Last Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Over the past year, I have filled out many college and scholarship applications that asked me to list examples of leadership activities. When I came upon these questions, I became anxious because I hadn’t gained a lot of leadership experience during high school. I’ve always been actively involved in my community, but I never really assumed leadership roles until my senior year of high school.
So what leadership activities do colleges expect to see on your applications? What kind of leadership roles can a teenager assume, anyways? And where should you go to be a leader?
Where to find leadership roles in high school
The most obvious place to find leadership roles is often right in front of you: your school. If you belong to an after-school club that you love, why not run to be its president or secretary? At my school, almost every single club has a governing body, providing students with dozens of opportunities to become leaders.
Outside of school, students can find other leadership opportunities at their religious or local organizations. Looking for some high school leadership ideas? You might…
- Start a book club at the library
- Serve the note-taker/secretary for town government
- Act as the official reporter for a local website or newspaper covering a specific “beat” (like your high school!)
- Lead a youth group at their mosque
- Direct the yearly Christmas play at their church
- Ask to be in charge of sorting donations for a soup kitchen
- Become a lead volunteer for an organization that needs administrative help
- Start a Gold Award or Eagle Scout project for their Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop (respectively)
And these are just a few examples of leadership positions for high school students! Look for things that are important to you and see how you can get involved.
What being a leader is like
If you are going to take on a leadership role, then you need to be prepared for all of the responsibilities that come with that role. Being a leader is more than just having a title like “vice president” or “treasurer.” In order to be a real leader, you must be willing to embrace responsibility and the challenges that come with being in charge of a group of people. You have to be innovative, creative, and willing to get your hands dirty and take charge. For example, if you are the president of your school's Key Club, you could organize a pajama drive for your local nursing home or you could take it upon yourself to manage all the volunteer scheduling for a nearby animal shelter. Be an active leader that your peers can look up to so your leadership experience is real rather than a flimsy fabrication.
Being a leader also means you might have to do things you do not want to do. For example, I recently handed out raffle tickets to every person wearing a seatbelt in the student parking lot of my high school in order to raise seatbelt safety awareness. I didn't mind handing out the tickets…until I found out I had to do it in 30° weather at 7:00 am. Obviously, I wasn't too thrilled to be roused from my bed half an hour earlier than usual, but I still handed out the tickets since it was my responsibility, as a leader.
Why you should lead in high school
Yes, leadership experience looks good on a college application (or any application, really). Saying you have leadership experience shows future employers or college admission counselors an important aspect of your personality and certain skills. By being a leader, you display the ability to work well with others, inspire others, and cooperate with different types of people, even if you do not agree with their ideas or tastes. It demonstrates a commitment to improving the world around you. And if you hold a leadership position in addition to your other extracurriculars, you learn how to multitask and handle stress effectively.
Employers are always looking to hire these kinds of people. College admission officers look for those qualities in students too, because they usually make great, contributive members of their student bodies. Being a leader also shows that you’re truly invested in a group, and it typically requires a longer-term commitment. Colleges appreciate both of those things, and when it comes to putting activities on your applications, quality is way more important than quantity.
Colleges are also looking for students and future alumni they can brag about. If you’re a student who has already held leadership positions throughout high school, you look like the kind of student with a bright future ahead. And your colleges probably want to be a part of the future. However, you don’t want to get involved in leadership roles for purely materialistic reasons. As you take on more leadership positions, you will realize that being a leader is a rewarding experience unlike any other.
Leadership roles prepare you for the real world because being a leader forces you to solve problems effectively. You will also meet some amazing people that challenge the way you think and open up your mind to new ideas. Becoming a leader will not only help open doors in your future, but it will help you in the present as well, showing you who can or want to be.
What kinds of high school leadership roles do you want—or already have? What are they like? For more admission advice, check out our College Admission section!