FAQ: If my daughter’s school offers only a few extracurriculars, should she supplement those with out-of-school activities?

FAQMy daughter’s New York City public high school is small and offers only two organized school clubs.  She participates in them both.  Does she need to sign up for additional activities outside of school to gain admission to a highly selective college?

Maybe yes, maybe no.  Let’s assume your daughter’s academic record and standardized test scores look competitive for her peer group and would not eliminate her from contention.  (Many college and university websites provide statistical profiles of the incoming freshman class that you can consult to see where your child falls.)  Admissions officers put folders in the context of family, school, and community and could wonder why your daughter did not take advantage of all that New York City has to offer outside the school environment.  On the other hand, a young person whose family circumstances prevent her from participating in activities will get a different read, regardless of location.

For an unhooked New York City applicant with no extenuating circumstances, two extracurricular activities need to stand out in a powerful way, especially if they represent the extent of her involvement.  Captaining a state championship mathematics team and developing an award-winning Intel International Science and Engineering Fair project through the school science club would catch my attention.  Chairing the school prom committee and participating in the school’s French club, in this context, would not. Remember that quality of extracurricular activities matters more than quantity, as does the collective power of those activities to tell a story about your child.  In assessing what admissions officers at the most selective colleges and universities in the country want to see from your child, think about the degree to which she is taking advantage of the resources and opportunities around her — at the school and in her community — as well as what your family circumstances allow her to do.

Next up:  More FAQs on extracurricular activities