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Duke University
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Extracurriculars for High Schoolers Interested in Studying Visual Arts

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Considering studying the visual arts in college? This can be a rewarding, though often challenging, path for students who are talented in and passionate about creating art. 


While art majors do need innate talent, they also need to hone and study their craft — and admissions committees will want to see that applicants have already started this process. One way to demonstrate your artistic commitment and development is through the extracurricular activities you pursue in high school. So which extracurriculars are good fits for students who want to study art?


How should students think about their extracurricular profile? 


In some cases, extracurricular activities matter as much as a students’ academic record. This is often the case for students who intend to study art in college. While admissions committees want to see that you’re a committed student who takes their courses seriously, your talent, portfolio, and dedication to art activities will also be crucial to the admission committee’s decision. That’s because your experience as an artist is often a better indication of how you’ll fare in art school—and as a professional artist!—than your performance on an AP exam in a different subject.

The 4 tiers of Extracurricular Activities


Admissions officers evaluate your activities using the tier system for extracurricular activities. There are 4 main tiers that you can think of in this way:


Tier 4: These are activities in which you participate but don’t hold leadership positions or notable distinctions. They can be helpful in showing colleges your general interests.


Tier 3: In these activities, you’ve shown a bit more dedication, such as holding a minor officer position like secretary or treasurer.


Tier 2: Tier 2 activities denote impressive dedication or accomplishments, such as holding a high-level leadership position — president, for example — in a prestigious club or society. 


Tier 1: The most impressive activities, these extracurriculars are exceptional and rare. For instance, winning a national art competition would generally fall into this category.


You should strive to have a balance of all four tiers in your extracurricular profile. Lower-tiered activities are “bad” and can be valuable in showing where your interests lie. Of course, having Tier 1 and 2 activities will certainly boost your application, and you should always strive for the highest degree of excellence in activities that you’re truly dedicated to.


Extracurriculars for Students Interested in Visual Arts


National Art Honor Society


With chapters in high schools across the country, NAHS recognizes more than 58,000 students who demonstrate “an outstanding ability and interest in art.” Members can access leadership opportunities, scholarships, and more.


Depending on a student’s level of participation in NAHS, it will largely be a tier 1-3 activity. For example, if a student wins a national award or scholarship through the society, it’s likely a tier 1 activity, while a chapter secretary should think of it as a tier 3 activity.




Congressional Art Competition


Artists are invited to use a variety of mediums for this national high school art competition, including painting, drawing, print, collage, mixed media, digital art, and photographs. Submit your work to your congressional representative’s office to be judged within your district. Winners will go on to have their art displayed for one year at the US Capitol.


National YoungArts Foundation


Students aged 15-18 apply for a spot at the National YoungArts Week, where they are mentored by top artists and compete for scholarships and a nomination as a US Presidential Scholar in the Arts. This award is granted to high schoolers who demonstrate excellence in both art and academics. This competition isn’t limited to visual arts, but also includes categories for writing, music, and dance.


Scholastic Art & Writing Awards


High school artists submit work to be judged at the regional level, with winners going on to the national competition. Winners can receive scholarships of up to $10,000, and will be recognized at a ceremony in NYC’s Carnegie Hall. Judging categories include everything from Video Games to Jewelry to Architecture & Industrial Design (as well as more traditional categories like Painting, Drawing & Illustration, and Photography).

Clubs and Activities


These are generally school-based or local activities and can occupy different tiers based on a student’s involvement and commitment. Note that not all these activities are directly related to visual arts, but many art students may find them interesting and related to areas they may pursue further in college. They may also find niches within the club; for example, in comic book club, they may serve as an illustrator. 


Anime Club

Broadcast Club 

Bullet Journal Club

Calligraphy Club

Ceramics Club

Cinema Club

Comic Book Club

Figure Drawing Club

Filmmaking Club

Origami Club

Painting Club

Photography Club

Scrapbooking Club

TV Studio

Video Production Club

Volunteer at an art gallery or museum

Woodworking Club


Self-Directed Activities


If there aren’t any clubs you want to join at your school, and you aren’t interested in starting one, consider tackling a self-directed activity! These extracurriculars are personal projects where you have a great deal of autonomy. Based on your impact, these extracurriculars can be developed into high-tier activities.


Start a photography or film business


Those who love to film or take photos could offer their own services. There are plenty of opportunities and lots of demand for quality images and video. You could shoot senior photos for your classmates, offer family and engagement shoots, create wedding videos, or do photography for local businesses. Additionally, you’ll learn to create an online portfolio and market your business. 


Teach art lessons


Giving art lessons is another way to share your passion and talent with others. You could offer private or group lessons for students of all ages. 


Publish videos on YouTube


If you’re a strong videographer with a bubbly personality, consider starting your own YouTube channel. A channel with an intellectual theme (like history, environment, activism, or art) will have more weight in college admissions than a vlogging platform. You can always find ways to combine your passions and a topic that’s more “serious.” If you love anime, for instance, you could consider applying film theory to anime in your videos.


Design graphics and logos for businesses and events


Those with an eye for design can apply their skills in many settings. Maybe the school dance needs an eye-catching poster, the school newspaper wants to redesign its website, an online magazine needs a digital illustrator, or a local business needs a new logo. Put together a portfolio, get your name out there, and get real-world experience in design!


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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.