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Articles / Applying to College / Are Extracurriculars Essential for Admission to Top-Tier Colleges?

Are Extracurriculars Essential for Admission to Top-Tier Colleges?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Jan. 8, 2003

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 schoolsâ€"both private and publicâ€" 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.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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