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How to Quantify Your Achievements in the Visual and Performing Arts

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Extracurricular activities are not as cut and dry as many other aspects of the college admissions process. Your grades are clearly represented on your transcripts. Your test scores are fairly clear-cut. Even class rank and difficulty of your course load are more or less straightforward. But when it comes to extracurricular activities, not all are necessarily created equal when it comes to their representation on your college application.


Some extracurricular activities lend themselves more neatly to the college application. For example, if you participate in student government or play on a sports team, your time commitment is often somewhat self-explanatory and your growth within the activity can be evidenced by increased leadership roles and involvement. Experiences such as these lend themselves well to being highlighted on your college application.


But sometimes, your extracurricular activities don’t fit so neatly onto a college application. Sometimes it can be difficult to express the time and energy that you’ve put towards them if you can’t include your finished product with your application. This is definitely the case for extracurricular activities in the visual and performing arts.


Many students pursue the arts extensively during high school, extending enormous amounts of energy and putting forth countless hours, but there is no place on your college application that specifically asks you to outline just how much energy you’ve put forth. Instead, you have to think ahead and anticipate this quandary by participating in ways that can be clearly communicated on your college application.    


If you’re a student artist who is committed to pursuing your craft throughout your high school years and maybe even beyond, this is the post for you. Here, we will outline a few key ways in which you can ensure that your performance and dedication to the arts shines on your college application. To learn more about how specifically you can make sure that your college application highlights this important part of your high school career, keep reading.


Do Arts Always Qualify as Extracurricular Activities?

There is sometimes a general confusion surrounding what exact activities qualify as extracurriculars. Some students seem to think that extracurriculars include only activities that you pursue through established clubs at your school or through other establishments, but this is definitely not the case.


An extracurricular activity can be anything that you participate in regularly over an extended period, outside of your required academic courseload. These activities are usually ones that bring you joy and spark passion. Ideally, they are also things that somehow contribute to who you are as a person, such that you can speak to their value in your life.


Arts, both visual and performing, certainly fit the definition of an extracurricular activity. Even if you pursue them casually outside of school, they still count, and the more time and passion you put into them, the brighter they should shine on your college application.


If you still think of your artwork as more of a hobby, don’t be dissuaded. Check out our post How to Turn Your Interest or Hobby into an Extracurricular Activity for a little inspiration.


How to Quantify Your Achievements in the Visual and Performing Arts

There are a few ways of highlighting your experiences, commitment, and success as an artist on your college application. Some require more planning than others, and some even require that you change what you’re doing just slightly in order to better produce accomplishments suited for a college application. Try pursuing one or all of these avenues to quantify your achievements in the arts.


Awards or Competitions

The most obvious way to quantify your achievements in the arts is through formal contests and competitions. There are many high school art and performing art competitions, ranging from the local level to the national and even international levels. Winning a prize is the perfect way to highlight your achievements, since it will fit nicely into the Honors section of your college application.


If you’re just getting started in your craft or in competitions, you might have better luck beginning with smaller, local contests. Many exist, but you might ask a teacher or mentor to point you in the right direction to find them. Cast your net wide, and after enough times, and you’re bound to receive some recognition.


If you’re feeling ambitious or you’re finding success at the local level, consider some bigger competitions. The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and the YoungArts Foundation are two exceptionally well-recognized programs that will certainly shine on your college application. For more ideas, read CollegeVine’s Prestigious Visual Arts Competitions for High School Students.


Keep Track of Time

A fairly straightforward way of quantifying the time and energy you put into your craft is to log the time you’ve spent on it. Begin to keep a journal of the time you spend planning, preparing for, and creating your art. You might also include some details about what you did during each session and reflect briefly on your progress. This journal could wind up being a great resource for sparking ideas when it comes time to write your college essay.


By tracking the time you spend on your art over an extended period, you’ll be able to establish an average weekly or monthly time commitment. Just because your art class only met for an hour each week, that doesn’t mean that your dedication stopped when you walked out the doors. You’re in a great position if you can definitively say that you spent five hours practicing your craft each week outside of class time.


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Formal Showcase or Art Show

Another great way to highlight your achievements and your dedication is by participating in concerts, showcases, or art shows. Typically, these events are somewhat formal and will allow you to establish yourself as a serious artist. By participating in these events regularly, you might even make valuable networking connections to help you in the art world and beyond.


If you can’t find a local event that will allow high school students to participate, consider organizing your own. By creating your own art show, concert, or performance, you demonstrate not only your artistic ability, but also your leadership and initiative. You will then also provide other students with the chance to display their talents.


Formalize Your Participation Through A Formal Arrangement With Your School

Sometimes, there are also avenues for pursuing your artwork formally through your school. You might be able to create an independent study or submit an AP Studio Arts Portfolio. Alternatively, you may be able to work with an art teacher to come up with another idea. By tying your project to faculty or curriculum at school, you establish another level of seriousness in your craft.


If you are able to arrange an independent study or participate in the AP Studio Arts Portfolio, you will have the additional advantage of your experience appearing on your transcript. By accomplishing this, you demonstrate that you take your art as seriously as the rest of your schoolwork.


Incorporate a Service Element

This option sometimes requires changing up your process a little bit, but it can pay off in a big way if you’re willing to make the change. Think about ways that you could use your art to give back or make your community a better place. Service projects are not only personally fulfilling, they are also a valuable addition to your college application. A service project that involves your craft could kill two birds with one stone. 


Brainstorm how you can share your art in meaningful ways. Could you paint a mural in a public space (with the appropriate permissions, of course)? Could you donate artwork to display in the waiting spaces of your local hospital? Could you perform a show or put on a concert at an extended care facility? All of these are great ways to do good through your art.


Whatever you choose, keep track of what you accomplish. If you are donating artwork, keep a tally of how many pieces you donate. If you are painting a mural, track your time. If you are performing, get a fairly accurate estimate of the size of your audience. Having these numbers will allow you to more clearly discuss your achievements in concrete terms, whether it’s on the extracurricular section of your application, or in your essays and interviews.


Visual and performing arts are not always easy to highlight on your college application. You might feel like an enormous part of your high school experience is left out without an accurate depiction of your dedication and passion. But by planning ahead and making a few small tweaks to your process, you might be able to continue pursuing your art with vigor, while building a strong college application that highlights this involvement.


Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


For more information about the arts in high school, check out these posts:



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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.