The extracurricular activity list is one of the most important parts of application materials. Every year when students are sorting out the list, a lot of them feel confused or unprepared. Some have too many activities and need to choose carefully how to display them; others struggle to find enough suitable items to fill in.
Today, we are going to introduce some practical ways to enrich your extracurriculars even when you’re at school, in between classes and during recess.
Expand the impact of school clubs
Most schools provide students with abundant interest-based club activity resources. Those who have a broad range of interests might have joined multiple clubs only to find that they couldn’t handle all the time commitment.
The truth is, you need to pick your clubs carefully. Interest should not be the only deciding factor — you also need to make sure that you’re willing to put in the time and make the activities meaningful and worthwhile. Length of involvement matters, but what matters even more is your impact within the club and the club’s impact on the whole school community.
Let’s look at Student Z, who got accepted into University of California - Berkeley. As a sneakerhead, Z started a blog named “Sneakerland” to share news about trendy footwear with a group of friends who shared that interest.
What started as a simple activity became more impactful when Z realized that children living in remote areas stricken by poverty had little access to new shoes, and had to make do with worn-out ones. Thinking about the fact that while he’s going after the latest expensive sneakers, these children lacked access to even the most basic shoes, Z started a charity fundraiser. He encouraged people to clean up their old shoes and donate them to children in need.
With over 300 pairs of old shoes he received and over 100 pairs of new ones, Z went to Lishui, Zhejiang, China in the summer with his “Sneakerland” group and brought these shoes to kids over there. The donation was ongoing, and the club was handed over to younger students to continue its mission even after Z graduated.
They are crazy about sneakers and supporters of the sneakerhead culture. But they also have firm beliefs in empowering disadvantaged groups. By organizing these fundraisers, Z and his friends gave these sneakers new significance and also demonstrated their leadership skills and care for the community.
So, if you’re thinking about ways that your school club could have more influence on the surrounding community, draw some inspiration from Z’s story.
Pay attention to special programs in your school
Some schools might offer unique projects that are renowned even outside of the school. These projects might be highly selective, but participating in them will definitely give you a unique experience and valuable materials to draw from for your college application.
Student L is a high school student in America. Her school has a special legacy program — sailing. The school organizes five sailing trips every year, each with 6–9 students participating, each lasting about 7–9 weeks. Students do research on the boat and go to different countries in the Caribbean for scientific investigations.
In her 10th grade summer vacation, L joined three professional sailors and five classmates on this sailing trip. During the voyage, they met people from different cities, which was a good opportunity to learn about the local culture. They also introduced their program to locals and talked about their experiences in school. Such mutual sharing and understanding promotes cultural exchange, which enhanced L’s overall profile.
This unique project sparked a lot of thinking about the universe, individuality and astronomy in L, and also made her understand the importance of teamwork and trust. She included these thoughts in the supplementary essay for her college application. L was admitted to Johns Hopkins University in the end.
As L’s story shows, your school’s special projects are great opportunities to showcase yourself. Especially in well-known schools, being able to participate in such projects alone reflects the individual ability of the students. So, don’t hesitate to do some research or ask your teachers about potential opportunities your school offers!
Participate in competitions as teams
In addition to club activities, what else can be done during school hours? You might consider teaming up and participating in an academic competition. The following competitions are all very popular and have relatively low entry requirements:
1. China Thinks Big
CTB (China Thinks Big) is a Chinese youth innovation competition endorsed by Harvard University and co-organized by dozens of top universities from China and the United States, including Yale, Stanford, Tsinghua, and Peking. It aims to challenge high school students with research topics. The groups can explore topics of interest from the trivial things around them, in any subject, and make use of their personal academic strengths. CTB asks students to propose their own solutions by means of invention and creation, artistic expression, programming and development, charity activities, or commercial innovation, and prove the value of the solution with practice.
2. The National Economics Challenge
The National Economics Challenge is a highly influential academic activity in economics for high school students organized by the Council for Economic Education. After more than 20 years of development and accumulation, more than 15,000 students participate each year. NEC aims to inspire students’ interest in economics, cultivate problem-solving skills, and establish critical thinking habits. It is an annual academic event for economics students and the cradle of future political, business, and financial elites.
3. Future Business Leaders of America
FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) is one of the world’s largest business education organizations officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the the Association for Career and Technical Education. It aims to help students connect with the real business world and cultivate future global business leaders.
The FBLA Global Future Business Leaders Challenge attracts 200,000 students from all over the world every year. Students can enter the NLC (National Leadership Conference) global competition through the rigorous selection of various region, state and country level challenges. Individuals and teams have a total of more than 30 professional subject choices.
In academic competitions, students can not only improve in their chosen fields, but also demonstrate their leadership and teamwork skills. At school, students have more time to gather together to discuss topics and competition strategies. Compared with scattered time on weekends, it’s better to capitalize on school hours to prepare for team-based competitions.
All students should make full use of their time in school to better play their role in the larger community. Whether it’s the student union, the debate team, the dance club, or the school newspaper, the chorus, or the tennis team, these various kinds of activities reflect the students’ positive involvement in the school and a sense of collective honor and leadership.
So, if you don’t have time for activities, just think about how much bigger your current clubs can go, whether your school has any unique project resources, and whether you can summon peers to participate in competitions together!