Everyone knows that top grades are necessary for admission to any first-tier college, but grades alone no longer guarantee admission. In fact, many students believe that their grade-point average is given more emphasis in the college admission process than it actually is.
Most applicants to selective universities are academically qualified, but there are simply not enough spots available. Students looking for an edge seek to distinguish themselves through their extracurricular activities.
An ability to demonstrate lasting dedication to a few meaningful extracurriculars, rather than mere membership in many, can make a significant difference. Students should aim to show a meaningful contribution to their school or community and how their participation or leadership has influenced them.
While being elected to an important-sounding club position is a goal of many ambitious high school students, it is a misguided one. An explanation of why the student was involved in a club, and the contributions that he or she made, will impress admissions committees more than simply obtaining a fancy title.
At many high schools, it can be difficult to gain leadership positions in school clubs when there are so many other qualified candidates. When I meet students in this situation, I recommend that they pursue their extracurricular passions outside of the school environment.
A student who wants to make a substantial impact on his or her community should think about a problem or need and how it can be addressed. Some common methods are to launch innovative fundraising campaigns for worthy causes or to mobilize a group of peers to tackle it head-on. Teachers, parents, friends, and college counselors can help to plan these types of endeavors.
Founding a community organization, a nonprofit, or a school club can demonstrate leadership and organizational skills that indicate ambition and future success. Admissions committees seek these traits in applicants.
Of course, taking on any of these challenges is not easy, but neither is getting into a top college. Through adequate planning and efficient use of summer and winter vacations, high school students have the ability to accomplish a great deal without detracting from class work or grades.
One way to start early in the college application process is to maintain a “brag sheet” - a list of all the student’s activities and hobbies. It is vital for the student to keep track of any recognition that was received for taking part in them.
Freshman year of high school is not too early to begin compiling this list and thinking about how the student’s academic interests and extracurriculars will translate into a full picture of the student as an individual. This is important with regard to schools that do not require or offer alumni interviews. The brag sheet and essay will be admissions committees’ main criteria for understanding the applicant.
Steve Schwartz is a professional college counselor and tutor for SAT, Regents and Advanced Placement Exams. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.