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High School Extracurriculars: 3 Ways to Shine

School poster and markers If you’re a college hopeful worried that your application still has a few holes in it, there’s no question about it: it’s time to start signing up for some extracurricular activities while you’re still in high school.

They’ll provide you with a set of skills and interests that will enrich your high school experience and look attractive to any college admissions office.

Football, marching band, student government, model UN: there are all different kinds of exciting and engaging clubs and groups, and almost all of them can help give you a leg up on getting into your dream school. But you want to make sure you go about joining these activities in the right way.

It’s easy enough to jump into the world of extracurricular activities without giving a thought to your game plan beforehand. But there are plenty of other students trying many of the same things you are, so you’ll need to focus on standing out from the crowd. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.    Start Early

Don’t wait until your senior year if you’re trying to improve your transcript. You should ideally start participating in extracurricular activities when you’re a freshman or sophomore in high school.

It doesn’t matter which activity you finally end up pursuing: getting an early start will help give you a solid grounding as you go forward. You’ll be able to gain important experience, form relationships and absorb knowledge that will make you an asset to the group as your high school career continues.

Boasting a years-long commitment to a club or sport also helps spruce up your college application. Being involved in an extracurricular activity in school for three or four years will look much better to potential schools than a commitment that’s a year or less long.

2.    Diversify

Colleges are constantly on the lookout for well-rounded individuals. What better way to display your worldliness than by having a little of everything in your transcript’s extracurricular activities column?

Try to participate in as many activities as you can, from as wide a variety of subjects as you can think of. If you’re playing baseball in the spring, see if you can fit in time for chess club as well. When you don’t have to fulfill your duties as class president, try out for the color guard.

Any admissions office looking at such a diverse lineup of activities will understand that you’re someone who knows how to budget time. Sure, juggling the schedule of a trombone-playing soccer phenom may sometimes seem impossible. But you’re showing your dream school that you’re a pro at managing that schedule.

That being said, don’t join a club just for the sake of being able to list it as another extracurricular activity. Do things that genuinely interest you — after all, the point is to show the college who you are!

And remember: you shouldn’t overload yourself with so many extracurricular activities that it affects your grades or the responsibilities you have with other clubs. Branch out as much as you can, but plan your schedule ahead of time and make decisions carefully. Otherwise you might find out that you’re a member in name only!

3.    Keep Your Story in Mind

As with everything else in your college application, your admissions essay needs to stand out from the crowd. The best way to do that is to craft an engaging personal narrative. Taking part in extracurricular activities in school can help form the background for that narrative.

Let’s say you perform in your school’s theater program. You could start off by writing about how you always used to love to sing and dance for friends and relatives as a kid. You could go on to describe discovering how your passion could be put to use outside of school hours.

You could touch on the thrill of putting on a production, and talk about how much you’ve learned by working as part of a team to pull off a big show. But don’t lose focus: you also want to let them know that you hope to get the opportunity to put that knowledge to use in your college career.

There are countless variations on this idea, and they can be tailored to almost any set of circumstances. Just keep in mind that when writing your essay, you should let your extracurricular activity reflect the qualities that top schools want to see in you.

More than anything, colleges want to get a sense that you’re staying engaged even when you’re not cracking the books. You want them to be able to see that at a glance, just by taking a look at the extracurricular activities that you pursue in high school.

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