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How to Leverage Specialized Extracurriculars in Emerging Fields for College

Extracurriculars in emerging fields are a great way to impress colleges, but what opportunities are available? Let's discuss what you can do to stand out.

Once upon a time, having high SAT scores and an impressive GPA were the only ways to secure a college acceptance—but the competition for admission seems to constantly be reaching new heights. Aside from reviewing high school exam scores and overall grades, colleges and universities increasingly place value on students with extracurriculars tied to emerging career fields. Specialized extracurricular activities allow high school students to explore their interests and set themselves apart from other applicants in the college application process. Let’s examine the growing significance of up-and-coming career fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), renewable energy, and biotechnology, plus how you can navigate and maximize these opportunities as a student.

The importance of specialized extracurriculars

Colleges weigh a student’s extracurricular activities alongside their grades to get a better perspective on the student’s character and talents. While your grades and exam scores are essential, they don’t give a complete picture of who you are as a student and a young adult. Extracurriculars let them know if you’ll be a good fit on campus and what level of participation you’ll likely bring to the student body.

Extracurricular experiences often reflect a student’s leadership abilities, so students who engage in specialized extracurriculars can show prospective admission departments their commitment and dedication to emerging fields and how they apply that knowledge practically. Specialized activities provide concrete examples of how you use leadership skills and impact those around you. Admission offices then use all this to determine who is passionate about their fields of interest and will follow through on their commitment—the kind of students they want on their campus.

Related: What Students Should Know About STEM Extracurricular Opportunities

Identifying specialized extracurricular opportunities

Several industries are experiencing rapid growth in the STEM and technology sectors. Artificial intelligence, renewable energy, and biotechnology are quickly becoming popular areas of study, and consequently, many universities actively seek students who are passionate about and demonstrate potential in these fields. STEM activities also offer excellent opportunities for underrepresented students to stand out on their college applications, thus encouraging equality and diversity in STEM fields.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

The AI industry is growing exponentially, and there’s a growing demand for students with a strong interest in machine learning, programming, and data science. Students can catch the attention of admission officers by engaging in AI-related activities, such as joining robotics clubs, participating in coding competitions, and working on AI research projects. These extracurriculars show colleges that you have an interest in AI and the critical technical expertise, creativity, and problem-solving skills for success in this industry.

Renewable energy

With the importance of sustainability in our culture, many universities now offer various study options in renewable energy. Students who are passionate about contributing to a more sustainable world should consider starting or participating in a solar energy club, school recycling program, or green technology project. Sustainable and environmental initiatives as extracurriculars reflect a student’s desire to shape a better future and can significantly enhance your college applications.


Technological advancements in agricultural and medical fields make biotechnology a necessary and popular field of study. Students who are interested in and talented in biology, health, or genetics should participate in extracurriculars that align with these. For example, college admission officers will take notice if you’re a member of a bioengineering club, participate in science fairs, intern with a biotech company, or volunteer at a hospital. Biotechnology is the driving force behind digital trends in the health care industry, and the demand for knowledgeable employees will only increase.

Related: 5 Great Places to Look for STEM Volunteer Opportunities in High School

Engaging in your extracurriculars

Once you’ve identified your passion(s) and discovered what you want to study further in college, you must engage in your activities as much as reasonably possible. Look for available internships or volunteer positions in your area, and get involved in clubs and project fairs to prove your interest further. Here are a few highlights you can then add to your résumé.

1. Active participation

More than just being a member of a club, you must show your dedication to your chosen passion to catch the attention of colleges. Participate actively in events, projects, or meetings. Apply to local and national competitions to demonstrate your specialty, or try mentoring younger students who share your passion for STEM-based subjects. Even if you’re not an extrovert or outgoing leader, you can still showcase your leadership skills by initiating projects or working behind the scenes to support a successful project or event.

2. Personal projects

Not everyone has a school or community that offers these types of clubs or events to engage with. Don’t worry! You can still gain practical experience with a specialized extracurricular by other means. Consider learning how to code, creating a website or app, engaging in private research, or initiating a campaign to develop or improve energy conservation policies in your local area. These examples highlight you as a creative individual who thinks outside the box and forges a path for your peers to follow.

3. Leadership skills

How much you participate in extracurriculars is as important as how long you participate. This quality can bring a competitive edge to your college applications if, for instance, you started with your club or organization in an entry-level role, then with more experience and time, you held a unique role with more responsibility. Those changes in your membership prove your leadership skills and commitment to the group. Admission officers look specifically for students who step up and take on these roles as future productive members of campus.

Related: 8 Leadership Qualities All Students Should Have

Building a portfolio

When (or even before) you begin the college application process, you should build a portfolio of your accomplishments in and out of school. Most high school students include a résumé, transcripts, letters of recommendation, creative work, and athletic statistics, among other content. Make sure you use your portfolio to draw attention to any of the ways you’ve engaged with your school or community in a STEM subject area, including:

  • Internships
  • Volunteering and community service
  • Artistic and creative pursuits
  • Academic clubs and teams
  • Leadership work and positions
  • Sports and athletic participation
  • Part-time jobs
  • Independent projects

Be strategic about which extracurricular activities to highlight in your portfolio. You don’t have to list everything—instead focus on showing application readers your best activities.

Related: How to Craft the Perfect High School Résumé

Your extracurricular activities let admission officers know more about who you are and how you will benefit their college community. Identify leadership opportunities and display a deep commitment to your endeavors. The evidence of your growth, initiative to take advantage of opportunities, and interest in emerging fields could make the difference between a college acceptance or rejection.

If you’re looking for more ways to take your student activities to the next level for college, check out Our Best Advice for Participating in Extracurricular Activities.

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