Extracurriculars for High Schoolers Interested in Studying Engineering
Engineering is a rapidly growing field with strong career growth projections and great earning potential. Many top students are now identifying engineering as a field of interest early on, beginning career prep and setting themselves apart as college applicants while they’re still early in their high school career.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in engineering, it’s important to realize that good grades and high test scores are no longer enough to get you into a top engineering program. These days, top programs such as those as MIT or Stanford have acceptance rates that dip well into the single digits. To get in, you’ll need to truly set yourself apart. But how can you do that?
Demonstrating exemplary skills in the field, showing dedication to your interest, and proving your ability to lead will all be important in the application process, and extracurriculars are a great way to highlight these. By carefully choosing extracurricular pursuits that showcase not only your academic prowess but also your personal qualities, you can stand out to admissions committees and increase your chances of getting into a top notch program.
The Four Tiers of Extracurricular Activities
As you choose your extracurricular pursuits, you might be tempted to load up on as many activities as you can possibly handle. This isn’t the best approach. Admissions committees consider not just what activities you pursue, but also the depth of your involvement and your accomplishments in it. Not all activities are given the same consideration, so curating an extracurricular profile purposefully is especially important.
At CollegeVine, we find it helpful to break down extracurricular activities into four tiers. The lowest tier of involvement, which we refer to as tier four, includes activities in which your participation is somewhat periphery or at least not deep in any way. This is something like being on your school’s Eco Club or playing on a sports team. These are activities that you participate in regularly but do not have any remarkable accomplishments in and in which you have not established a leadership role. While they are still worthwhile in demonstrating your commitment, they aren’t given much weight by an admissions committee.
Tier three activities are a step up, and generally include some level of accomplishment or leadership. Perhaps you were the secretary of the French club or invited to play in the all-district orchestra. These types of activities get a little more consideration from admissions committees but they are still not especially impactful.
Tier two activities are more impressive and for most students represent the top level of achievement. This is something like being the president of student council or winning the science fair. These activities show a high level of leadership or accomplishment and are looked upon favorably by admissions committees.
Tier one activities are truly unique and extraordinary. They are also fairly rare. This includes being a nationally ranked athlete, being a finalist in the INTEL science search, or winning a national debate contest. Because these accomplishments are so rare, admissions committees view them most favorably and they are the most impactful on your college application.
Extracurriculars for High Schoolers Interested in Studying Engineering
If you’re interested in studying engineering, you should focus on extracurriculars that show your scholastic aptitude in the STEM fields along with creative problem solving skills. Here are some clubs to consider if you’re interested in studying engineering:
- 3D Printing Club
- Aeronautics Club
- Aviation Club
- Ham Radio Club
- Robotics Club
- Rocketry Club
- Rube Goldberg Club
Additionally, several robotics competitions exist at the national level.
VEX Robotics Competition
At the VEX Robotics Competition, teams of students design, build, and code robots to compete in a game in a competitive atmosphere with state, regional, and national competitions that culminate in an annual world championship. Tournaments are held year round with the world championship taking place each April. In addition to working on classroom STEM skills and knowledge, participants gain experience in teamwork, leadership, and communications.
First Robotics Competition
The First Robotics Competition exists in a similar format. It offers competitions for all levels, both technical and non-technical. Students begin competing locally in a sports-team round robin style, then progress to regional, state, and even national competitions if they are successful. Participants like to refer to it as the “hardest fun you’ll ever have,” and 88% go on to report more interest in doing well in school and 92% are more interested in attending college.
Other Engineering-Focused Extracurriculars
Destination Imagination is a creative problem solving competition with teams working on a problem over a period of several months. Challenges are offered in seven areas, including engineering, technical, scientific, fine arts, improvisational, service learning, and an early learning challenge. Teams can qualify for competitions at the regional, state, and national level.
The Future Problem Solving Program International
The Future Problem Solving Program International is an annual conference designed to “develop the critical and creative thinking skills necessary to adapt to a changing world.” It includes competitive components and attracts students from around the world. The four competitive components offered are: Global Issues Problem Solving, Community Problem Solving, Scenario Writing, and Scenario Performance.
The breadth of these competitions allows students to highlight their unique problem solving skills without requiring in depth knowledge of technical elements. Winners in each category present at the International Conference each June and participants can expect to develop essential skills known as the four C’s: Creativity, Critical thinking, Communication, and Collaboration.
International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition
In the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, students build genetically engineered systems using standard biological parts called BioBricks and compete to win prizes on a worldwide platform. In 2016, the winning high school level project developed a synthetic biology technology in the form of “Shen-Nong” E coli, which are able to detect heavy metal and toxins. This technology was then applied towards monitoring the quality of natural Chinese medicines.
In addition to developing the skills and knowledge necessary to work in the field of genetic engineering, students also develop the iGEM values, which include among others: integrity, sportsmanship, respect, honesty, effort, and excellence.
Odyssey of the Mind
Odyssey of the Mind is a longstanding creative problem solving competition that exists at every level from school wide to world wide. Students can become involved as early as elementary school and will integrate STEM skills with performance, arts, and history.
Past projects have led students “to design mechanical dinosaurs, invent new factory machinery, build working vehicles, write a new chapter to Moby Dick, put a twist on classic artworks, turn Pandora’s Box into a video game, and so much more.” Challenges for 2020 include detective work, a balsa wood building challenge, and a networking performance that simulates world communications and includes pop-up advertisements and a malware.
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