The college applications process is a confusing and unpredictable path. Each year, thousands of students send applications to the black boxes of college admission committees. Then months later after the mysterious committees complete their deliberations, decisions are released. Some students are admitted to the school of their dreams while others are informed of otherwise. But how do these committees actually decide who gets in and who doesn’t?
Each school has its own cutoff for GPA and SAT/ACT scores, which is higher for more prestigious institutions, but beyond that cutoff extracurriculars and essays are what truly distinguish an applicant. This process is called the holistic admissions process. According to Stanford, holistic admissions follows the philosophy that each piece of an application is part of a comprehensive image, aimed to help them build a class of diverse individuals with unique experiences, talents, interests, and personalities. While both essays and activities are key to creating a complete representation of an applicant the focus of this article is extracurriculars.
Extracurriculars are any school clubs, like Debate and Robotics, and activities that you might do outside of school, like running a blog or playing a sport. They are how you demonstrate your interests and what you do with your time outside of school. Colleges will look at your extracurriculars to help them understand who you are as an applicant. There are a number of traits in extracurriculars that can best demonstrate your interest and personality.
First Trait: Dedication
Colleges want students who get involved in activities and invest time into them, whether that be a sport, youth group, or even your own business. As such it would be best to choose a handful of activities that you love and can pour your time and heart into. While I know that it can be tempting to spread yourself out and attend more and more activities based on what you think looks good, it is best to focus on a couple because that will enable you to go farther and do better in those few, quality over quantity. Finding activities that are meaningful to you is crucial because having activities you are passionate about makes it easier to provide a genuine representation of your unique traits.
Second: Experience and Skill Building
When applying to college you will select a major, possibly two, that you want to pursue. Choosing activities that will impart skills and experiences that will help you in your prospective field is a good decision. This category can be split into two types: activities that impart skills useful for your major and activities that are directly involved in your field of study. For example, Debate could help with your public speaking and argumentation skills that can be indirectly applied in business, while participating in DECA and entrepreneurship are direct experiences in business. Activities like entrepreneurship or working as a research assistant in a lab tend to hold greater weight in applications but also take greater dedication and often involve an incredibly high learning curve.
Third: Demonstrate your Character
Schools receive many talented applicants every year but if they don’t think that student will fit in at their school they may reject them, simply because they would be unhappy at the school and wouldn’t fit in. While the essay portion does this the most effectively, activities can demonstrate to colleges your character and personality traits. Nearly all activities can reflect your character in some way shape or form but certain activities make it more obvious. Spending hours pursuing social activism by speaking at public gatherings, going to every protest, and writing in the school paper can be a true demonstration of your passions. But some activities demonstrate it more subtly. Playing sports and being the captain of your team demonstrates that you are able to lead and inspire others, a trait that many colleges look for in students. If you come from a less affluent background and work a job to support your family, good grades and test scores may be all you need as they demonstrate key aspects of your personality: your grit and determination to succeed along with your dedication to your family.
Admission committees may seem to be mysterious entities but at the end of the day they are just people that want to know more about your personality, skills, experiences, and interests. That information empowers them to determine whether you would fit in at their school. However it is important to remember that even with a complicated admission portfolio colleges still only get a miniscule glimpse at who you are on paper. By choosing activities that exhibit two or three of these traits you give admissions officials more information to go off allowing them to envision how you would fit into their diverse student body.