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Articles / Applying to College / How Does a Student Do Standout Extracurriculars During a Pandemic?

May 11, 2020

How Does a Student Do Standout Extracurriculars During a Pandemic?

How Does a Student Do Standout Extracurriculars During a Pandemic?

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I am the mother of a high school junior. Many of her extracurriculars have been cut off, and I know everyone else is in the same situation. But she really wants to stand out on her applications and she needs to make up for some of the extracurriculars she was planning to get this spring and summer (a job, a volunteering opportunity, teaching flute to some neighbors, running races competitively and some other things). Do you have any tips on how we can get creative with extracurriculars now that a lot of places are closed? I assume there are people (like home schoolers) who have figured this out, but we aren't sure what to do.


Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced high school students to abandon their beloved extracurricular activities — and college application fodder — "The Dean" had long been a fan of encouraging teenagers to come up with creative endeavors, not to supplant typical adolescent undertakings, but to supplement them. After all, how many Spanish Clubs, Key Clubs, cross-country teams and Model UNs can an admission official read about on any given evening without falling dead asleep? Of course, now is the ideal time for teens to be doing that sort of outside-the-box thinking — not only for college admission purposes but also to avoid going stir crazy at home.

For instance, if your daughter was planning to teach flute to neighbors, can't she do the same via Zoom? Or perhaps she could write a little guidebook on beginning flute that housebound parents could use to introduce a child to the instrument. She could also organize virtual "races" — marking a course in your area that she and other runners can tackle individually. There are lots of ways to go with this. She could create a website where the runners would report in and share times; she might set up charity runs benefiting local coronavirus victims or providing restaurant take-out meals to front-line workers, or she can map out a series of local routes and supply wry comments ("If you trip on the crack at the corner of Summer and Elm, you won't be the first" or "When it takes you more than seven minutes to get past the Pizza Hut, you're off pace!")

Nearly a decade ago I started this College Confidential thread on "Hidden Extracurriculars" to point out that sometimes the activities that interest admission folks the most are not the predictable, organized ones that students or parents assume will push an application folder toward the "In" pile. And it's more apt than ever today since so many activities are now taking place in living rooms, rumpus rooms, or behind masks, and they are "hidden" indeed.

It sounds like your daughter has many interests already, so it shouldn't be a big leap for her to figure out how expand or adjust at least one of them to sync with these crazy times. And she may actually land on ideas that will help her applications "stand out" even more than if school were still open.

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean, please email us at editorial@collegeconfidential.com.

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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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