5 Engineering Extracurriculars for High Schoolers
- Engineering Extracurriculars for High Schoolers
- How Do Extracurriculars Impact Your College Chances?
Engineering is a rapidly expanding field with strong growth projections and great earning potential. Many top students now identify engineering as a field of interest early on, beginning career prep and setting themselves apart early in their high school careers.
Because of this, engineering programs have become highly competitive, even at colleges and universities with higher general acceptance rates. Good grades and high test scores are no longer enough to get you into a quality engineering program.
In addition to good grades, your application needs to showcase your dedication to your engineering career path. By carefully choosing extracurricular pursuits that demonstrate your commitment to engineering, you can stand out to admissions committees and increase your chances of getting into a top program.
Extracurriculars for Future Engineering Majors
Clubs are often appealing to students because they require little commitment and provide lots of community. Through meetings and activities, clubs bring together students with similar interests.
That said, lots of high school clubs boast members who wear matching t-shirts and gather socially, but don’t achieve much with regard to their career goals. If you join an engineering club at your high school, use it as an opportunity to meet team members for future projects and competitions. Together with these new friends, you can create tangible products that will be marketable during your college admissions process.
Some clubs your school might have that will translate well to a career in engineering include:
- 3D Printing Club
- Aeronautics Club
- Aviation Club
- Solar Planning Club
- Makers Club
- Formula Racing Club
- Robotics Club
- Rocketry Club
- Computer Machinery Club
2. Summer Programs
Engineering summer programs come in one of two major forms: “residential” or “commuter.” Actually, most university-sponsored summer programs offer these options at the same locations, with the only real difference being whether or not students go home before dinner.
Residential programs are known for the immersive experiences they provide, as students live in real-life dormitories. Due to the live-in nature of residential programs, students often make close friends and connect socially in unique ways. That said, residential programs often come with a hefty price tag.
The primary difference between residential students and commuter students is that commuter students may not build the same camaraderie with their classmates as those living in dorms together. Educationally, however, commuter programs offer students access to the same university-level teaching and technologies. Because there is no room and board, commuter students also typically pay a reduced rate.
Check out CollegeVine’s compiled list of summer programs for engineering to compare program price tags and to learn more details about applying to the following programs:
- Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES)
- Summer Engineering Exploration Camp (SEE Camp)
- Boston University Research in Science & Engineering (RISE)
- Carnegie Mellon University Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS)
- California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS)
- ESTEEM/SER-Quest Summer Program
- National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) on Engineering Summer Program
- Anson L. Clark Scholars Program
- CURIE Academy
- NYU Applied Research Innovations in Science and Engineering (ARISE)
- Santa Clara University Summer Engineering Seminar (SES)
- UT Austin My Introduction to Engineering (MITE)
- MSOE Women in Engineering
- High School Summer STEM Research Program
- Office of Naval Research Science and Engineering Apprentice Program
- Purdue University Multiethnic Introduction to Engineering (MITE)
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology Women’s Technology Program (WTP)
- CATALYST Academy
- Stony Brook University Simons Summer Research Program
- University of Wisconsin–Madison Engineering Summer Program (ESP)
3. Community College Courses
Though we hesitate to recommend online engineering courses—because engineering is a very hands-on practice—we highly recommend community college courses as a way to improve your engineering skills before stepping onto a college campus.
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. Nevertheless, if you’re thinking of traveling to a big city, Los Angeles boasts 9 community colleges, New York City boasts 7 community colleges, and Boston boasts 15 community colleges. You have options and you should look into them to make the best choice for your future!
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.
4. Self-Driven Projects
Self-driven projects show admissions officers that you are motivated and dedicated. They can also emphasize your specific area of interest within the larger engineering industry.
Be that as it may, for a self-driven project to be impressive, you have to finish it. If you have trouble holding yourself accountable, we recommend that you gather with peers (from class, a summer program, or a club) to hold one another accountable and ensure that you complete the project.
Self-driven projects for high schoolers interested in engineering can include:
- Building complex Rube Goldberg machines
- Building race cars that use various power sources
- Experimenting with hydraulics
- Building a robot to perform a specific task
- Building an electric- or solar-powered skateboard
- Designing a satellite
Simply put, you will create an engineering project by finding an issue in everyday life and figuring out how to build a machine to fix that issue.
Different projects require different skill levels. Do internet research, read online forums, and talk to anyone you know who studies engineering or works as an engineer to decide which project you should start with.
Because engineering is such a hands-on practice, competitions are a great extracurricular option! When admissions officers see engineering competitions on a resume, they know that the student is dedicated, is able to learn rather than just memorize, and can work well with others. These are very important qualities!
Some popular engineering competitions for high schoolers include:
- The Clean Tech Competition
- The Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) International ROV Competition
- The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest
- The High School Bridge Building Contest
- The FIRST Robotics Competition
- The VEX Robotics Competition
- The NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge
- The Solar Car Challenge
- The IDEATE Engineering Competition
- The American Rocketry Challenge (TARC)
Engineering is a field that, at its core, is rooted in creative problem solving. Because of this, there are some creative competitions that aspiring engineers might enjoy getting involved in.
One of these is Destination Imagination (DI). DI teams compete at local, state, and national competitions to show off their problem-solving abilities in some technical, scientific, and engineering challenges, as well as in other fine arts, acting, and improvisational challenges.
Similar competitions are offered by The Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) and Odyssey of the Mind.
How Do Extracurriculars Impact Your College Chances?
While grades and test scores matter during college admissions, admissions officers are also interested in who you are beyond the numbers. This is where extracurriculars come into play. Through extracurriculars, you can show your interests and, more importantly, your dedication to your interests.
During the college application process, we at CollegeVine recommend that you focus on 2-3 extracurricular activities that you care deeply about. By focusing on depth, rather than breadth, you will be able to show admissions officers your dedication to a future in engineering.
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 interested in a Tier 1 extracurricular—like a student winning a national robotics competition—than a Tier 4 activity—like a student being a general member of their school’s AI club. That said, lower-tier activities still do have value in college admissions. They highlight your interests and demonstrate a willingness to pursue your passions outside of school.
Pay attention to which tiers your extracurriculars fall into and whether these activities showcase your dedication to engineering. You can put your extracurriculars into CollegeVine’s free chancing engine to see how they will affect your admissions chances at specific schools.