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Articles / Applying to College / Is It Too Late for HS Junior to Add Application-Worthy Extracurriculars?

Is It Too Late for HS Junior to Add Application-Worthy Extracurriculars?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | March 20, 2019
Is It Too Late for HS Junior to Add Application-Worthy Extracurriculars?
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I will be applying to college this fall. I was talking to a friend of mine who is a senior now and just got into his top choice. He said he had to "narrow down" his extracurriculars to 10 because he had more than that, but the application would only let him list 10 of them. I only have two. So my question is: Do I quickly start joining clubs and sports now? Or would that look suspicious to have all these new activities on my applications?

While it can be daunting to hear war stories from the extracurriculars arms race, which can make even the busiest students fear that their activities aren't up to snuff, the truth is that admission officers are looking for commitment and leadership in such pursuits and not for quantity. So the actual number of extracurricular endeavors on a student's application isn't nearly as important as the level of interest and effort.


Atypical activities on an application are a big plus as well, but many teenagers overlook the opportunity to stand out in this area. They don't realize that “Activities" doesn't only mean school clubs or teams or community organizations. Your application can also include activities that you pursue on your own. For instance, do you write poems or songs? Do you cook or collect coins? Have you designed eco-friendly houses? These personal undertakings are often the most eye-catching in admission offices -- and yet most students assume that admission officials won't care about such private pursuits. But that's not true!

Once I advised a Southeast Asian senior whose family ate rice every day. So she saved the empty burlap rice sacks and turned them into fashionable purses lined with splashy fabrics. Then she sold the purses and donated the profits to her favorite charity. When she described this venture on her applications, I suspect that it made a bigger hit with the admission committees than yet another Key Club or Model UN membership might have done. Of course, you should use your own judgment when you decide which of your individual enterprises are application-worthy. Being able to repair a car transmission definitely counts; reaching Level 68 in Grand Theft Auto not so much. ;-)

Note, however, that some students do themselves a disservice at application-evaluation time because they don't adequately explain their atypical enterprises. If the Activities section of an application doesn't offer sufficient space to clarify what you've been up to, use “Additional Information" or even an extra unsolicited letter or email to provide details. You can also send samples of your writing, your design for a dream house or other evidence of your efforts, as long as you do so sparingly.

Another “activity" that will work in your favor at admission-decision time is paid employment. As you've suggested, it's rather late to be signing up for a hundred new school clubs for the purpose of college admissions, but if your activity list is light and you have room in your schedule, it's certainly not too late to join the workforce! An after-school or weekend job will not only put cash for college in your coffers but should also garner approval in admission offices. College folks love to see that a student can hold a real-world job, and — perhaps surprisingly — a minimum-wage position (e.g., scooping ice cream, flipping burgers, stocking shelves) often looks better than a snazzy-sounding spot in your uncle's law firm. In addition, promotions at work (e.g., to head cashier or shift supervisor) count as “leadership" roles.

Bottom line: If there are one or two activities at school that you want to join because they call out to you, there's time. But when it comes to boosting admission odds, your best bet is to show commitment to those extracurriculars that you're already doing, and add a paying job to the roster if you're worried that your list is still too skimpy.

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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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