Activities That Actually Look Good to Colleges
You’re probably like many students, who come to us agonizing over what are the “right” activities to do. You ask yourself, “Am I doing enough? Are my choices what colleges are looking for? Do I look well-rounded enough?”
While you’re correct to assume that extracurricular activities play an important role in the college admissions process, if these are your questions, you’re asking the wrong ones.
From sports to the arts, and everything in-between, activities shape as well as communicate your interests and ambitions in ways that coursework cannot. The reason is, you ultimately choose how you spend your time outside of school, whereas you don’t have much choice in school.
So, what does matter when it comes to activities? To help you make smarter decisions about how you spend your time, let us separate fact from fiction for you.
Quality is more important than quantity.
Students often worry when they put 20 hours a week into one particular interest, be it crew, computer programming, or musical theatre. There are, of course, several permutations of that activity that occupy their time, but those hours all essentially revolve around the same theme.
The truth is, if you’re achieving at a high level in whatever that one pursuit is, then you have intuited exactly what you should be doing!
Most colleges are looking for students who passionately pursue one or two interests, not those who dispassionately pursue many. Without that kind of focus, there is no way anyone could ever accomplish anything at the national or international level. So, if you’re worried that you practice too much for competitive auditions, or you spend too much time on the soccer field, rest assured that you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to.
Colleges want “pointy students,” not well-rounded ones.
When college admissions professionals review students’ extracurricular involvement, nothing is more confusing than finding a disjunctive mass of activity choices. Students add something musical, something athletic, something social justice-oriented, and something technological. Further down the line, there is an art program, an internship, a foreign language exchange, and a mission trip.
While this approach to activities will be okay in the eyes of some schools, it will unfortunately shoot students dead in the water at selective and highly-selective colleges and universities. Doing one of everything keeps colleges from understanding who you are, when they are desperately trying to define you! Are you the Fashion Blogger Girl or the Model U.N. Guy? Are you the Baseball Champion or the Robotics Queen? Allowing colleges to attach these labels to your profile is incredibly important, so think thematically when picking you activities.
Having an impact trumps just showing up
Let’s say you pour all of your time, but not all of your heart, into activities. You know that it’s important to do them, but you’re don’t feel like putting in much effort. Can colleges tell?
The answer is: Yes! Anyone can rack up fifteen hours a week practicing on a varsity sports team, but it’s something else to make an impact. Colleges look at the contributions you make through your leadership positions, awards, and stats, no matter how much time you spend at a given activity each week. They also read your supplemental essays looking quite closely for stories that show how you have exerted an influence. That’s why it is so important to do activities that you not only love and care about, but are also willing to go the extra mile in.
If you leave a mark, colleges will remember you.
So, if you’re still wondering if you’re doing the right activities, remember it’s not the kind of activity that you do nor is it the quantity. It’s the quality, your commitment, and above all your impact. Because it’s ultimately those qualities that will make your activities matter.
– Victoria Tillson Evans