One question I’m often asked by parents and students is how many extracurricular activities is the “right” amount, and which are the “right” ones to be doing. These questions add another layer of complexity to the already daunting process of college applications. However, as colleges are increasingly evaluating students on the strength of their involvement beyond classroom academics, they’re worth delving into on a deeper level.
Let’s start with examples of two prior students.
Christina is an 11th grade student planning to go into oncology. She is the lead cellist in her school’s orchestra and has played at several major state competitions. Additionally, she is the captain of her school’s Science Olympiad team, which won three important competitions this season. Once a week, she mentors an elementary school student through the organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters. As she enjoys cooking, she is also a member of her school’s Culinary Arts club which meets and cooks various cultural dishes weekly, and attends Chinese classical dance lessons once a week. She is practicing for an annual dance showcase for friends and family. She has a weighted GPA of 4.2, an SAT score of 1400, and an ACT score of 33. Currently, Christina is enrolled in 4 AP classes, with plans to take 6 in her senior year.
Isabelle is an 11th grade student who wants to be a congresswoman one day and is planning to major in Political Science. She is an active member of her school’s Speech and Debate club, and participates in every competition. She is a member of five additional in-school clubs: the Anime Club, in which she is working with three other students to write a manga novel; Smile Train, a club that holds fundraisers to pay for surgeries for children born with a cleft palate (she is the secretary); the Math Club, through which she peer tutors once per week at the local community center, the Jane Austen Book Club, which reads and discusses one novel a month; and Surfriders, which organizes monthly beach cleanups that Isabelle attends regularly. Outside of school, she is captain of a club volleyball team and has won several games against other teams in the state. She has a weighted GPA of 3.7 and an SAT score of 1350. She is currently enrolled in 3 AP classes, with plans to take 4 in her senior year.
Which student is better situated for college admissions?
To answer this question, we must first consider the three areas a student should aim to fulfill when selecting extracurriculars.
- Leadership (note that a student does not have to achieve the Presidency or Vice Presidency in their organization, as long as they are using their position to actively promote the organization’s growth)
- Pre-professional exploration (major-related activities)
- Community engagement (addressing the needs of a specific group of people)
So, let’s take a look at what each of these students are doing right, and what they can do better.
What is Christina doing well? As captain of Science Olympiad, Christina fulfills both leadership and pre-professional exploration since her desired career of medicine is clearly science-driven. Her position as first cellist also fulfills the leadership category, since top players are typically responsible for assisting with the training of other orchestra members. As a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Christina is actively bettering her community by working with low-income children. The Culinary Arts club and Chinese classical dance lessons are for her personal enjoyment. Her current commitments do not appear to be impacting her academics negatively.
What can she do better? If she can continue to maintain her A average, Christina would benefit from adding an out-of-school major-related activity. As the pre-health majors to which she will likely be applying are highly competitive, she’ll need to make herself stand out by highlighting her personal initiative. An excellent example would be a year-long internship or research assistantship with a professor at a local university who is conducting research in her field of interest–in this case, oncology. Students typically obtain such positions by reaching out to professors via an email indicating their interest in the professor’s work, listing relevant skills, and outlining the goals they hope to achieve under the professor’s guidance.
Then, What is Isabelle doing well? And what can Isabelle do better?
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