High school students can choose from a range of activities, including school-based clubs, teams, and theatrical productions; organized groups or experiences outside of school; paying jobs; and independent hobbies and interests that they pursue completely on their own (without the formal sponsorship or structure of any organization). Some young people have family responsibilities that take up significant time and prevent them from participating in standard activities that we associate with high school. Admissions officers appreciate this entire range and do not look for any specific combination of activities when they read folders.
Unfortunately, many people still believe that some perfect formula exists for a student’s extracurricular profile. Students have devoted extensive time and, where budgets allow, families have expended significant sums on activities that make no difference in the admissions decision. The notion that colleges require community service, for example, has prompted young people around the country to volunteer at senior centers, deliver Meals on Wheels, and tutor young children — all so that they could list the activity on the college application. In fact, admissions officers want to see that your child’s talents and interests contribute to the community, whether directly or indirectly. A student artist who displays her work at the local library, a poet who participates in readings and slams at a local café, and a budding journalist who writes for a school or community newspaper have all had a positive impact on people around them. Your child can contribute to her school and community by pursuing what she enjoys and sharing it with others.
Your input can benefit your child in several ways as she decides where and how to devote her extracurricular energies. Large high schools that offer scores of activities can overwhelm students of any age. Conversely, small ones that make only a few activities available can frustrate students who would like to get involved. Take some time to sit down with your child and ask her about her interests outside of academics. Ask her to point out clubs, teams, or other organizations that pique her curiosity and encourage her to attend informational meetings or talk to the faculty advisor. If her high school does not offer many activities or if nothing on the existing roster interests her, brainstorm with her about ways in which she could create her own extracurricular program, either inside or outside of school (starting a new club, volunteering at a community-based organization, etc.). This type of discussion could prove invaluable for a student just starting high school, as well as for one approaching senior year who has not yet found her extracurricular niche.
A shy child or one who needs to get acclimated to high school before she commits to teams and clubs could benefit from signing up for only one or two activities, a decision that may require some encouragement from you. A young person who sees joining teams and clubs as an important vehicle for making friends, on the other hand, may need assistance limiting her activities to a reasonable number. Remember, admissions officers are looking for sincere commitment, for quality, not quantity. Help your child figure out the ideal combination of extracurricular and academic commitments for her, as well as the pursuits that she enjoys and wants to continue throughout high school.