February 2, 2015

The Ivy League Guide to Extracurricular Activities

Colleges want to accept students who will excel not only in academics but also in real life. Academics are important, but what you do outside of the classroom will show the admissions officer that you can make a meaningful contribution to campus life and to the world as a proud college sweatshirt-wearing alum.

If you're ambitious enough to be reading this blog as a high school freshman or sophomore, the following tips will help you to make choices now that will put you on the path to success. If you're reading this as a junior or senior (as I expect most of you are), these tips will help you to present yourself in the best way possible on your applications.

1. Think accomplishments, not titles.

The most competitive colleges receive thousands of applications from eager students who were President or Vice President of 5 (or more!) clubs in their high school. Admissions officers will wonder if you actually had to do anything in these roles. Elected positions are vehicles by which you can accomplish things, but they are not the ends unto themselves. Show that you did more than just win a popularity contest among your peers. Use your resume to describe what you've done. It's great to be Editor-in-Chief of your school newspaper, but how do you stand out amongst the many Editors-in-Chief who apply to your dream school? Did you start a new section? Improve the quality of the staff editorials? Double advertising revenue? Let the admissions officer see how this role has shaped you and helped you to develop skills that you can bring to campus.

2. Identify a need and start something new.

A good sign that you're ready for a competitive college is that you've outgrown what your high school has to offer. A good sign that you have something to offer your future campus is that you've left a mark on your high school and done something to make it a better place. As you read through your school's list of clubs and activities, what's missing? Is there an issue or cause that matters to you? Get others involved. Start a club, organize a fundraiser, invite a speaker to your school, or put together a conference.

3. Branch out.

Extracurricular activities aren't limited to the walls of your high school. Be an active member of your community. Volunteer for a political campaign, start a non-profit organization, run a business. Show your dream school that you can work with others and get things done.

4. Remember the big picture.

It's easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day life of a high school student that you may not often stop to reflect on what it is you're doing and why it matters. Try to be mindful of this. If you can understand how the roles you play in your school and community fit into larger issues, and if you've thought about the challenges you've faced and how you've worked to overcome them, you'll be well on your way to presenting yourself as a top-notch applicant.


  1. don't forget to allow ample time for studying!

  2. Great Advice - too many students spread themselves too thin -
    "Jack of all trades, Master of None!"

  3. Hi, im currently a sophmore in highschool its my first quarter and i have a gpa of 2.5. I want to know if its possible to bring my gpa up to at least a 3.5 by the end of junior year. I dont know much about calculating gpa's, but im really curious and i would appreciate it if you guys could give me some advice? Thanks so much for putting ur time in to read this.