

B U S T E D!

Posted by Conservator, a resident of Danville,
on Jan 10, 2014 at 10:56 am

Dear Danville Resident,

Please if your intention is to quote my statements and then add shamelessly, at least provide some broadly bombastic context worthy of a good chuckle. Your reference to those that choose not a STEM education does little to pad the soul of those that found their fortune by their abilities to read and write in compliment to those who could apply the Second Law (of Thermo) in their daily work. Remember, education comes in many forms. I'm presuming that you appreciate this notion.

In addition, you have done a great disservice to those vast armies of 'domestic entrepreneurs' ("housewife" by your creative prose) that tend to populate our city's merchants during a normative workday by implying that their likely post-secondary educations from fine institutions is negligible.

Lastly, in terms of how one's actions are clearly revealed by their underlying character, rhetorically riddle the following questions. Ever write-off donations against your taxable income to thereby lower your own taxes? Do you curse every building with a name on it due to the donor's philanthropy and obvious self indulgence? Since we emerged from the caves, civilized society has generally found ways to incentivize the individual to act on the behalf of the many.

The part you're missing is that volunteerism teaches a young soul to 'serve'. The process of linking it to a college application is simply one of society's mechanisms for catalyzing that action in our youth.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Jan 11, 2014 at 7:06 pm



This is what I'm talkin' about!!!

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