The Truth About Extracurricular Activities and Highly Selective Colleges

Image of sign on ski slope with ski trail named “College”.

The parents of today’s college applicants applied to college in the 1980s and early 1990s. Those were the days when being a well-rounded student was the ticket to a highly selective college. Two varsity sports, a summer job and participation in a few clubs were the activities of a successful applicant. Having a passion was not necessary.

Today’s well-rounded applicants are welcome at many colleges but the most selective schools prefer a different shape. They are prioritizing “pointy” students, those who have participated in several activities centered around a theme rather than a variety of disconnected activities. Elite colleges want students whose activities demonstrate commitment to a core interest, belief or pursuit. Students who have determined their passions and delve deeply into them are more likely to be admitted.

In their college applications, students applying to highly selective colleges should highlight groups of activities that align with and relate to their genuine, deep interests. Activities which are merely exploratory or things the student has dabbled in should be downplayed. For example, a student who is passionate about animals might create an application that highlights their volunteer work at an animal shelter, their commitment to fostering cats and dogs at their home and that the subject of their photography (another interest) is usually animals.

Use your high school years to explore, but if you do have a deep interest, pursue it wholeheartedly. A focus on one theme will not harm your chances of a successful college application. In fact, it is just the opposite.


IMAGE OF Michelle McAnaney, FOUNDER AND CEO OF THE COLLEVE

Michelle McAnaney is the founder of  The College Spy, a full service independent educational consulting firm that assists students and families across the US and internationally with the college selection and application process. Prior to founding The College Spy, Michelle was a guidance counselor and educator for more than 15 years, including serving as the Director of Guidance at two high schools, an adjunct college professor and a GED tutor. Michelle holds a master’s degree in school counseling and a bachelor’s degree in human development. She recently completed UC Irvine’s certificate program in educational consulting and is a MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) Certified Practitioner and a NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Master Practitioner. Michelle visits over 40 colleges each year so that she has first-hand knowledge of the colleges and universities her clients will be considering. You can find her on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn.