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So, I want to take a little time to look at your college application resume – specifically, the activities and extracurriculars you will list on your college application to show what you do when you’re not sitting in a classroom.
Activities tell us a lot about a person! By knowing a person’s favorite hobbies, you know something about their personality, their skills, and their strong points. In fact, our culture tends to define people most by “what they do!”
Think about it – one of the most common first questions that one adult will ask another is, “So what do you do?” Whether someone is a doctor or a lawyer, or a garbage-truck driver or astronaut, we tend to form snap judgments about a person’s character, based entirely on what they spend their time doing.
College admissions are the same way – your activities, in large part, will determine the success of your application. So, what kind of college resume do you have?
A well-rounded college application vs. a focused college resume
A broad generalization we might make is that students’ application activities tend to be either “broad” or “focused.” Both types have their strengths and weaknesses.
Strengths and weaknesses of a well-rounded college application resume:
A well-rounded application shows that a student tries new things and has many interests, but may also indicate a lack of depth or commitment:
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- A well-rounded application shows that the student keeps an open mind and has many different interests
- This student likes to try new things and take risks
- Adjectives that come to mind are “adventurous,” “courageous,” and “outgoing.”
- Potential downsides: is this student distractable, scatter-brained, or lacking in commitment?
Strengths and weaknesses of a narrowly-focused college application resume:
A focused list of activities on a college application demonstrates commitment and passion, but may indicate close-mindedness or a lack of balance:
- A focused application paints a picture of a passionate, committed student who knows what they want out of life and is determined to get it
- This student likes achieve mastery in their area of focus and has a sense of vision and purpose
- Adjectives that come to mind are “dedicated,” “driven,” “focused,” and “highly skilled.”
- Potential downsides: does this student lack balance in their life, or do they have significant weaknesses in other areas?
The ideal college application resume:
These students have two or three activities that they stay focused on and develop a high level of expertise in.
For example, you might study classical cello intensively, and be a star defender on the soccer team.
Or, you’re captain of the debate club, regularly volunteer at the animal shelter, and like to work in ceramics on the side.
- This demonstrates that you are able to master the things that interest you
- Also shows that you’re not one-sided; you have a couple of interests
- Adjectives that come to mind are “balanced,” “focused,” “healthy,” “well-rounded,” “good time-management skills.”
- Potential downsides: your application will look amazing, but do you have the time, skill, and commitment to pull it off? It’s up to you!
Different college application resume activities and what they say about you:
I want us both to think about the character traits and qualities that these activities demonstrate.
Think about the personality and image you want to project on your college application.
Which of these activities do you do, and how can you use them to improve your college application resume?
Sports, Athletics, and Dance:
Bonus points if you’re a team captain, have won MVP or Most Improved awards, or can tell a great story about your experience on the field or court.
Here are some of the qualities that sports involvement show to colleges:
- Teamwork AND Individual Grit and skill
- Student understands the importance of a healthy lifestyle
- Willing to sweat now for victory later on
Music, Art, Drama, Creative Writing:
These mellow, creative pursuits show a sensitive side and an appreciation for the arts and culture.
They also offer many opportunities to enter competitions, play recitals, join groups, and get involved in a community.
Here are some of the common qualities that these activities will show:
- Patience and commitment to your craft
- Dedication – creative folks are often just as dedicated as athletes are, and colleges know it!
- Independent goal-setting and target-hitting
Working a job:
Students and parents often don’t appreciate just how useful an income-producing activity can be to a college resume or scholarship application.
Of course, it will look a lot better if you can say that the money is being earned to pay for college!
If a student already has a job while still in high school, here are some traits that colleges might logically expect:
- Work ethic – willing to work when most of their friends are goofing off
- Foresight – (adult) admissions officers are impressed when young students understand the value of earning money while still young
- People skills – most common jobs that a high school student can get will involve working face-to-face with customers
- Honesty – if a student has held down a job for a year or two, it stands to reason that their employer has found them honest and hard-working, and colleges will respect this judgement.
Speaking a second (or third) language:
Who the heck isn’t impressed when you already speak two languages while still a teenager? This skill always gets the attention of a good admissions officer, because they know it symbolizes that:
- This student is interested in world culture
- This student may be adventurous and interesting
- This student has been dedicated to learning another language and succeeded
- Language skills are a hallmark of intelligence!
It may not be that hard to find a small leadership position or to start a club or a small business on your own.
Leadership positions fit best with personalities that are ambitious and have vision! Traits that admissions officers see in student leaders:
- Leadership ability (obviously!)
- Work ethic – leaders always do more than they make their followers do
- People skills
- Planning skills
- Goal-seeking behavior
Now, if you feel like you’ve never been or wanted to be a leader, but you don’t want your college application to suffer because of it, I highly recommend community service.
Because anyone can make a difference by serving their community, it’s a great way to demonstrate qualities similar to those of leaders:
- Work ethic
- Time management (to fit an unpaid activity into your schedule)
- Sense of service and community – very attractive to colleges
- Compassion, a quality seen less and less these days
Other college application resume activities:
There are many other options for pastimes and extracurricular activities that I haven’t explored here. These options can demonstrate all of the above qualities, as well as uniqueness and personality.
For example, we’ve got:
- Chess Club
- Boy Scouts
- Girl Scouts
- Science Club
These other activities make your application stand out because they’re not just the same as everyone else’s activities.
Don’t get me wrong – I think sports and music are great – but I’m glad there are plenty of other choices out there to make the world an interesting place.
Your activities can make or break your college application!
They want to see a high level of skill and passion in two to three key areas outside of schoolwork.
Always remember that your SAT scores are extremely important, but they aren’t everything!
Once you’re into college, you still have to pay! For advanced tips on winning scholarships and paying for higher education, enroll in my online video course Winning College Scholarships for High Schoolers!
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