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What You Should Be Thinking About as a Junior — Part II: Extracurriculars and Summer Activities
As we noted last week, juniors entering their last marking period have a lot to think about. In Part II of the Second-Semester Junior Year Series, the Admissions Hero team will be tackling what juniors should be doing about two of the most essential aspects of their college applications:
Easily one of the most heavily weighted parts of a student’s application, the quality of one’s co-curricular activities can often make or break a student’s acceptance to his or her top school. Colleges care about two things when it comes to extracurricular activities—how dedicated you are to the club, and whether you have achieved enough to take on a leadership role in the club. Juniors who are serious about applying to great schools will already have participated in a variety of activities that they are genuinely passionate about. In the activities that you care most about, consider taking a leadership role—even if it’s unofficial. Try helping to organize something that the club has never done before, or take on a bigger role in something the club does every year. Every little bit counts; just make sure that you are truly interested in what you are doing.
Remember that the end of junior year is often the time when many clubs have elections. Our advice is to continue to stay dedicated to the activities you enjoy, and come election time, be prepared to write a good election speech. If you have truly been involved in the clubs you are running for a position in, the members of the club will acknowledge this either through your speech or even through just knowing you. And even if you don’t win your election, don’t forget that colleges care about demonstrated leadership—this means that even if you aren’t officially “President” of a club, if you have done something that showcases initiative and your ability to lead others, that’s just as valuable.
By now, you should already know what you will be doing this summer. Some of you will be attending free, merit-based summer programs – these are powerful assets to any college application. Many others of you will be working in some capacity this summer, whether that means working on your self-started business or doing research in a lab at a local university. Still others will be travelling on vacation, hoping to see family that they haven’t seen in a while. Indeed, there are many ways to spend what many experts call the most important summer in your high school career.
Yes, summers do matter. For evidence, just refer to Princeton University’s application. Every year, there is a question asking applicants to detail their last two summers. Additionally, a common interview question for many colleges is, “What did you do last summer?” Suddenly, students who haven’t done anything productive may find themselves regretting the hours and hours spent playing video games last July.
If you haven’t prepared anything for this summer yet, fear not – there is still time to figure out what to do before the heat rises too much. Although many deadlines for summer programs and research opportunities have likely passed, there are other things you can do. Try reaching out to local businesses to see if they’re looking for employees. Some may hire high school students, if not for pay then at least as interns, which—if the job is in a field you might want to pursue—can be extremely valuable. You can also consider doing extra community service to show colleges that you have spent your time wisely. If it’s something that you feel truly passionate about, community service can be a great summer activity. Finally, you can get creative and do something that no one’s ever done before. What this means is up to you—maybe it’s a new project, or maybe it’s an artistic experiment.
It’s true that some activities are objectively more prestigious than others. However, often what’s more important to colleges is not what you do choose to do, but rather why you choose to do it. Whatever you decide to do this summer, remember that it should be meaningful to you. Don’t waste your time doing something just for admissions—colleges will see right through you.
Once again, as you can see, junior year is an important time. The time-sensitive nature of the things that need to be done can be quite stressful for an unprepared student. However, for the prepared student, the end of junior year can be the time that greatly increases his or her admissions chances.