Padding the College Application why Extracurriculars are Important

As a suit makes the man, extracurriculars makes the college application.
Colleges and universities are receiving record numbers of applications from high school seniors this year, and every admission counselor we’ve contacted has asked about the extras.
“What sports does your son play?”
“What clubs has your daughter joined? Is she an officer in any clubs?”
“Does he play any instruments?”
Extracurricular activities are often the deciding factors between academically superior candidates. It is often the thing that makes the student shine.
As one Admissions Officer at Princeton University advised, “Be interesting!”
There are thousands of students with perfect Grade Point Averages (GPAs) that have brought home straight-A report cards. It is not enough. There are hundreds who have perfect SAT scores (it really is true). Well, that may be enough for all but the top five or six schools, but add extracurriculars to that and rejection is unthinkable.
To be a successful applicant, especially with the more selective colleges, the student needs to stand out from the crowd of thousands of other applicants. What are the extra activities outside of the classroom that he or she has been involved with, and how long have they been involved? The prospective student needs to be involved in an activity that gives the Admissions Officer (AO) something to gravitate toward when comparing your child’s application with another.
AO’s also look at how long a student has been involved in the activity. It is pretty obvious to the Admissions Officer that a student is padding an application when all the activity began in the senior year. The student should start early (freshmen or sophomore year) and stick with the extracurricular if she or he wants to imply any expertise in the activity.
A student worth admission should also display width in their choice of activities, as well as depth of experience.
Diversity is a neat word – it implies so much. But it can also be a terrific tool in the prospective student’s toolkit when considering schools, and when schools are considering the student. A wide array of interests shows a college officer that the student is well-rounded.
The student who has been on an intramural or varsity sport gets points towards the admissions target, with varsity sports being of greater interest to colleges, but add a musical instrument (different skills set) and performance in a school play (aha! outgoing!) and the points rack up.
A student who is a member of the chess team gets higher points than one who joins nothing. A student who is president of the chess club out-ranks the club member. That rule of thumb can be applied to any extra-curricular.
Some high schools even require their graduating class to be involved in a community service. That looks very appealing on an application, and gives the student both a sense of accomplishment and validates the time an effort they have given. It is a wonderful thing to say, “I helped save lives by sponsoring a blood drive at my church!” And colleges notice.
Colleges and Universities are always on the look-out for the future leaders of society, so points are added for the risk-takers who put their necks out and win leadership positions. The class President gets noticed, but so does the Drum Major of the Marching Band, the team captain. Universities get bragging rights later when their alum has become a White House Cabinet member or world-recognized scientist!
Regardless, a student who can juggle good grades, sports or clubs, a school play and a part-time job will be noticed. It also gives the student more experiences to draw from if they are asked to write essays for their admission application.
It isn’t always easy to be getting great grades while juggling too many activities, however, so make sure your student isn’t overextending themselves. They still need a good night’s sleep and the time to study for SATs. And they MUST study for SATs.
I can attest to how stressful the process is for a student who has not been involved in school-sponsored or community service activities. As the parent of four teenagers, each with his and her own sets of likes and dislikes for extras, it has been a lesson learned through experience.
The oldest belonged to several service clubs, played varsity tennis, was a Drum Major for her marching band, and worked at the public library. She got straight A’s since first grade (her stated goal to her first grade teacher!), joined the American Red Cross and became a fencer (en garde!).
Topped off with great SAT scores, we thought she was a shoo-in for her top choice schools. The results were inexplicable. She was accepted with a full scholarship offer from Notre Dame, but declined by Johns Hopkins. She was accepted by three Ivy League schools, but wait-listed by the one of her choice.
Today, she is preparing to graduate from Dartmouth College, an Ivy Leaguer that she didn’t intend to go to, but fell in love with when her feet touched its soil.
We are now watching for the mailman as he brings us letters from Admissions Officers for the 14 schools my son has applied to. He’s graduating too, but from high school. His grades were terrific, but not perfect. He joined a lot of clubs, but not in his junior year. He’s a great kid, and so far, he’s been accepted to all we’ve heard from. But as we wait to hear from his top choices, the question rings in my ears: “Is he interesting?”
He certainly is to me and all of his friends, but what about the Admissions Officers?
It cannot be understated: extracurriculars are important. It is what makes your student “interesting.”