One of the most frequent questions I received
from students as a formed admissions officer is “what
activities look good on an application?” As one of the
most frequent questions, it was simultaneously one of the most frustrating. Why
Generally, it looks like the answer should be
fairly straightforward – “If you do X, Y and Z, you
will be offered admission.” People want to believe that
there must be some perfect combination of extracurricular activities that
admissions officers expect to see in their applicants, and if the student
follows that predictable pattern, then they will “look
Wrong. This is why the question is frustrating:
for some reason, it does not resonate with students or the parents that there
is no predictable, perfect combination of activities that will guarantee
admission. In fact, the more a student has an activities profile that looks
like every other student’s activities profile, the less
likely they will stand out. How is that for irony?
But the idea is not to do everything you
believe other people are not. If this were the case, then hundreds of
activities would cease to exist, as no one would feel like they should be part
of a team or group. The idea – and prepare for
something you have heard before – is to be yourself.
But what does that mean, especially with regards to extracurricular activities?
It means, very simply, find the things you like to do and do the best you can
with them. If something doesn’t exist, create it. If
something is already in place join it. Do not be afraid to try things until you
find what you like, because in the end, you will remember your contributions to
something you enjoyed and found some benefit in through your participation.
People remember successful accomplishments much more frequently than they
So you try some things out and find out you
don’t like anything. What then? Well, this will require
you to do an inventory of what you like to do: read, cook, sing, dance – whatever you like naturally – and find a
way to be the best at that endeavor. Read to other kids on the weekends; cook
for someone who is not able to cook for themselves; sing at local competitions;
dance at your community center. Whatever you love to do, do it BIG and do it
often. This will form the basis of your extracurricular profile.
Even if you are in school organized
activities, follow that advice – do it BIG and do it
often. This is how you show your aptitude in the activity and demonstrate your
love for the experience. You have to begin to move from simple participation to
begin to demonstrate mastery. This is what is meant by “Doing something BIG”. Get involved deeply,
show interest by going to meetings, suggest ideas, attend events – prove to the admissions officer that your being in that activity
was more than just showing up. You relate your developing mastery by becoming a
leader in the activity, competing on a regional or national level or by
teaching others; these are reflected in you receiving awards, recognition from
your teachers and guidance counselor, and the sophistication with which you
write your essays.
So there is no set formula for choosing
extracurricular activities. The formula comes after you decided what you want
to do: love what you do + get recognized for your contribution + successfully
moving from participant to master = standing out in the application pool.