One of the best parts of the admissions application, in my opinion, was reading the Activities List, because it told me more about the students than just the numbers – it told me where they spent their free time, what they were committed to, and if they were willing to take on leadership roles.
It also answered a very important admissions question: How is this student going to contribute to the campus community?
Think about it this way, if you are planning to apply to a highly selective college (one that accepts 30% or less of those who apply) won’t everyone applying have great grades and SAT scores? Won’t everyone have taken lots of AP or IB classes (Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate)? Absolutely!
That means that the admissions counselors know you can succeed academically at their college. What they want to see next is if you care about being involved in campus life. That’s where the activities list comes in and the five things they consider.
Commitment. Leadership. Service. Prestige. Passion.
- Commitment: You may think more is better, but when it comes to activities, quality counts. Find something you enjoy being involved in, that’s exciting to you, and stick with it for 2, 3, 4 years. That commitment helps you understand almost everything there is about the organization you choose to get involved in and leads to…
- Leadership: Commitment leads to leadership, especially if you’ve been an active member for more than one year. Seniority counts, not just because you’re older, but because you’ve (hopefully) helped the organization grow and thrive. If you have a job, a promotion would show leadership. If you’ve been involved in a club, an officer position would show the same. If you’ve been involved in community service, you may not have a title, but you’ve coordinated a fundraiser or other event. Those are all showcasing your leadership abilities and shows your willing to challenge yourself to learn new skills – a plus in college admissions.
- Service: Caring about the world around you, about people who need your talents and skills, is one of the best ways you can get involved. What campus doesn’t want caring people who have looked beyond their own needs to help others? Again, one hour here and there is not a favorable impression. Choose something you are passionate about or at least that you care about – the environment, animal rescue, homelessness, making sure people get a good meal every day. Then commit to it.
- Prestige: Sometimes, choosing a few things and going all in with those can lead to opportunities for awards and recognition. Scouting and becoming an Eagle Scout or a Gold Scout in Boy and Girl Scouts, respectively, are good examples. Placing in or winning competitions in sports, debate, for your newspaper, your theater group, science fair or other activities is also something to be sure to include in your activities list. The bigger the award, from local to state to national, be sure to make note of it in your application as this means expertise, persistence and hard work. And those are traits every college loves.
- Passion: Sometimes there are things you may love to do that don’t fit neatly into a club or organization, job, or service activity. I know one student who wanted to be a writer who loved reading the works of two particular fiction writers. She wrote to them to say she enjoyed reading their books, and before she knew it, she started corresponding with them regularly, getting ideas and tips for how to become a published author. Including this passion of hers on her activity list showcased something unique about her and spoke to what she was willing to do to reach her goal to become a writer. That uniqueness is a big help in the admissions process.
Now you have some ideas on what you might want to get involved in – to both learn about yourself (see more here) and to show the college admissions counselors who you are. I close with one more thing to remember:
When in doubt, spell it out!
I have read about people being involved in M.U.M.P.S. and PCL and The C.U.L.T. But they didn’t spell out the acronyms or take a sentence or two to tell me what their participation was in those organizations. To this day, I have no idea what those clubs are and it’s a little frustrating not to. So don’t frustrate the person reading your application and spell out those acronyms! And do take the time to write a sentence or three about what you learned from your participation.
If you know what those things stand for, please email me at email@example.com. I’d love to know – and to answer any questions or comments you have.
Thanks for reading. Make it a great day!