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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Honing Your Extracurricular Spike

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Shravya Kakulamarri in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info. 


What’s Covered:



In this article, we share advice about how to hone your extracurricular “spike,” which is a focus or expertise on a particular topic or interest that makes your application stand out during the admissions process. There are several tactics you can use to do this, including self-reflection, future major and career exploration, and re-evaluation of the activities you are currently involved in.


Reflect on Your Strengths and Interests


The first step in identifying your spike is to reflect on your natural talents and interests. There is no one type of extracurricular activity that admissions committees look for in students. In fact, colleges would be really boring places if they only admitted students who participated in the same activities during high school. 


Instead, admissions officers are looking for diversity in applicants, as they want to represent a multitude of interests and talents in their student body. This is why having a particular spike is so important for strengthening your application, as it clearly shows colleges the unique skills and passions you will bring to campus.


To begin finding your spike, you can spend some time reflecting on and thinking about your own strengths and interests. One tip is to first make a list of different topics and subjects that you like, as it is easiest to develop a spike in an area that you are already passionate about. Through this process, you may notice that you really love science or are passionate about writing, for example, and this information can help point you toward your spike.


Use Your Spike to Tell a Story


In Shravya’s case, as discussed in her livestream, she knew that she was interested in public health because she had the opportunity to take a public health course at her high school and enjoyed learning about it. She was excited by the potential for different public health interventions and education efforts and enjoyed talking to people about complex public health problems.


Shravya was able to develop this passion into a spike by working with the Medical Reserve Corps, a global public health organization, and establishing a chapter of the organization in her city. Her involvement in the Medical Reserve Corps, completion of public health coursework, and intention to go to medical school to become a public health-based physician told a clear story about her accomplishments and future career goals that was attractive to admissions officers.


As you begin to identify your spike, consider ways in which your activities, academic interests, and goals can tell your story to schools you are interested in. 


Consider Your Future Major and Career


Identify Careers That Interest You


Throughout this process, it is important to consider your future major and career. While it’s not completely necessary to know exactly what you want to do in the future as a high school student, having your professional goals in mind can help you develop a spike that is relevant to your life after high school. 


Starting to reflect on the types of professions that appeal to you can help guide you as you work toward a spike. Once you have a career interest in mind, you can work backward to identify the qualities and activities that can help you demonstrate your interest in that specific career path. For example, if you know that you want to do something in the sciences, pursuing science-based activities and extracurriculars makes more sense than pursuing activities in a different discipline. 


Use Activities to Explore Career Options


Additionally, if you are not exactly sure what you want to focus on in a future career or major but have a general idea of what you are interested in, pursuing activities related to this interest can actually help you narrow down what you want to study in the future. For example, if you are interested in engineering, try exploring activities in a variety of engineering fields, like biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering, or computer science. If you are interested in becoming a writer, you can develop a spike by writing and publishing short stories. A future doctor may do health advocacy work with underserved populations. 


Often, people will participate in extracurricular activities based on a career goal they have in mind, but once they do those extracurriculars, they realize that they may not actually be interested in that topic. While that activity may not relate to a specific spike, it is still helpful in eliminating majors and careers that you are not interested in so that you can get closer to figuring out what you really love to do.


Let Go of Low-Potential, Time-Intensive Activities


Consider Your Involvement in Sports and Music


As you consider your spike and the activities and interests related to it, you should also think about cutting back on or letting go of any low-potential or time-intensive activities. 


For example, many students will pursue sports and music-related activities in high school, but only some of them are truly invested in doing these activities in the future. Activities like this can take up a great deal of time, while only really acting as tier-three or tier-four activities in relation to their importance on a college application. Many students play an instrument or sport as a member of an ensemble or team, but they may not earn distinguishing or national awards in these activities.


Make Space for Meaningful Activities


As you consider the activities you are currently involved in, ask yourself whether an activity is  something you truly enjoy. If not, it might not be something you need to continue doing just for the purpose of getting into college. Pursuing more meaningful activities, things that you actually enjoy, would be much more important.


For top-20 schools, your extracurricular profile should include at least one or two tier-two activities and then at least one tier-one activity, if possible. If you spend too much of your time on tier-three and tier-four activities, you won’t have enough time or energy to develop more impactful extracurriculars, which is not great.


To help develop your spike, let go of generic activities that aren’t adding much to your life or your application. That time might be better spent participating in a different activity or even starting a club or organization related to your spike that might not already exist at your school.