October 15, 2021
by Leanne Soulard

When I was a high school student in 1990, the advice I received about extracurricular activities was to join as many clubs and activities as possible so that I would be “well-rounded” in the college admissions process. Honestly, I spent a lot of my time sitting around in club meetings that didn’t matter to me and certainly didn’t help me cultivate the real interests I had. Luckily, for today’s students, that outlook has changed and the advice they are receiving is to focus on the activities they enjoy the most and to become “specialists” in the things that genuinely interest them.

Extracurricular activities show admissions counselors who students are beyond a GPA and test scores. They communicate characteristics such as intellectual curiosity, commitment, and personal values, just to name a few. This is especially important at highly competitive institutions where every applicant has great grades and test scores. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to compete in the academic arena but becoming a specialist gives students a competitive advantage when all other things are equal.

Why? Because specialists stand out. They impress admissions counselors with a deep, demonstrated interest in one or two activities that mean a lot to them. Specialists stand out but they are not necessarily extraordinary people. Read that again. In fact, they’re most often just good students who prioritize their time on the things that make them the most happy. The good news is that all students, regardless of academic achievement, can specialize in something but they may need some support in figuring out where to invest their time and energy. Here are some helpful questions that you can ask your student:

  • What is your favorite activity and why?
  • If you had an extra day in the week, how would you use it?
  • What activities are you currently involved in that don’t make you truly happy?
  • What new skill would you learn if you had the time?

When students commit to the things that they are good at and make them happy, it’s a natural recipe for success! No 1990s-style laundry list of random activities required.

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