Extracurricular activities on your college applications can help admission officers see another aspect of you beyond your GPA and test scores. That’s why it’s imperative to start getting involved early in high school and discover your interests and long-term goals. Below are three tips I found helpful when I was a high school student that can aid you in planning your extracurricular activities throughout your high school years.
1. Think outside the box
If you don’t have a clear direction of what you want to major in or what kind of path you want to take in the future, searching for activities to do can be quite difficult. A lot of high school students ask me how I was able to quickly discover my interests and know what kind of activities I wanted to participate in. To be honest, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to study at college. However, I did find a way to find activities I was interested in simply by reflecting on the tasks that I do every day. It’s important to bear in mind that extracurricular activities don’t need to be on the level of Model UN, TEDx, or student council. It could be anything from taking care of your siblings to baking cookies for your neighbors to having a job at McDonald’s.
For example, my cousin who is currently a high school sophomore didn’t know what activities she could pursue outside of school. However, as a child who was separated from her father and faced the tragic death of her mother, her responsibility to take care of her grandparents every day since her childhood is one that deserves to be mentioned in the activities section of her college application. Likewise, if you are facing difficulty finding an activity to pursue, start thinking about the tasks you complete daily. After that, it’s easy to develop from there. For my cousin’s case, I advised her to join an online literary magazine so she could pen her ups and downs and share her perspective with other high schoolers around the globe. Finding student activities is easier than you think if you simply start with your personal experiences.
2. Seek advice from both yourself and others
To many of my classmates, advice from their outside counseling agents on their extracurricular activities was easily accessible. Since sophomore year, most of my peers engaged in a wide variety of activities suggested by their counselors, such as research internships or volunteering. As a student without an outside counselor, I found it stressful to be surrounded by high-achieving peers who were already ahead of me, working for big companies and national laboratories. But lacking a counselor who could have helped me plan everything ahead of time gave me an advantage to constantly ask myself what I’m interested in and develop hobbies that I never thought I would have participated in. The lesson is, it’s important to seek advice from yourself instead of simply participating in activities that everyone else is doing.
At the same time, lacking advice from other professionals somehow caused me to overspend time on the activities that I was interested in, which ultimately made my high school years extremely busy with a packed schedule every week. So advice from adults such as high school counselors can also be extremely beneficial, especially since students can easily underestimate the combined workload of what you’ll be participating in. Moreover, it’s beneficial to discover resources from others that can strengthen your college applications. For example, one of my peers enrolled in outside counseling agencies was able to discover and win several volunteering awards recommended by his outside counselor, where award recipients were handpicked by judges who were associates of the consulting business. With that being said, anyone can be a great resource for you to seek advice on your extracurricular activities, from your high school counselor to your teachers to your parents or even your siblings. It all comes down to whether you spend time utilizing these existing resources around you and plan ahead on what you want to commit to.
3. Avoid résumé padding
It’s common for students to feel rushed and obligated to participate in a ton of activities because of peer pressure. We all know that one student who astonishes everyone by participating in every single activity, from cleaning the beach every weekend to being the president of two or three different school clubs. This leads to résumé padding, which inevitably reveals how one simply participates in all these activities with the sole purpose of applying to colleges. That’s why admission officers stress the phrase “quality over quantity.” A student who participates in a ton of activities is not necessarily better than one who invests a lot of time in one or two activities that they genuinely enjoy committing to.
For example, many of my classmates were advised by their outside counselors to participate in a variety of short-term volunteering activities with the aim of boosting their applications’ activity sections. However, moving on from one activity to another certainly doesn’t show your investment or passion in the activity you’re participating in. That’s why I committed to fewer activities compared to some of my peers and instead spent a lot of time investing in these activities that I could see myself working on throughout the course of high school and even beyond.
Ultimately, finding and participating in extracurricular activities can seem stressful. However, under the right guidance, it’s easy to develop your interests and show that passion on your college applications. Good luck and have fun with whatever you choose to do!
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