Are Extracurriculars Essential for Admission to Top-Tier Colleges?

Question: My kid is a top student at a very demanding private high school. She has few extracurricular activities and seems too busy with her studies and recreational reading to get involved. Are there any schools in the top 25 (or at that level) that do not consider EC’s?

As you probably already suspect, all top colleges consider a student’s extracurricular activities when making admission decisions, but you still may have wider berth than you think. “EC’s” don’t only mean yearbooks and literary magazines and lacrosse teams. In fact, you can imagine how easy it must be for admission folks to nod off when they’ve just read their 200th tribute to the glories of Model U.N. or Mock Trial, and they always perk up when they spot something new and different on an application.

For instance, you say that your daughter is an avid reader. Can she parlay that interest into an uncommon undertaking? Perhaps it’s time for her to take a stab at her favorite genre and write a novel, a biography, or a collection of humor essays or short stories. Maybe she could consider compiling and publishing a compendium of recommended books for middle or high school students.

If her schoolwork keeps her very busy at term time, she can still take on meaningful tasks in the summer. Admission officials tend to appreciate ventures that go against “type.” That is, a Chinese student who volunteers on a kibbutz in Israel attracts more attention at decision time than a Jewish applicant who does the same. An affluent student who mans a fast-food fry-o-lator for eight steamy weeks in order to pay for school books in the fall (or to make an impressive donation to a favorite charity) will also bring a smile to their faces.

Admission committees do understand that demanding high schools—both private and public— put serious pressure on their students that necessitates long hours of homework. Nonetheless, when it come to top-tier colleges, your daughter will be up against “competition” from candidates who have managed great grades at tough schools and have submitted mind-boggling activities lists as well.