To say there is no shortage of high performing kids applying to colleges today is a serious understatement. Given the high rate of college rejections being reported, one thing is clear: from an academic standpoint college applicants are more than making the grade. In addition as one poster put it on the physics forums some time ago “SAT scores and grades are little more than a first pass filter to weed out the obviously unsuitable.” If kids want to attend high ranking universities/colleges they must have more than an excellent academic record.
This brings us to the extracurricular activities commonly referred to as EC’s. Many of these brilliant kids engage in wide ranging activities encompassing community service, drama, music and sports. But is this enough? Have you ever heard the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none”. This is what is likely to happen if you stretch yourself too thin. How can you be passionate about so many things? Hear that word, passionate. I have seen it being used by successful college applicants and admission officers time and again. As Ben Jones from MIT said “often these kids knew how to grind, but brought nothing else to the table.”
For kids and parents this can be difficult to understand, the high ranking colleges want kids who can manage a demanding course load and demonstrate passion but not passion for academics alone, that is a given, they must demonstrate something more. And that something more seems to be the crux of the matter; that is what seems to give one kid the edge over the other.
When kids are choosing EC’s it is clear they must do so wisely. The feedback I get is that you might have a better chance of success if you:
- Truly enjoy what you do – do not do it because you think it looks good on a college application; you must have a genuine interest not merely a mild, resume stuffing curiosity.
- Excel at it – if you want to go to a school with an excellent program for that EC then you should be at the top of your game as other competing applicants will be. If you have national awards they will carry more weight than a competitor with state awards. Otherwise choose a school where you would stand out in that program. In other words explore the schools thoroughly you will have more luck in an area with less competition for your skill.
- Choose an unusual EC – if you choose an EC which thousands of other kids are NOT pursuing then you will face less competition and may find yourself adding to that diverse pool which college admissions are seeking to assemble. Again though make sure you genuinely enjoy it.
- Take important life lessons from it – this is important for essay writing purposes. The essay is a self promoting exercise and if you can show how your genuine interest in a single EC helped you to grow as a person that will resonate. EC’s provide a good source of experiences from which you can draw specific examples to give an admissions officer an idea of what kind of person you are.
- Think outside the box – EC means extra curricular. This is not limited to a sport or an art activity; it can be volunteer work, a research project or a business on the side. Whatever it is you must be committed as that will demonstrate your passion.