Over the summer, I helped two friends with their college applications. While I was helping them, I was brought back to the days when I was applying to college. I remembered sitting in my local Starbucks and in my town’s library, slaving over applications from August to October, wishing the entire process would just finish itself. I found that, for me, starting my resume (back when the Common App allowed users to upload them) was harder than starting my essay. I was able to come up with plenty of essay topics, but I had never put together a resume before.
I found that the two friends I helped also had no clue about forming a resume or, in the case of the Common App, consolidating the past three or so years of their lives into ten slots. Some students think they have more than ten, some only have two, depending on various circumstances. However, regardless of how many extracurricular activities a student may have, I continually get asked the question, “How much do clubs matter when applying to college?” The answer is that there is no perfect answer, no silver bullet to solve the riddle of how to get accepted to a college (a reason The Prospect was born).
Many colleges have adopted a holistic review process of college applications, since they realize that test scores aren’t everything. Extracurricular involvement is a part of this process, so it is important that applicants showcase what they have done in their high school years up until the point they are applying. One thing I regret doing is putting certain clubs as space fillers. Do not use space fillers! A space filler is a club that you were/are semi-involved in, but for which you don’t do much and/or care much. On my resume, I put down a club I was only in my freshman year. It is not necessarily bad to have done this, but admissions counselors knew that it was a very meaningless part of my overall high school career. Did I enjoy my time in that club? Yes. Did it affect me in the long run? Not really.
Instead, I would advise to focus on the clubs you are extremely passionate about and/or for which you have done a lot of work. Quality is better than quantity, as is explained in the information sessions for prospective students at my university. Two or three meaningful clubs are better than five or six nothing clubs.
Sometimes students don’t even have time to join clubs because they have part-time jobs or need to look after siblings and/or other family members. That’s okay. Jobs and familial responsibilities are just as important as clubs and sports. If that is how you spend a majority of your time, then so be it! College admissions counselors are looking to see what you do with your spare time, how you’re making a difference or contributing to the community (your school community or local community), and what matters to you. Jobs and familial responsibilities all showcase those things in the same way that clubs do.
Finally, consolidate your clubs! Fellow TP writer Jillian Feinstein wrote an article about this, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate the message. Having ten spots can be limiting, depending on the person. Yet, if you have more than ten, make sure that some don’t overlap. For instance, one of my friends that I was helping did competitive dance while also taking an array of dance classes. Those two can easily be combined into one activity, and a simple explanation along the lines of “participate on competitive dance team and take jazz, tap, and ballet dance classes” will suffice. Also, there is a separate section for honors and awards so don’t put them in the activities section.
As I mentioned earlier, many schools have a holistic review process. If extracurricular activities aren’t your thing, then don’t worry. There are plenty of other chances to shine in the essay section, with your essay, your transcript, your teacher recommendations. Good luck, Prospies!