EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES AND YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION
Sarah Kinney Contomichalos presented the following lecture at the seminar “Undergraduate Studies in the United States of America” organized by Fulbright Greece in December 2010.
DEFINITION AND EXAMPLES
“Extracurricular activities” are everything a student does in addition to academics. They can consist of hobbies, sports or a job in the family company. Categories include art, athletics, clubs, drama, music, volunteer work and paid work. One category is not more important than another. What matters is the student’s interest in and level of commitment to an activity. There is no specific talent which can guarantee you admission to a particular college as each year universities’ institutional priorities change. For example, one year a particular college may require a first violinist for the orchestra and the next year a flutist. As the demand for spots at top universities continues to increase, the most competitive schools attempt to create a “well-rounded” class of students. They want students who have talents in particular areas, rather than a passing acquaintance with a hodge-podge of under-developed pursuits. Let us examine the key areas.
VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS
Dance, fine arts, music, and theater are all of interest to liberal arts colleges as well as specialized colleges of the arts. The application process for very talented performing and visual artists is somewhat different from other students. Students with these interests often include a portfolio or DVD with their application. These portfolios are evaluated at colleges by professors who teach in these areas and who then present their recommendations to the Admissions Office. A student should seek expert advice on making the best presentation and finding the right match.
In addition to academics, which are of paramount interest, most colleges are also concerned with having a vibrant student life on campus. They want their campuses to be dynamic communities with students participating in a variety of activities, including clubs and internships (paid and unpaid) in arts, business, healthcare, politics and many other types of organizations. A high school club which a student enjoys can be the stepping stone to these opportunities and may be helpful to the student in the long term. Participating in a Model UN can lead to an interest in politics and internships at international organizations such as the UN or World Bank. Once again, which club the student chooses matters less than the level of interest and commitment. Someone who merely participates in club activities does not have the same weight as a student who takes a leadership role.
The only talent for which there is consistent demand is athletics. If a student-athlete competes at a national level s/he could be recruited by colleges with teams in that particular sport. Examples of sports with high levels of achievement in Greece are basketball, water polo, track, and soccer. As for visual and performing artists, the application process for athletes has specific requirements. It is a process that begins as early as the third gymnasium. Seeking specialized advice on the process is recommended.
VOLUNTEER AND COMMUNITY SERVICE
The IB has a CAS component but this is not the same as an extracurricular activity unless your CAS activity is an extension of something you already do. The academic demands at Greek schools are such that you may not have much time to volunteer during the school year. Summer holidays are a good time to become involved with an organization. Environmental and animal rescue organizations are among those that welcome student volunteers. There are also annual events such as the Athens Classic Marathon which offer opportunities. Other ideas include tree planting projects, collecting clothes for immigrants, organizing a book drive for your local school. Look around and see what needs there are in your community and figure out how you can help.
WHY UNIVERSITIES CARE ABOUT EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
Universities are interested in how you spend your free time because it tells them more about the student as an individual. During the college application process, the student’s resume helps the Admissions Office to differentiate among applicants with similar grades and test scores. As mentioned above, universities are communities and they want students who will participate in their community. On the application, even if you are not an athlete, artist or musician, you are asked to list your activities. The application also asks the student to briefly write about the importance of an activity in his/her life. The activity discussed should be the first one on the list. Colleges prefer a student who has been involved with a few focused interests over several years rather than one who is constantly trying something new.
BENEFITS BEYOND YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION
College is a time of exploration and development. Extracurricular activities can be important professionally as they can help you make up your mind or improve your professional achievements. For example, future lawyers would benefit from participating in Forensics. A student interested marine biology could become involved with organizations that protect marine animals. Start the process today by asking yourself: What is my passion and where will it lead me?