Will joining a lot of clubs and activities boost my college application?

Mitchell Lipton
Dean of Admissions and Records and Registrar

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Remember that quality of involvement is more important than quantity. Stick with activities that have always interested you, as most colleges can see through the applicant that pads their résumé, especially late in the game. There is no one type of activity that is valued most. Research, sports, literary clubs, drama, music, volunteer work, babysitting, etc.—all can be viewed as important to the college admission office, as we are trying to bring in a mix of students, each with their own qualities and backgrounds. Our college campuses would be quite boring if every incoming student had the same interests and résumé.

Douglas L. ChristiansenDouglas Christiansen
Vice Provost for Enrollment, Dean of Admissions

Vanderbilt University

Colleges and universities are looking for well-rounded applicants. This means they want applicants to be excellent students, have good test scores, be leaders in their school and community, and be involved in different types of activities. What is more critical to the application is not how many activities and clubs a student is in, but, rather, what the student does as a member of the clubs and activities. Is the student a leader? Did the student start a new club or organization? Did the student create a new volunteer activity for the school? What we like to see is how a student has changed his or her corner of the world through their actions, and how a student has grown personally through his or her participation. How did this activity affect the student? How has the student’s perspective on life changed as a result of this involvement? The answers to these questions, which can be weaved into any essay, short answer statements, or letters of recommendation, give us a snapshot of who a student is as a person.

Having said all this, what if a student has to work during high school? We know that some students need to work, and that is completely understandable. We also know having a job in high school is very stressful and takes as much time, or more, as many other activities. Just remember, there are still ways to volunteer in the community and be active in school activities that occur during the day. Being well-rounded is the key. Telling the story of how this extra responsibility has changed or shaped the student’s life is what we need to hear.

Marty O'ConnellMarty O'Connell
Exective Director
Colleges That Change Lives

Resist the urge to go out and join something new in your junior year just so you can fill in all the lines on a college application form! In order to create a vibrant learning community, college admission officers are trying to enroll a class of academically able students, from varied backgrounds and with many interests. It is not as important to have lots of activities as it is to be able to talk about why you have been involved in these activities and if you might also be interested in continuing them in college. One way to figure out what should be on your list is using this question as a guide: “Can I talk about all of these activities with the same enthusiasm?” If you are in a college interview and the dean looks at your list of activities and picks one and asks you to talk about why you spent your time doing that, you don’t want to be left speechless, just because you only went on one hike with the “Outdoor Club”!

Cyndy McDonaldCyndy McDonald
Higher Educational Consultants Association (HECA)

Colleges would rather see fewer activities, but more depth in that activity than a lot of activities that you only did once or twice. Being the vice president of the ecology club or French club is better than being a member of a dozen different clubs.

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