6 Extracurriculars for High Schoolers Interested in Studying Math
- Extracurricular Activities for Aspiring Math Majors
- How Do Extracurriculars Impact Your College Chances?
After months of thinking about which classes you’ve enjoyed, your career goals, and your desired ROI, you’ve decided to study math in college. But how do you make it happen? How do you get into a math program that will secure you the future you’ve been dreaming of?
Your academic record is important, of course, but you also need to consider other aspects of your profile, such as extracurricular activities. These activities show admissions officers that you’re actively pursuing your passion for mathematics and developing your critical thinking skills outside of the classroom.
Read on to learn about the most impressive extracurriculars for aspiring mathematicians.
Extracurricular Activities for Aspiring Math Majors
1. Math Honor Society
The most obvious math extracurricular is Mu Alpha Theta. Mu Alpha Theta is an international math honor society that recognizes the achievements of students who excel in mathematics while inspiring interest in the subject.
Students join Mu Alpha Theta through their school’s local chapter. To qualify for membership, students must have completed at least two years of college preparatory mathematics, such as algebra and geometry, and have at least a 3.0 (on a 4-point scale) in math courses. Many school chapters will reach out to students who meet these qualifications, but you may also need to do some searching yourself.
Mu Alpha Theta is the kind of organization where students get out what they put into it. If you want to have a more active role in Mu Alpha Theta at a national or international level, the first step is becoming more active within your chapter.
At a national level, each year Mu Alpha Theta holds an annual convention that features math-related events, activities, and competitions. The national board also hosts competitions like the Mathematical Minutes Video Contest, the Log1 Contest, and the Rocket City Math League that all members have access to.
Lastly, the society offers scholarships and awards to noteworthy students. The most impressive scholarship offered by Mu Alpha Theta is the $4,000 Educational Foundation award.
The impact of Mu Alpha Theta on your college admissions chances depends heavily on your involvement. If you simply pay a membership fee and include the letters on your resume, you will not stand out. On the other hand, if you compete in national competitions or receive a scholarship, that is meaningful and may affect your admissions chances.
2. Other Clubs
If Mu Alpha Theta doesn’t sound appealing to you, there are plenty of other math-related clubs that may strike your fancy. Remember that, even if a club isn’t directly related to math, it can be valuable to you because of the skills you put to use. Important skills for future mathematicians involve problem-solving, creativity, and logical reasoning.
Your school might offer:
- Math Club
- Robotics Club
- Game Theory Club
- Egg Drop
- Chess Club
- Puzzle Club
- Coding Club
If these types of clubs don’t exist at your school, we have plenty of guidance for you on how to start a club in high school. Steps in the process include finding a faculty adviser, planning a budget, publicizing your club, and delegating duties and responsibilities.
3. Math Competitions
Like math clubs, math competitions offer a unique opportunity for future math majors to show off their abilities and gain prestigious recognition. The two most popular math competitions are the Math Olympiad and the Math League, though there are many other math competitions for high schoolers.
Math Olympiad is a proof-based mathematical competition, where individual students’ ability to quickly solve math programs advances them through rounds of competition. The end goal is to compete on the US Math Olympiad Team.
First, students across the country take the AMC 10/12 and AIME exams. High scores on these exams send 200-300 students to the two-day United States of America Mathematics Olympiad (USAMO), hosted by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). The top 12 students at the USAMO are then invited to attend the Mathematical Olympiad Program (MOP) during the summer. And, finally, six students from MOP are selected to join the US Math Olympiad Team, which competes internationally.
Math Olympiad is an intense competition and advancement within the competition is very impressive during college admissions.
Math League is an organization that hosts various contests for students in elementary, middle, and high school. Students can participate individually or as a team, making Math League a more collaborative competition than Math Olympiad.
Throughout the year, Math League hosts 6 competitions. Additionally, their contest offerings have expanded in recent years and they now offer course-specific contests, including the Algebra I Contest (grades 6-9), the Geometry Contest (grades 7-10), and the Number Theory Contest (grades 8-12). Contests involve a set of 6 questions, and students must solve as many as possible in 30 minutes.
Math League is fun for students interested in collaboration and community. Successful Math League teams are often part of a school math club that facilitates practice sessions and mock contests.
4. Creative Competitions
While not as directly related to math, creative problem-solving competitions are invaluable for the future mathematician, while also being extremely impressive in college admissions. Three popular creative problem-solving competitions are Destination Imagination, the Future Problem Solving Program, and Odyssey of the Mind.
Through the Destination Imagination (DI) competition, teams of students are presented with unique challenges that they must solve. Students typically rehearse their solutions for 2-4 months as they prepare for their local tournament.
The challenges, which vary each year, touch on areas including technical, scientific, service learning, fine arts, and more. For example, an engineering challenge might involve building a bridge from specific (weird) materials, testing the load it can bear, then presenting the bridge to judges as part of a creative story. Teams participate at the local, regional, affiliate, and global levels.
The Future Problem Solving Program
The Future Problem Solving is a collaborative program that encourages the development of critical and creative thinking in students. The program teaches a six-step decision-making model with the ultimate goal of preparing students to face real-world problems.
FPSPI offers four competitions in the following categories: Global Issues Problem Solving, Community Problem Solving, Scenario Writing, and Scenario Performance.
Odyssey of the Mind
Like DI, Odyssey of the Mind is an international creative problem-solving program. Teams are provided a task problem that involves writing, design, construction, and theatrical performance. For example, a challenge may ask students to apply artistic and technical knowledge to design mechanical dinosaurs and explain their backstory. For months, teams develop a solution to this task, then they attend a competition to present their solution.
One interesting element of the competition is its “spontaneous portion” where, on competition day, students must also generate a solution to a problem they have not seen before.
5. Summer Programs
There are many summer programs for aspiring math majors. Some take place on college campuses, others in individual communities, and, nowadays, there are even fully virtual math summer programs. Find just the program for you!
- Summer Workshop in Math (SWiM) at Duke University
- IMA-MathCEP Math Modeling Camp at The University of Minnesota
- SUMaC (Stanford University Math Camp)
- Idea Math Camp
- The Ross Mathematics Program at Ohio State University
- Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS) at Carnegie Mellon University
- AwesomeMath Summer Program
- Research Science Institute Program at MIT
- Illinois Tech Mathematics Camp
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 opportunities future math majors should look into include:
- Teaching math after school at a local community center
- Mentoring kids in math or chess club at your local elementary school
- Paid tutoring jobs (for example, Mathnasium)
- Working at math competitions, hackathons, or chess competitions
- Teaching at math summer camps
Most of these opportunities will be community-specific, so start by reaching out to institutions that exist within your community to see if they have any opportunities.
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 mathematics.
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 advanced to the USAMO stage of the Math Olympiad and founded a math club at their high school—activities in Tiers 1 and 2—than a student who was a general member of Mu Alpha Theta—an activity in Tier 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 mathematics. 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.