7 Environmental Science Extracurriculars for High Schoolers
- Extracurricular Activities for Budding Environmental Science Majors
- How Do Extracurriculars Impact Your College Chances?
Colleges are drawn to students who pursue their academic interests through their extracurricular activities. Students interested in math can get involved with the math league, students interested in French can join the French club, and students interested in politics can run for student government.
But, for some students, it’s not so easy to find a club that reflects their interests and passions. Environmental science, for example, is a nuanced field that doesn’t correlate to an abundance of obvious extracurriculars.
If you’re looking for ways to show your commitment to environmental science through your extracurriculars, this post is for you. Here, we’ll outline seven impressive extracurricular options for the environmental scientists of tomorrow.
Extracurricular Activities for Budding Environmental Science Majors
Including a service element in your extracurricular involvement is always a good idea, and environmental science happens to be an area where volunteer opportunities abound.
You can start by looking for established volunteer opportunities. These include things like:
- Recycling programs
- Conservation projects
- Neighborhood cleanups
- Community gardens
- Habitat restoration projects
- Sustainable living education
- Park and beach cleanups
- Wildlife rehabilitation centers
Network through friends, family, and teachers to get an idea of what already exists in your area.
If you can’t find something that suits your interests and works for your schedule, start your own volunteer project or create an opportunity with a group of interested peers.
In addition to being marketable during the college admissions process, volunteering provides future environmental scientists exposure to the nonprofit world—which is extremely important for that field. Through volunteering in high school, you’ll learn about the day-to-day activity of nonprofits, including research, publications, public outreach, manual labor, and more.
Finally, your volunteer work can provide important networking and mentoring. Keep in touch with your volunteer supervisor even after you’ve finished your project, and let them know if you’re available for work. This connection could become an important one further down the line as you pursue higher education and ultimately a career in the field.
Research in high school typically can take on two forms: independent research or research in a lab. The former requires self-discipline and accountability and the latter requires networking.
Independent research is a great option for any student who is seriously considering a career in environmental research. To get started, think of the local issues and concerns that interest you. Try to find something that you truly care about or that’s locally relevant.
Next, you’ll want to follow the steps we outline in our post A Guide to Pursuing Research Projects in High School. These include finding a mentor, setting a timeline, and publishing a report.
Independent research can cover a myriad of topics:
- Air—pollutants, lung health, carbon emissions, greenhouse gasses
- Water—acid rain, pollution, purification
- Food—GMOs, herbicides, pesticides, soil contamination
- Energy—oil industry, alternative power green energy
- Waste—recycling, food waste
- And more!
If you hope to get involved with higher-caliber research at a young age, you will want to find your way into a reputable lab. The first step is networking with people you know in the field, reaching out to professors at your local community colleges, and attending lectures, talks, and conferences where you can meet professionals who are doing research.
If someone decides to take a chance on you and let you help in their lab, you will be able to learn more about your future career path and get hands-on experience. The key is getting an industry professional to see your passion for the field and your work ethic, then give you a chance.
3. Self-Driven Projects
One way to show that you care about environmental science is by conducting a public outreach campaign focused on an issue of personal interest or local relevance. While you can do this on your own, you’ll be more effective and generally achieve a broader reach if you have partners in your plan.
You could organize initiatives like:
- Meatless Mondays
- Upcycling clothing drives
- Community cleanup days
- Habitat conservation days
- Recycling initiatives with reward systems
- Carpool Wednesdays
- Fundraisers for sustainable nonprofits
Starting your own outreach campaign shows great leadership skills and initiative. In addition, you will ideally have the satisfaction of seeing the impact that your programs have on your community.
Clubs are the “obvious” choice when it comes to extracurricular activities, but environmental science clubs aren’t always readily available to students. This means that you might have to start your own club.
Some ideas for environmental science clubs:
- Green Club
- School Garden
- Environmental Science Club
- Sustainability Club
- Community Cleanup Club
- National Green Schools Society
- Sustainability Magazine/Bulletin
- Marine Sciences Club
If you want to start an environmental science club, talk to your teachers and mentors about your next steps! Also, check out our article about how to start a club in high school.
5. Summer Programs
If you have time to pursue extracurriculars during the summer months, you’ll find that you have even more opportunities available to you. Many programs offer summer environmental classes along with extensive labs and hands-on fieldwork.
Here are a few options to consider:
This program offers travel and adventure learning trips geared specifically towards environmental science. Their courses range from ecology, conservation, and agriculture, to policy, sustainable design, and sustainable energy. Courses take place in exotic locales such as India, Ecuador, and the Galapagos, but their Environmental Leadership Academy is offered only at Dartmouth College.
Here, students work with top research scientists and policy advocates to explore pressing environmental issues and the careers that address them. Classes take place at either Yale University or the University of Washington.
Brown University offers high school students the chance to “study the interactions between natural and social systems with Brown-affiliated educators and place-based experts.” Courses also include leadership development with the mission of developing socially responsible leaders of tomorrow. The program is offered both in Alaska and along the Rhode Island coast.
In this program, high school students work in actual research laboratories on existing projects, supervised by graduate students. Different areas of focus and varying time commitments are available.
Keep in mind that if you pursue one of these opportunities, it will be most meaningful on your college application only if you do so as part of a bigger context. That is to say, participating in one summer program, particularly if the program is located in a remote part of the world, does little to contextualize your interest in environmental science as a serious and prolonged pursuit.
6. College Classes
If a short-duration, intensive residential program isn’t right for you, consider taking an online college course or a class at your local community college during the summer.
Community college courses are reasonably priced, do not require students to travel far from home, and are a great way to get exposed to the format and rigor of college-level courses. They are also a surefire way to make your college application stand out!
Tuition for community college courses is typically around $100 per credit hour. This means that a full course will end up costing you a few hundred dollars. Of course, this includes access to professors, labs, and technologies that students would otherwise not have access to. Community colleges operate at a local level, so we recommend that you look into the schools in your area for accurate tuition rates and course offerings.
Note: Some high schools have programs arranged with local community colleges so that students can receive high school credit for the courses they take. This is often the case with smaller high schools, where there are fewer AP or IB offerings. That said, even if you don’t receive high school credit, you will likely receive some college credit for your community college courses once you get to your university.
A professional internship is a perfect way to get your feet wet in the field of environmental science. You will learn about the subject matter, while also learning about career paths and job responsibilities. Additionally, if you look hard enough, you might be able to find a paid opportunity.
Popular environmental science internships include:
Specialty: Various tracks, including environmental science
Location: Boston, MA
Duration: 6 weeks (July 2-August 11, 2023)
Specialty: Animals and zoology
Location: Brookfield, IL
Duration: Varies, at least 30 hours per calendar year
Specialty: Various tracks, including environmental science
Location: Austin, TX
Duration: 5 weeks (summer)
Specialty: Animals and conservation
Location: Chicago, IL
Duration: 7 weeks (early July to mid-August)
Specialty: Animals and conservation
Location: San Diego, CA
Duration: 12 weeks (summer)
Specialty: Urban conservation and environmental justice
Location: Baltimore, MD
Duration: Year round
Specialty: Plant science and computational biology
Location: Ithaca, NY
Duration: 6 weeks (June through August)
Specialty: Natural resources and environmental management
Duration: 8 weeks (summer)
Specialty: Marine sciences
Location: Princess Anne, MD
Duration: 6 weeks (summer)
Specialty: Sustainability and agriculture
Location: Ithaca, NY
Duration: 7 weeks (July 27-August 11, 2023)
Specialty: Renewable energy
Duration: Either 2-8 weeks (20 hrs/wk) or 1-9 months (8 hrs/wk)
You can also check various national organizations such as NOAA, the National Park Service, the National Science Foundation, the EPA, and the USGS for paid internship opportunities. Though they don’t always have internships—and when they do, the application process is fairly selective—you never know when an opportunity might arise that’s just the right fit for you.
For more environmental science internships, check out our post 20 Environmental Internships for High School Students.
How Do Extracurriculars Impact Your College Chances?
Grades and test scores are important in the college admissions process, but admissions officers also want to see who you are beyond the numbers. Through extracurriculars, you can show admissions officers your specific interests and, more importantly, your commitment to your specific interests.
Our CollegeVine team recommends that you focus on 2-3 extracurricular activities that you care deeply about. If your extracurricular list shows breadth rather than depth, your admissions officer might not understand how truly dedicated you are to the field of environmental science.
Additionally, admissions officers often group activities into one of the four tiers of extracurricular activities. The highest tiers—Tiers 1 and 2—heavily influence college admissions and are reserved for rare extracurriculars where students show extraordinary skill or leadership. Lower-tier activities—those in Tiers 3 and 4—are less distinguished, and thus, have less of an impact on college admissions.
For example, an admissions officer is going to be more drawn to a student who worked in a food conservation lab at their local university and organized Meatless Mondays at 10 schools in their region—activities in Tiers 1 and 2—than a student who organized their school’s green week activities—an activity in Tier 4.
As you choose your extracurriculars, think about what will stand out to admissions officers. Additionally, put your extracurriculars into CollegeVine’s free chancing engine, which will tell you how your extracurriculars will affect your admissions chances at specific colleges and universities.