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Extracurriculars For High Schoolers Interested in Studying the Physical Sciences

If you’re planning on studying some combination of the physical sciences–physics, astronomy, chemistry, and earth science–in college, then you likely already know that these fields can have competitive admissions processes that are difficult to stand out in. The earlier you start planning for college, the better you can prepare your college applications to demonstrate your affinity for the physical sciences. 


Strong grades and test scores will help demonstrate your academic ability to succeed in a program of study in the physical sciences, but many applicants will have these on their resumés. If you are interested in pursuing a career in the physical sciences, you will need more to set your application apart than academic ability; you will also need to demonstrate qualities throughout your application that show you are a strong fit for the major. 


One of the best ways to demonstrate qualities that colleges are looking for–like leadership, dedication, and passion for the subject–is through your extracurricular activities. Planning your extracurricular pursuits to highlight your skillset and passions, as well as your personal qualities, will help you stand out to admissions committees and increase your chances of admission to your top choice schools.


The Four Tiers of Extracurricular Activities


It can be tempting to load up on every activity your school offers–especially when some of them might require only a small time commitment–but when thinking about your extracurriculars, you’ll want to be strategic. Admissions committees aren’t just looking at what activities you pursue, but the quality of your involvement, and what that activity tells them about you as an applicant. 


The best course of action is to get involved with a number of activities that will highlight different parts of your character, while getting more deeply involved with a select few that you are most passionate about. Some activities will given more weight than others, so we’ll look at how you can gauge where to focus your energies. At CollegeVine, we find it’s helpful to break these activities down into four tiers of involvement.


Tier four activities are activities where your involvement is largely surface level. These are the activities that college admissions committees see the most frequently, and as a result, won’t have the same impact as a higher tier activity. This could be general admission in a club where you don’t have any significant achievements. However, don’t discount tier four activities–they are great for highlighting your nonacademic interests or adding balance to your profile.


Tier three activities are a step up from tier four activities, usually including some degree of accomplishment. This could mean being a secretary for Model UN, winning a player of the week award in your sport, or winning a regional competition in your instrument.

Tier two activities are activities that show a high level of accomplishment or leadership and are a great asset to your overall profile. For many students, this is the top level of achievement you’ll realize in an extracurricular. Being president of a well-respected student organization, making an all-state sports team or music selection, or founding a club that goes on to accomplish something notable would all be examples of tier two activities. 


Tier one activities are those at the highest level of achievement; college admissions boards look on them incredibly favorably because true tier one activities are rare and demonstrate an exceptional level of achievement. This might mean being a nationally ranked athlete, winning a national science competition like INTEL science talent search, or attending a truly distinguished summer program. Tier one activities stand out because they’re uncommon, which means having one on your application will help it stand out too.

Extracurriculars to Consider for the Physical Sciences


Your extracurricular profile should include a balance of different types of activities across the different tiers. Most likely, your profile will include activities in tiers two through four, which is what we’ll focus on here. After perusing this list for ideas, see what your school has available already or, if nothing there lines up with your physical science interests, consider starting a new club to deepen your involvement and demonstrate your interest in your intended major. 


Interest-Based Clubs


These are clubs that are dedicated to a specific field or topic. Depending on what you intend to study, joining one or more of these can help you explore your interests in a more structured way:


  • Astronomy Club
  • Astrophysics Club
  • Chemistry Club
  • Earth Science Club
  • Future Scientists
  • Oceanography Club
  • Physics Club


Honors Societies


In addition to interest-based clubs, you might consider joining the Science National Honor Society, which recognizes achievement in challenging science courses. 




Because the physical sciences comprise a number of different subjects, there are a number of competitions you can consider entering to help your application stand out. 


Science Olympiad is a team-based competition where teams compete in 23 events across various scientific fields. Subjects range from Anatomy and Physiology to Forensics to Mechanical Engineering and more, and are tested a variety of ways. Succeeding in this competition can demonstrate teamwork and quick-thinking skills, among others. Learn more about Science Olympiad and how to succeed here. 


Chemistry Olympiad is a science competition that can demonstrate your knowledge of the subject. However, Chemistry Olympiad takes place over a series of exams, where the top qualifiers move onto the next round. If you love chemistry and excel at standardized tests, look into local exams being offered in your area.


Like Chemistry Olympiad, Physics Olympiad is a science competition that takes place over a series of tests in physics subjects. There are two levels of exams, and the top twenty finishers of the second level exam will go on to an intensive study camp and eventually represent the United States at the International Physics Olympiad. Progressing through the rounds of this competition would demonstrate your passion and knack for the subject, as well as your commitment to working hard; making it all the way to the national team would be a tier one accomplishment.


Science fairs can range in size and prestige, from ones at your local school to national ones like the Google Science Fair, but no matter what level you’re competing at, having a new and interesting scientific endeavor on your profile can help demonstrate where your interests lie as well as your capacity for innovation. Think hard about your topic and spend time on your research proposal to give your project its best shot. 


No matter what subject you want to study, there are ways you can build your extracurricular profile to highlight your individual skills and interests. If you plan to study a physical science, these extracurriculars are just some of the many options you can explore to do this. At CollegeVine, we want to help you make the most of your applications by combining data-driven research with proprietary tools that can help you with the admissions process every step of the way. 


Want access to expert college guidance — for free? When you create your free CollegeVine account, you will find out your real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve your profile, and get your questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Sign up for your CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your college journey.

Short Bio
Anna Ravenelle is a graduate of Cornell University, where she studied English with a concentration in Creative Writing. After spending two application cycles in the CollegeVine applications division, she now uses her admissions experience to help a greater number of students. She resides in New York but her heart has never left New Hampshire, where she grew up.