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What your students should know about out-of-school activities

You know that there is more than meets the eye to the admission game, and you want to give your students any edge you can. Admission officers know that what potential students do with their time outside of school reveals important personal dimensions that statistics can't show.

Participating in an extracurricular activity — be it student government, a sport, a part-time job or volunteering — while maintaining good grades demonstrates:

  • Time-management skills
  • Ability to prioritize
  • Motivation
  • Responsibility
  • Leadership qualities

A College Board study reveals that participants in extracurricular activities often achieve higher SAT® scores.

The study suggests that important reasoning abilities measured by tests like the SAT are developed both in and out of the classroom. Results show that participation in extracurricular activities benefits minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students as much or more than economically advantaged students.

Tips for selecting extracurricular activities

1. Choose depth over breadth.

Admission officers are more likely to consider an applicant who is deeply and passionately committed to a specific activity, rather than one who is superficially involved in multiple activities. Nanci Tessier, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Richmond, explains, "We're looking for a commitment to and a passion for an activity outside of the academic setting. We're looking for depth rather than breadth."

2. Consider interests and abilities.

Guide students toward activities that complement and enhance their specific interests and skills. A student who is a talented writer should consider working on the school newspaper or yearbook. Dorothy Coppock, a former counselor at the Evanston Township High School in Illinois, reassures her students that a passion unrelated to school counts, too: "An avid equestrian or ice-skater does not need to add on a school activity to look well-rounded."

3. Seek a balance.

Achieving a balance between academics and extracurricular activities can be a challenge for students. Remind them that participating in too many activities can take away from study time. It can also lead to burnout and exhaustion.

4. Count working and volunteering.

The commitment to working at a job or volunteering reveals certain personality characteristics that appeal to admission officers. It usually works in an applicant's favor to show a significant level of employment or community service while maintaining academic excellence.

5. Use internships to develop interests.

Internships can help students discover activities they feel passionate about. Work experience assists in identifying career interests and goals. It provides an opportunity to apply classroom learning to the real world. It's also a great way to earn money for college.

6. Realize that inclusion in most lists and publications is not significant.

Colleges are interested in actual achievements. Help students recognize that colleges do not give much weight to being listed in Who's Who Among American High School Students or other "name only" accomplishments.

Students can strengthen college applications by exploring a couple of activities and sticking with them through high school — and they will develop skills and interests that may last a lifetime.