What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How is Your Extracurricular Spike Evaluated?

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Shravya Kakulamarri in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



Participating in different extracurricular activities is a must for a strong college application. Not all activities are created equal, though, and it’s very important to find groups that you’ll be able to be truly invested in.


Wondering how college admissions officers view your involvement in different organizations? In this article, you’ll learn how your extracurriculars are evaluated, and how you can best develop a spike that reflects your passions.


Ranking Extracurriculars


Not every extracurricular activity is given the same weight by colleges as they evaluate applicants. Admissions officers evaluate different extracurriculars based on their relative impressiveness. While it may seem very subjective, there is actually a pretty clear ranking system. 


This system is known as the four tiers of extracurriculars


The first tier is for extracurriculars that are very rare and unique. These activities can include being a nationally ranked runner, or qualifying for an international biology competition. Such positions distinguish you on a very large stage.


The second tier includes impressive accomplishments that draw from a slightly smaller group of people. Playing in the state orchestra or serving as student body president prove that you have succeeded at a very high level. These activities are a bit more common than tier one activities, but they still show admissions officers your dedication and drive.


In the third tier, you’ll find leadership positions within school groups. Serving as captain as the soccer team or secretary of the debate team are good examples of tier three extracurriculars. These roles prove that you’re capable of taking on additional responsibilities and displaying leadership within an organization.


The fourth tier will be any role in which you’re a rank-and-file member of a group. You could be a volunteer for a local group, or just a participant in a school club. Most students are members of some organization; these can show colleges what your general interests are.


College admissions officers will then rank your extracurricular activities based on these tiers. You should aim to have at least one tier two or three activity to demonstrate your spike, which is a passion or expertise for a particular topic or interest that makes you stand out to prospective schools as a future leader in your field. This will show your achievement and your dedication.


To get into top universities, it would be ideal to have two or three tier two activities. But just to display general leadership skills, anything tier three and above will be great. 


Showing Your Passions


When thinking about what could comprise your spike, you can also consider the activities that you do independent of school, or any organization. What’s something that you put a lot of time into and really care about?


While colleges like to see that you’ve joined pre-existing groups, starting your own project or organization will really help to make you stand out. It shows drive and initiative, which will only add to your appeal as an applicant. 


If you care about music, you could start to record your own original work. If you’re interested in medicine or engineering, you could begin an independent research project, or work on an app. Even starting a blog that you commit to and write for on a regular basis will display originality.


These activities can, moreover, become classified as tier three or even tier two positions if you continue to work on them. You would be displaying important leadership qualities in starting a club, and you may achieve a lot of success 


Admissions officers don’t want to see that you’ve only recently joined many different organizations or clubs. While you might think that becoming a member of several new groups helps you seem well-rounded, it may actually come across that you started a bunch of activities just to put them on your college application. It’s important to keep in mind what your true passions are in order to best represent yourself on your college application.


Leadership Roles


Holding any leadership position will reflect well on you. If you’ve been a member of a club for a while, running for an officer position will bring your participation up from a tier four to a tier three. 


Some schools are very large, and admissions offices know this. As such, it can be difficult to take on a very pronounced leadership role, one that could be classified as a tier two. Going from a member to a leader will show how dedicated and hard-working you are.


When you’ve taken on a leadership role, you should start to think about what you can achieve in the position. Try to start new events, or recruit new members to grow the organization. You can then talk about all that you’ve accomplished in your college application.


If you’ve shown that you have done a lot with whatever you’ve been given, admissions officers will be impressed. To think about where you want to build your spike, consider what you want to accomplish, and what you think you can accomplish. When you put a lot of effort into something you care about, your development into a leader and your extracurricular spike will come naturally.