Students and parents are always trying to find the one activity or achievement that will get them or their child into college. Here's the truth: there isn't one. Regardless of what they plan on majoring or their future goals, according to Big Future by the College Board: leadership, initiative, a willingness to take risks, a commitment to service and special talents and abilities are all characteristics that are deemed important by college admissions. These are qualities colleges can sense from any activity a student does, regardless of whether they spend their summers waitressing at a restaurant or at a prestigious academic program.
There are a few things regarding extracurriculars that will set you apart:
- Quality over Quantity--It's not the number of activities you're involved in that's important, but rather the lessons you have learned and how you have grown from participating in them. Sticking to one or two activities throughout high school and gaining leadership in those clubs or sports also shows much more about your dedication.
- Take Initiative--Don't be afraid to make a change, be a risk taker. If you see a problem, be a problem solver. Notice that there is a need in the community for canned goods for low-income families? Start a drive at your school. Wish there was a robotics team at school? Then start one. Colleges want take-charge students who will contribute to the on campus community.
- Be a leader--While valuable lessons can be learned as a participant, leaders gain experience at being resourceful, problem solvers, idea-contributors, and much more. Working up to a leadership position in a club or captain of a sports team shows a lot about your character as well. To college admissions, students who are leaders are also students who are ambitious, team players, and dependable.
- Stick to your interests--Participating in activities that you have a genuine interest in will make it easier to commit to them. Additionally, while it's not necessary to participate in activities relating to the major you plan on pursuing in college, it is good to explore your passions and see if you could imagine them turning into a career. For example, if creating new medical tools interests you it might benefit you to start researching in the biomedical department of a local university. Not only will this allow you to the get to know more about the field but it will also give you a chance to meet some professionals who could help you in the future.
- Develop connections--Building strong relationships with peers and mentors is one of the biggest benefits of participating in extracurricular activities. Down the line, your peers may be your colleagues or have the ability to provide you a connection to your dream job. In the more immediate future, having a mentor who knows you as a student and as a leader in extracurriculars will be valuable when you need a recommendation letter.
Overall, colleges are looking for students who have not only succeeded at learning inside the classroom, but outside as well. Regardless of what activity they are doing, if a student shows initiative, a desire to get involved, and an ambition to make a difference they will stand out above the rest.