Admissions officers rank extracurricular activities high in their criteria for college entry, particularly within the elite schools. The general impression is that they value dedication, sustained participation, and advancement within the selected extracurriculars. More is not necessarily better. Rather, reaching the highest level of participation i.e. president of student senate, captain of a sports team, 1st violin in orchestra—carries recognizable weight in the admission’s formula.
The general attributes associated with the activity play a larger role than the activity itself. In other words, taking on a leadership position or showing marked advancement within an organization represents stronger value in assessing extracurricular involvement.
Not all students need to show depth of participation in extracurricular activities. For example, scholarship athletes may need only show their success within the sport they engage in.
Students with significant financial need may substitute external work experience rather than display extensive in-school extracurricular involvement. Band members who advance from 3rd to 1st position in their instrument identify dedication and commitment.
Generally speaking, within the standard applicant pool, admissions officers look for productive and meaningful contributions within an activity.
Extracurriculars that allow students to differentiate their participation appear to carry additional weight. Reaching the status of president of a group, being the captain of a chess team, standing out amongst the other participants and evidencing growth over time lends importance.
Taking a role of responsibility and standing out amongst your peers conveys a drive to engage within an organization and contribute to its success.
Strong extracurriculars may compensate for weaker academics, but are not a replacement for having a well-rounded academic profile. Not having any extracurriculars handicaps an application and leaves a candidate exposed to competition that displays a more varied experiential background.
Finally, colleges eagerly seek to fill the many clubs and organizations they’ve established on campus. Therefore, a well-rounded set of extracurricular activities points to a potential participant within a school’s offerings.
Tony Moschella is the owner of University College Advisors in Northport.