Be The Complete Candidate: Interests and Activities

“Extra! Extra! Read All About Extracurriculars!” 

Here’s how it usually goes when I ask a student to assemble her list of interests and activities for inclusion in the college application packet: she invariably will begin with 12thgrade activities and methodically list in descending order to 9th grade, and might add brief details about her favorite activities or the ones she excelled in. Boring!

Let’s go back to the puzzle analogy here, and move outside the box!   What will this piece of the puzzle reveal about you to the admissions officers?  Will it fine-tune the image you have chosen to present via your unique value proposition?  Or, will it appear as a random recipe-style listing of the various clubs, sports and activities that have consumed your time during high school? In this instance, more is not necessarily better.

If you are earlier in your high school career, I encourage you to focus on 2 or 3 interests and pursue them with passion. If you love art:

  • Try a summer program
  • Have an exhibit at a local library
  • Teach art therapy to kids who have an illness
  • Set up a shop on Etsy and sell your pieces for profit or to benefit a meaningful charity
  • Illustrate for your school newspaper
  • Start an art club
  • Apprentice with a local painter

It’s so important to remember that colleges are no longer looking for the well-rounded individual; they are looking for the well-rounded class which is often made up of distinctly lopsided individuals.

The Complete Candidate ™ encourages you to focus on the activities that distinguish you from other prospects who may have participated in similar pursuits.

  • If you were bestowed an honor or chosen for a team or elected to an office, how many were in the candidate pool?
  • If you participated in a charitable campaign, how much money did you raise and how did you attain your goal? Provide details that set you apart from the crowd.
  • If your debate team or water polo team competed regionally, nationally or internationally, provide details of the competition.

Remember to include your summer experiences, as well. Admissions officers are impressed by students who utilize their summer breaks to explore academic and extra-curricular interests.  A strong work ethic is always a plus. If you spend your summers working a job to earn spending money, communicate this.  Rather than simply listing the employer, give details about what you do at work.  Does it involve customer contact, overseeing other workers, have you been promoted because of a job well done?

Most colleges will not require you to submit a formal resume, but I think it’s an important step, and some will welcome the submission along with your Common App.  You will absolutely need to have a resume if you are invited to a college interview.  Your resume, just as your essay writing, should be crisp and concise, but should reflect your interests and passions.  Have a teacher or counselor review your resume to ensure you have communicated clearly and have presented your qualifications succinctly.  Let your true self shine and reap the reward for all those activity hours!

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