If you’re the parent of a high school student who’s planning to apply to college, you know that there are a lot of things to consider: academics, standardized tests, and extracurricular activities all vie for your attention.
Extracurriculars can feel especially daunting. How can you support your teen in choosing extracurricular activities that will engage them? What role do extracurriculars play in your student’s college application profile? When your teen fills out the Activities section of the Common Application, what kinds of activities will colleges and universities be looking for? Read on for some insights on navigating this crucial–and hopefully, fun–aspect of your student’s journey.
A good place to start is understanding why colleges consider applicants’ extracurricular activities in the first place. Beyond commonplace notions that students should be “well rounded” or should “give back,” extracurriculars give admissions committees vital information about who your student is. They want to see that the student is engaged in pursuits they care about and that they’re self-directed and genuinely passionate about things. This aspect of your student’s life indicates what they will contribute to their college community outside the classroom.
Extracurriculars also say a lot about your student’s personality. Does your teenager focus intensely on one thing, or do they have a broad range of interests? Are they an outgoing leader, a team player, or a passionate solitary researcher?
No one way is better than any other, but admissions committees want to know these things as they picture who your student is and how they’ll fit in. They want to see that your student can commit to something. They also want to see that they can participate in whatever they’re doing with creativity and authentic curiosity.
Colleges and universities are looking to see that a student is engaged in activities they love that give them opportunities to lead, grow, get out of their comfort zone, be challenged, and dive deeply into something–in short, pursuits that make the student unique. (Bonus: many extracurricular activities make great topics for supplemental essays!).
So with that in mind, what kind of activities should your student pick? Traditional extracurricular activities such as sports teams, music, student government, clubs and community service are great options, especially if your teenager genuinely enjoys them.
If they’re already involved in these, or looking to get started, by all means, encourage them! If your student needs help choosing something new, look beyond those traditional activities to a more diverse range of pursuits. These might include:
- Shadowing at a local business
- Working for a political campaign
- Writing for a local newspaper
- Independent research (if your student reads War and Peace on their own, that’s an accomplishment!)
- Volunteering at a local library, nursing facility, school, or food bank
- Growing a garden
- Community theater or dance
- Playing in a band
- Translating/studying a language other than English
- Taking care of children
- Student Internships
- Studying abroad programs
- Coding or computer science classes or camps
- Summer classes at a university or college
- A part-time job
(Also, check out our tips for making the most of your student’s summer extracurriculars!)
Once your teenager has chosen what they want to pursue outside of school, how can you best support them? As with so many things, it’s best to let your student lead the way.
Encourage them to commit to their chosen activities in depth, and allow them to find out what that means to them. Ask your student questions about their activities and discuss what they’re learning with them. Attend their recitals, games, and fundraisers when possible to show your support. Give your student plenty of space and avoid getting too involved in their activities yourself. Remember, this is their time to build the self-direction and initiative they’ll need when they arrive on their college campus.
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