Why Extracurricular Activities are not Extra for College Admissions
We have already talked about what one needs to do to get into a US college which includes grades, SAT scores, essays, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activities. Today, I want to emphasize the importance of extracurricular activities on college admissions.
Importance of Extracurricular Activities for College Admissions
We put too much emphasis on grades and SAT/ACT that we forget the main component of our jigsaw. Of course, it’s very important to have good grades and scores but that alone will not make you stand out in front of ten thousand other applications. I’m afraid not.
Extracurricular activities are not extra but it shows what extra activities you have done outside your classroom. It also builds your confidence, positive energy, and helps remain focused.
Let’s take Tara and Sid who are in Grade 11 and both have applied to the University of Michigan for a computer science major. Both Tara and Sid have excellent grades and Sid has an ACT score of 36 while Tara’s ACT score is 34. Sid is a tennis player and has won many Inter-School matches and teaches the local kids’ tennis while Tara has spent her last 5 years building an app for her school to track the school buses and is the founder and President of her girls Robotics club. She also raised $1500 to teach the local girls how to code.
If you were the college admissions person whom would you give admission to? Sid or Tara?
Tara right, even though Sid has a perfect score he has not shown any interest in his major and his passion for tennis is not aligned with his major. If Sid was a national tennis champion, the college would accept him and want him to represent the college and he would be spending 4-5hours practicing daily. On the other hand, Tara has not only shown dedication and commitment but also leadership qualities by starting the club and raising funds.
Let’s take another case where Pooja paints as a hobby and Samir has had art exhibitions and started an art club for underprivileged kids and done web designing for the Editorial Board of his school for the last 6 years.
Both want to apply to the University of Art. Who do you think would get accepted? You are getting the point, right.
What do Admissions Officers Look For in Extracurricular Activities?
- No matter the activity, colleges look for the quality of involvement rather than the number of activities
- Whether time spent on involvement has been growth-producing, productive, or meaningful
- Focus on the depth of your interests, not the breadth
- How leadership or initiative has been demonstrated
- What kind of outside recognition has been received
- Specific qualities like competence, effectiveness, high energy level, adventurous nature, responsibility, curiosity, perseverance, cooperation, sustained commitment, maturity, character, passion, and focus
Advice on Extracurricular Activities in High School
To build on your activities and to take it some higher-level takes time. Most students don’t even know what they want to do or what their interests are. It’s important to know what your interests and passions are and focus your activities around it. That’s why it’s important to start thinking about it as early as 7th grade.
Hopefully, by Grade 8 or 9 you have a clear picture and you start working on it so by Grade 11 your passion, dedication, the commitment will come out naturally when you write those essays. The college application reader will get to know you and your story through your essays, and it must touch his/her heart and say Wow! I want that kid in my college.
Extracurricular activities are important for international students applying to the elite and most competitive colleges and universities. So, if you are really aiming for the top schools, don’t take them for granted.
Push your kid to “Go the Extra Mile” and find his/her passion and move towards it!
Author: Ruchi Saran
Ruchi specializes in counseling students from Grade 8 – 12 for College Admissions to the US. She has spent her last 8 years understanding the college admissions process and firmly believes that the key is to start early. Having lived both in India and the US in the last 25 years, she understands the education system very well in both places.
She has a BA in Psychology and an Associate Degree in Interior Design, Graphic Design, and Child Education and has worked with kids ranging from 5-18 years. She was instrumental in setting up the GEMS Modern Academy School in Gurgaon. She strongly believes in giving back to the community and is an active volunteer in a couple of NGOs. She is also on the board for Udayan Care USA.
Currently, she is residing in California, USA with her husband and 2 sons. One is a graduate from UC Berkeley and the other has just joined UC Berkeley as a freshman.
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