6 Extracurriculars for Aspiring Computer Science Majors
Each year, more and more students declare ‘Computer Science’ as their major during the college admissions process. This is because it’s a stable career path with good projected growth and an above average salary. Of course, this means that computer science programs are extremely competitive during college admissions, even at colleges with higher general acceptance rates.
Because computer science programs are so competitive, it’s important for students to build CS experience during high school through extracurriculars. Extracurriculars take on heavy weight in the college admissions process. They also provide students with the opportunity to confirm that they’re on the correct career path and to get ahead before even stepping on their university campus.
If you’re considering a path in CS and you want to ensure that you’re prepared for competitive college admissions, this is the post for you. Keep reading for a breakdown of six great extracurricular options for aspiring computer scientists that will stand out to admissions officers.
6 Computer Science Extracurriculars
Clubs are an obvious choice when it comes to extracurricular activities. Students are drawn to clubs primarily because of the community they provide. Through regular meetings and activities, clubs allow students to engage with other students who share their interests.
That said, many high school clubs are made up of members who wear matching t-shirts and gather together socially, but don’t achieve much. If you join a computer science club at your school, use it as an opportunity to meet team members for projects. Together with friends from your robotics or app development club, you can create a tangible product that will be marketable during the college admissions process.
Some clubs your school might have that will translate well to a career in computer science include:
- Computer Science Club
- App Development Club
- Robotics Club
- Cybersecurity Club
- Data Science Club
- Machine Learning Club
- Game Design Club
- Girls Who Code
- Hacking Club
2. Summer Programs and Classes
Engaging with computer science during your summer break is a great way to show admissions officers that you’re serious about your interest in the field. Summer programs come in a number of different shapes and sizes that have different pros and cons depending on the type of student you are.
You could enroll in an online class, a residential program, a commuter program, or a community college course.
Type of Class
Community College Course
Online classes are perfect for students who want to get a foot in the door in the world of coding with a flexible schedule and from the comfort of their own home. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, opportunities for online learning are abundant. This is great for aspiring computer scientists, as most computer science concepts can be learned easily in a virtual environment.
Some online classes available to high schoolers include:
Code Connects offers summer camps, summer research programs, quantum computing courses, and artificial intelligence courses to high school level students. Their classes vary in length and cost. Explore their website to find the perfect online class for you.
Kode with Klossy is a free two-week intensive offered to young women and students of traditionally underrepresented genders. Young scholars learn about web development, mobile app development, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and data science. There are both online and in-person offerings in Summer 2023.
NextGen offers coding classes and design classes to the next wave of computer scientists. They have classes focused on specific programming languages and computer programs. Their classes come with a price tag—course costs start at $999.
Residential programs are known to provide students with a truly immersive experience, introduce them to like-minded peers, and show them what college life is “really” like. They are offered directly through colleges and universities and often are accompanied by a high price tag. Some residential programs include:
ESAP offers students the opportunity to explore engineering at a college level and earn college credit for it. This three-week program exposes students to hands-on practical learning and technologies, as well as some of the world’s best faculty.
The UCLA Computer Science Summer Institute involves a coding boot camp, lab-touring experiences, and engaging with UCLA coursework. No prior computer science knowledge is needed to participate.
CSS provides rising high school juniors who have historically been excluded from STEM fields with the opportunity to travel to Carnegie Mellon and experience classroom instruction, research projects, and faculty lectures in the field of computer science.
The Berkeley Summer Computer Science Academy is designed for 16- and 17-year-old students—no matter their level of coding experience—who wish to know more about college-level computer science and college life.
In addition to residential options, many colleges and universities provide commuter options for summer programs. These are generally cheaper. Some commuter programs include:
The WTP is a program for rising high school seniors to learn about mathematics and computer science in an intensive learning-based environment. It’s designed for students who have a very minimal background in computer science.
At BWSI, rising high school seniors participate in a project-based challenge where they navigate a mini race car through an obstacle-filled environment. The project culminates in a race day where students’ cars are put to the test.
Each summer, Google offers an introductory computer science program for graduating high school seniors. The program is held at many locations throughout the country and boasts a selective admissions process and free attendance.
Community College Courses
Community college courses are a great, reasonably priced way to learn more about computer science during the summer. 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. Look into your local community colleges to see specific course offerings and unit prices. Remember, there are at least a half dozen community colleges in most major cities!
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.
Internships are an outstanding way to make your college application stand out. While summer programs and classes will give you college-level academic experiences, internships will give you real-world workplace experiences. This is invaluable!
Admissions officers look for students who will be successful at their particular university, but they are ultimately interested in students who will be successful in their respective industries after graduation. Internships show that you are committed to a future in your field of choice.
CollegeVine has an updated list of computer science internships for high schoolers available to you. These include:
- Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) High School Apprenticeship
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Summer High School Intern Program Research
- National Security Agency Student Programs
- Sandia National Laboratories Internships
- Stony Brook University Simons Summer Research Program
- Spark Summer Internship Program
An important part of mastering a trade is being able to teach it to others. Moreover, teaching and mentoring roles look great during the college admissions process.
Some teaching opportunities students should look into include:
- Teaching a class at a local retirement center
- Mentoring children in a CS club at your local elementary school
- Paid tutoring jobs
- Working at hackathons and other CS events
- Teaching at CS summer camps
Most of these opportunities will be community specific, so start by reaching out to institutions catering to younger and older people—such as elementary schools and retirement centers, respectively—that exist within your community to see if they have any opportunities.
5. Self-Driven Projects
Self-driven projects are very impressive to admissions officers, as they show motivation and dedication. That said, for a self-driven project to be impressive, you have to actually finish it. If you have trouble holding yourself accountable, we recommend that you gather with peers (who you meet through a club, summer program, or an AP Computer Science course) to complete self-driven projects.
Building a website is a popular self-driven project taken up by high schoolers. Even if you’ve never done anything like it before, there are plenty of free online tutorials that, with a little time and dedication, can help you quickly build your first website template.
Other self-driven projects for high schoolers include:
- Learning a coding language
- Building an app from scratch
- Developing a game engine
Different projects will require different skill levels. Do internet research, read online forums, and talk to people you know who are studying computer science or working in computer science to decide where you should start.
A hackathon (also known as a codefest) is a social event that is very specific to computer science communities. Major hackathons are often hosted by tech companies and organizations, but as hackathons have gained popularity due to their fun and collaborative environments, smaller hackathons have emerged throughout the country.
A hackathon is a competitive and collaborative event where teams work together to complete projects within tight time constraints, competing against other teams. They can be a great learning experience and an amazing opportunity to build community with students interested in the same things as you.
Some popular hackathons for high schoolers include:
- IIT Roorkee Young Coders Hackathon (Online)
- BIT Mesra’s Junior Hackathon (Online)
- Hack3 (Bay Area)
- Eagle Hacks (Bay Area)
- Hyphen-Hacks (Bay Area)
Many of these competitions give high schoolers access to free online preparation courses and introductory hacking materials. Additionally, many of the in-person programs offer scholarships and need-based financial aid.
How Do Extracurriculars Impact Your College Chances?
Grades and test scores are important factors in the college admissions process, but admissions officers are also interested in who students are beyond the numbers. This is where factors like extracurriculars, personal essays, and recommendations come into play. Through extracurriculars, students can show their specific interests and, more importantly, their dedication to specific interests.
Because of the importance of dedication, our CollegeVine team recommends that students focus on 2-3 extracurricular activities that they 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 computer science.
Additionally, admissions officers often group activities into one of the four tiers of extracurricular activities. The highest tiers—Tier 1 and Tier 2—have the most influence on college admissions and are reserved for the rarest and most distinguished extracurriculars. Lower-tier activities—those in Tiers 3 and 4—are less well-known, less distinguished, and ultimately have less of an impact on college admissions.
For example, an admissions officer is going to be more drawn to a student who won a youth hackathon and took part in an AI summer program—activities in Tiers 1 and 2—than a student who was a general member of their school’s coding club—an activity in Tier 3 or 4.
As you choose your extracurriculars, think about what will stand out to admissions officers and what will showcase your dedication to the field of computer science. Additionally, put your extracurriculars into CollegeVine’s free chancing engine, which will tell you how specific extracurriculars will affect your admissions chances at specific colleges and universities.