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By Elizabeth LaScala

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 [email protected]