Jan. 31, 2020
Having a well-rounded college application starts long before senior year. As soon as freshman year of high school starts, you should consider building a strong GPA, figuring out your SAT or ACT test prep strategies, and – maybe the most exciting part! – participating in school and community activities.
No need to try and join every club or sport that fits into your schedule – in fact, it's the quality of the commitment that matters more. "Students need to be engaged community members to have a shot of admission at a highly selective college. In fact, the more engaged the student is, the better," says Harberson.
Harberson recommends that at least one of the extracurricular activities that you list on your application should support and reflect your intended major choice. But choose wisely – "the more common it is, the less impact it will have," she says. If you plan to major in business, and you simply sign up for a popular business club at your high school, it will likely be less valued by admission officers than "doing something more unusual to explore and develop your business interest." Perhaps you can shadow a local entrepreneur or get a summer internship with a local business.
The more consistent you are with an activity, the more impact that will have on your application. "It is better to stick with a handful of activities over time to gain leadership roles or have more of an impact than to join new clubs every year," Harberson says.
It's important to be aware of your extracurricular interests well before your senior year in high school – freshman year is ideal. You will notice that colleges want to know the years in high school when you participated in the activity, how many hours per week, how many weeks per year, your leadership role in the activity, what you achieved, and more. What this means is that the more years, hours and weeks you are committed to an activity, the more opportunity there is to make a difference in your school or community – and make your application stand out from the rest.
While you may see your fellow students following the crowd when it comes to extracurricular activities, Harberson encourages students to think outside the box and do their own thing. "It shows initiative, independence and distinctiveness. And that's ultimately what colleges want. Although colleges are looking for students who will join their clubs and sports teams, they are also looking for students who will bring something unusual to their community, too. Every year is different, and every admissions officer has different preferences or biases. So instead of trying to predict what a college or admission officer wants, go after what is meaningful to you and pursue it with gusto," says Harberson.
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