Teenagers can boost their college admission chances by being smart about the extracurricular activities that they pursue in high school.
Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation exists about extracurriculars which prevents students from making the most of their activities outside the classroom.
For instance, many parents believe that their children need to be well-rounded to increase their admission chances. That is, they should pick a range of activities that show broad interests. That, however, is wrong.
I recently had an illuminating (53-minute) conversation on extracurricular strategies with Shirag Shemmassian, a fantastic educational consultant in San Diego, who helps students with undergrad, graduate and medical school admissions.
In this post, I am capturing some of the extracurricular advice that Shirag shared with me during a live event earlier in the month for individuals who belong to my membership community called, The College Solution Insider.
Here are five of the extracurricular tips that Shemmassian shared:
No. 1. It doesn’t matter what extracurricular teenagers select.
What is important is what teenagers do with the activities they pick.
Here’s an example for teenagers who play a musical instrument. What can set a student apart is getting involved in music beyond playing. A teenager could start an after-school music class at a local school, launch a fundraiser to buy instruments for kids who can’t afford them or think of another activity linked to music.
No. 2. Low-threshold extracurriculars aren’t impressive.
If an activity is easy to join and easy to explain, then it’s not that impressive. It’s a low-threshold activity.
“Let’s take the typical student who wants to go for well-rounded,” Shemmassian said. “Science quiz bowl, model UN, decathlon, track team, five AP course. All of this is very easy to explain.”
No. 3. High-threshold extracurriculars will impress colleges.
Focus on high-threshold extracurriculars, which are by their very nature hard to explain easily.
“If I told you that there is a student who started a statewide network of art kit distribution to cancer centers, explain that,” Shemmassian said.
“Work backwards and put together those steps. You may be able to, but at various points you’re going to stop and you’re going to think, I don’t know, what’s the next step? How do they do that? If the activity sticks together in your mind, it’s not impressive, but if it’s harder to explain and think through, that becomes more impressive.”
Shemmassian is working with a teenager, who loves art and teaching children. She brought both loves together by creating an art kit for young children with cancer. She is looking to partner with local hospitals to distribute the art kits.
No. 4. Ditch extraneous extracurriculars.
Time is precious for teenagers, which can make extracurriculars a pain to squeeze in.
Shemmassian suggests cutting out fluff activities and focusing on just a couple that are meaningful to the student.
“What do students do who aspire to attend top colleges? They enroll in every single AP course maybe their school offers, which is tons of hours of homework. They’ll spend one hour a week here, two hours a week here, three hours a week here in all these various clubs. Then at the end of the day, they don’t really have much time left. None of these activities in and of themselves will differentiate the applicant in any way.”
No. 5. Use the application to amplify the activities.
The Common Application has room to briefly include a long list of activities, but remember quality always trumps quantity. Students can use the additional comments section of college applications to share what they did and how that reflects their character, their values and their qualities.
You will discover even more tips from Shemmassian by reading the transcript – Great Tips for Choosing Extracurriculars for College Admission.
I interview a college expert every month through my membership site called The College Solution Insider, which includes a first free month.