American universities – particularly those that use the holistic method of evaluation – want to see more than academic performance. They also value non-academic pursuits, such as extracurricular activities, clubs, athletics, performing arts, hobbies, community service, and work. In fact, the most selective colleges give a grade to non-academic activities in the same way (and with the same weight) they grade academic performance and potential.
Many clients ask “what should I do to improve my chances of admission?” The answer is “more,” but “more” does not necessarily mean quantity. Colleges are looking for achievement, effort and responsibility, not just participation. They want depth, not breadth. You cannot check a box to improve your chances at selective colleges.
As a general rule, students should put effort into three main areas: contribution inside the high school, effort outside the high school, and originality. Contribution inside your high school helps a college predict that you will contribute inside their college. Be a vital contributor and leader within your high school. Effort outside of high school means doing things that high school doesn’t feed to you. Whether athletics, musical performance, or even writing underground comic books, do something beyond the activities and clubs your high school lays at your feet. In doing so, remember to go far, not just deep. Colleges evaluate activities geographically – the further you make an impact, the better – so move beyond your local area. Continue to do what you do (show depth and length of time), but alter the trajectory to contribute in more places. Enlist others to help you in other jurisdictions. Teach what you have learned. If you need a hint on how to contribute worldwide, here’s one: the internet.
Originality is often lacking in applicant resumes. Try to come up with something new. Improve upon the state-of-the-art. Don’t just repeat what you’ve seen or done; innovation is more impressive than replication. If you don’t know how to be original, brainstorm with friends, families, educators or consultants. Don’t look for easy answers which have likely been found by hundreds of your predecessors. Instead, identify the impossible, then solve It.
Keep this in mind: starting an official organization – a charitable organization, corporation, or other formal entity – suggests that you have had significant help from a parent. You don’t need to create a corporation or foundation to change the world, but if you do, understand that someone may read your achievement as something that was actually done by an adult. In most cases, a student is not old enough to create a legal entity without adult assistance. Don’t undercut your efforts by doing something that appears impressive but could indicate you were not really the driver.
There is no perfect path towards college acceptance. Colleges do not want to see dozens of shallow activities. They want to see achievement, effort and originality, which can be in one area or a few. However, there is one “must do”: try to incorporate some form of athletics into your life. It can be individual exercise or a team sport, competitive or casual, whatever you like. But colleges prefer applicants to be physically active. Why? One reason is that “a healthy body leads to a healthy mind.” A second reason (which is possibly more important) is that colleges have recognized that those who are physically active donate money as alumni at a rate that is three times (3X) greater than those who are not physically active.
One final tip: keep a list of everything you do during high school (not just within your high
school) and include as many facts as possible: dates, places, names, descriptions, and stories. When it’s time to fill out your college applications, you may rush to complete the lists of academic honors and non-academic activities, and you will likely forget details or even entire areas of effort. The lists built into applications (no, colleges seldom request actual resumes) are critical to the selection process, so be sure to collect your information as it happens to retain the best data for future use.
To learn more about the college application process or how to best utilize educational resources, connect with Daniel McKelvey, VP of Sales, Business Development & Partnerships at University Consultants of America, Inc.