Your advisors and friends who have already gone off to college constantly remind you of what you need to do in order to be accepted into the school you want to attend. Everything they tell you, you already know, and if you didn’t before, you did after the fourteenth time they said “Keep your grades up, write good essays, and do a lot of extracurricular activities.” But they never seem to tell you how to keep your grades up, or how to write good essays, or what kind of extracurricular activities you should do.
Sure, there are the obvious ones, like National Honor Society, Beta Club, mock trial, varsity soccer, theatre, and all those things that are found in pretty much every high school. But being involved in those–unless you have an unnatural and story-worthy attachment to one–is often ubiquitous among competitive college applicants and barely helps you get a second glance before being tossed into a pile of other similar applications. So, one of the things you should do to make yourself stand out is find activities that will help you do that. Extracurriculars that are interesting to you and your application’s reader is a good step in having that application accepted.
It’s important that you do your own research and find out what kind of cool things you can do in your area, but this article will give a few general options usually available in metropolitan areas across the United States. It is by no means an exhaustive list of cool things you can do in high school.
Volunteer at Juvenile Court
Many states and cities in the US have a diversion program designed for first-time juvenile offenders who commit minor crimes that involve high school students. It may be called Teen Court, Youth Court, or Peer Court. Oftentimes, these programs will designate high school student volunteers to be certain roles inside the courtroom (like judge, prosecutor, probation officer, etc) and put on a hearing for the juvenile. Volunteers act within guidelines set beforehand (e.g. no offender can be sentenced to more than 20 hours of community service), but otherwise proceed with trying and sentencing the offender as if it were an actual trial.
These kinds of programs are unique because in no other capacity (until you pass the Bar, if you’re even planning on doing that) will you be representing clients and making decisions in court. It also directly impacts the life of a kid who probably made a minor mistake this one time. Without a program like this, a 13 year old child could have committed something as innocuous as falsifying his name to a police officer, gotten convicted, and served time.
Become a Founder
There’s nothing more exciting than writing “Founder” next to your name when talking about an organization. Your application will become so much brighter if you started something new from scratch. There are always things that you want to do, but can’t, because there’s no good avenue to go about it. That’s when you need to create something to help you out. More concretely speaking, if you’ve always wanted to play polo, but your school doesn’t have a team, figure out what you have to do make a polo team. If you want to do something, there’s a chance someone else also wants to do it, and will support you in making a team.
Sometimes, you could even think bigger than your own school. You could found an organization independent of your school. There are plenty of people in high school who have founded companies and non-profits. Find something you’re intrigued by, and fight for it using an organization you create.
There is no better way to learn about our world than to see it yourself. Take every opportunity you have to go abroad, or even road trip to the nearest beach. Any travel is better than watching Netflix at home. While you can’t exactly put down “Went to Panama City Beach for Spring Break” on your application, you can easily write about your experiences while traveling in your essays, and how it broadened your worldview. Studying abroad as an exchange student in high school could also be invaluable, and definitely something to put on your application.
Don’t skip through this section because you can’t afford to travel. There are so many programs that pay for you to go abroad that anybody can feasibly have the experience if you want to.
There are so many more interesting things you could do during high school that goes beyond just placing number one at the science olympiad. Find them. Do them. Enjoy them. And then write it down on your application to help you stand out!