What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How Extracurriculars Can Boost Your College Application

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At CollegeVine we meet many students with stellar college admissions profiles. But those who set themselves apart do so through their extracurricular efforts. College admissions officers use GPA and standardized test scores as metrics to determine how well a candidate stacks up to their school’s admissions criteria, but neither area offers much in terms of ways to truly differentiate your college application.


An outstanding extracurricular profile can truly set your application apart from the pack. It is important to use extracurriculars as a means to genuinely convey to admissions officers who you are, and where your interests, strengths, and passions lie.



Authentically Pursuing Extracurriculars

You may already be involved in a wide range of extracurriculars early on in high school, and if so, that is excellent. Depending on your continued enthusiasm in each one of them, it may be a good idea to take time to consider if it would be in your best interest to explore some new areas in addition to or instead of the areas in which you are currently involved.


One practical way to approach this is to take a broad look at the extracurricular opportunities your school community and communities outside of school offer. Self reflection and an open mind can help you discover areas that you have a real interest in exploring. If you happen to be involved in certain activities that you either no longer enjoy or feel as though are not helping your personal growth and future goals, it is completely acceptable to let these go. Simply choosing for the sake of adding another activity to your resume is not the approach to take.


It is far more advantageous to pursue a few highly focused areas that you are passionate about and make a strong impact than it is to involve yourself in more areas merely at a surface level. Admissions officers see right through resumes that are padded with activities just for the sake of pretending that a great deal was accomplished over the last four years. What they are looking for is demonstrated interest in areas that are central to who you are and what you can bring to their campus.


For more information regarding early high school extracurriculars, feel free to check out our articles A Guide to Extracurricular Activities for Grade 9 and How to Determine Which Clubs to Join: A Guide for Freshmen.



Actively Fostering Leadership Skills

One of the most coveted traits colleges desire in prospective students is leadership. Leadership experience shows colleges that you have the potential to help change aspects of campus life for the better, and that you will continue to develop into a future leader in society beyond your college years.


Leadership helps to develop self confidence in individuals, which in turn fuels growth and personal development. Leadership is an essential life skill regardless of your area of study and eventual career path, especially in today’s world. Success and upward mobility in post graduate opportunities can be greatly enhanced with leadership ability.

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Putting yourself out there and gaining leadership experiences at the high school level allows you to get ahead of the game and feel comfortable with leadership much earlier than those who elect not to do so. This ends up paying dividends in the long run.


Check out our article 4 Ways to Build Real-World Job Skills While You’re in High School for specific ways to make your current high school endeavours relevant for future career success.



Extracurriculars Can Prove That You Belong

Extracurriculars not only demonstrate your interests and passions to colleges, but they can help you prove that you will add significant value to specific campus communities. When I applied to Cornell University’s Environmental Engineering program, I made sure to emphasize that some of my particular high school extracurricular experience was a direct indication of my interest to contribute to one of their wastewater and soil treatment initiatives.


This demonstrated to admissions officers and Environmental Engineering faculty members that not only was my experience relevant, but it directly influenced why I wanted to study this particular topic at Cornell. It proved I had done my research, but more importantly, it provided them with an example of a way I intended to make a direct impact as soon as I arrived on campus.


If admissions officers can begin to visualize how you plan to make your mark at their school, that has the ability to illuminate as a powerful indication of your worthiness of acceptance.



The Takeaway

Extracurriculars have the unique ability to set the overall tone to your college applications. While GPA and standardized test scores are regarded by most universities as critical components of the application, they only paint a small portion of the complete portrait of you as an applicant. Shortly before applying to college, a highly useful exercise is to take the time to weave your extracurriculars into an overall application theme.


By considering what you have done so far and how it all relates to your future goals, narratives begin to form. This does take time and these narratives will not necessarily be readily apparent right away, but once they are, they can serve as a guiding force to how to base your essays, letters of recommendation and other aspects of your applications.


If chosen and pursued authentically throughout high school and leveraged strategically in the college applications process, extracurricular activities can have a profound impact with the ability to sway admissions officers in your favor.


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Short Bio
Ryan Kelleher is a graduate of Cornell University's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, specializing in finance. After stints in management consulting in New York City and teaching English internationally, Ryan joined CollegeVine as a Program Manager in the Mentorship Division. Ryan is an avid traveler, filmmaker and creative writer who thrives on seeking out new and challenging experiences.