In today’s crazy competitive college admissions world, it takes a lot more than having a perfect GPA and test scores to snatch up those coveted acceptance letters. If you’ve ever been to any university’s information session, you’ve probably heard the word ‘holistic’ come up at one point in their speech.

The holistic take on college admissions means that admissions officers, in theory, are looking at more than just the hard factors—grades and test scores. They take into account the more subjective pieces, like essays, letters of recommendations, and extracurricular activities. Yes, it really is true. Your clubs, sports, volunteer gigs, and jobs all play important roles in your quest to get into college.

But wait, how many of you have found activities outside of school that you truly enjoy? It’s one thing to say you’re a part of 20 clubs, have a steady job, and volunteer five days a week at the local shelter, but it’s an entirely different matter to say you actually like any of them.

See, many students are obsessed with the numbers; they obsessively join clubs, organizations, and associations in order to fill up blank space on their resumes. But that shouldn’t be your goal. Be proud of what you do, but also, be an actual part of it. Don’t just show up for the annual club pictures. Don’t come to the minimum number of meetings to walk down the stage with a plethora of cords. Be active. Show passion. As Marisa, a rising senior in high school puts it, “Extracurriculars play a big role in college admissions. Colleges are looking for more than a GPA and an SAT score. The extraccurriculars you participate in give the colleges you apply to an idea of what you will bring to their campus, and idea as to what you plan to do with the opportunities they offer you.”

So now that we’ve established the importance of extracurricular activities, let’s figure out how to find the right ones, because extracurriculars, unfortunately, aren’t one-size-fit-all. We, as high school students eager to gain admission to our dream schools, enthusiastically sign up for whatever will look the best. National Honor Society? Beta? Ten years of piano lessons? National champion of X, Y, and Z? Many of us fall victim to the lure of joining every extracurricular out there, but how many do we really care about? What clubs have made a true impact on you, on your character? That’s what we want in an extracurricular activity, not a couple of silly plastic awards.

Where to Start

Whether you’re a freshman in high school or a rising senior, it’s never too late to find the right extracurricular activities, and while I mentioned earlier that it’s not about the numbers, if you’re really passionate about 10 or 15 clubs, then go for it. The same thing goes for those of you who just like to play the violin in your room for eight hours a day. Do what makes you happy. Don’t do something because you think it’ll make your equally college-obsessed parents proud, your friends jealous of your talent, or admissions officers mildly impressed when you talk about it at your interviews.

Do it for yourself. Your interests and passions make up who you are. Celebrate who you are. So, when it comes to signing up for clubs, don’t just follow wherever your friends go, where the smart kids congregate, or where the popular kids flock. If you have a borderline unhealthy obsession with cloud formations, you start that Cloud Formation Club. No shame here, guys. Be realistic with who you are, and don’t try to personify the student you or anyone expects you to be with your time outside of school. Likewise, Sophia, a rising senior, also suggests “that you should start by trying a bit of everything, and then you can decide after a while whether or not it is something you enjoy.” When it’s time to put your years of actions onto paper, make them count. You’re more than the fifteen random clubs you signed up for in your freshman year, and you know that.

Choosing Your Actual Activities

I was once “active” in over 15 different clubs, five volunteer organizations, and played two instruments. Only about five of those 22 activities actually mattered to me, and my roles in those things dwindled as I grew and discovered other things I found worthwhile. Some of my most valued clubs are the ones that I’ve found in the past year or even months. Remember, it’s okay to start out big and work your way down. The length of your membership has nothing to do with the quantity or quality of your impact. Like Adam, a rising senior, says, “There are so many clubs out there, so it’s really great to explore and learn new interests. Try to find your passion and then branch out to try and find similar types of clubs.”

So, once you’ve done some introspection on your love of cloud formations (bear with me here), develop it. Go through with starting up that club. Do you know how many clubs and student organizations there are in colleges? Hundreds. You’re not going to be the only student who likes clouds; trust me. So, even if you’re one of the two at your high school, don’t let that stop you. Your interests make you unique, and, subjectively more important, they make you stand out to admissions officers.

Staying Active

Once the “honeymoon” phase of joining a new club, organization, team, and so forth wears off, it can be difficult to keep the excitement up. Weekly meetings, daily shifts from 9-5, or practice after class five days a week can get tiring fast. So, what are you, as a highly motivated and pressured teenager, supposed to do?

If you’re anything like a lot of students, you’ve probably dropped an activity or two…or 17. But, why? Given past trends, it could be just a lack of interest in the activity itself, or it could be that nothing’s happening. As Marisa says, “­I’ve found that if a club is poorly run and the officers aren’t organized, I don’t find it worthwhile to stick with the club.” So, what if you’re faced with a similar situation? You can always quit. The door’s right there, but you can also seize the opportunity. Take charge. Revive the club; pump up your team. Be a motivator. Be proactive.

And even if your organization is well-run, it doesn’t mean that you should just sit there in the back every meeting, or worst, not even show up. You should get involved. Ask to head a committee. Start a fundraiser. Make your extracurricular activities more than a chore. If they ever feel like a chore, they’re either not the right activity for you or you’re handling it the wrong way. Jenn, a dancer and rising senior, says that, “Dance is the thing I love most about life. I live and breathe dance…The fact that I have had to struggle just to participate 50% of the way in dance has only made me love it more. I have learned perseverance, hard work, and humility from dancing and it is the one time I feel perfectly at peace with myself.”

And that’s really all there is to it, isn’t there? Do the things that make you happy. Being in school a minimum of eight hours a day (on a good day) is hard enough. Studying for countless hour when we get home is draining. Let’s make our extracurricular activities for us. They’re some of the few things in this insanely competitive college admissions process that we have control of. So, let’s have fun with them.

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