ECs: Achievements vs Duration

I joined about half of the ECs I have now in my junior year. However, I am very active in what I have done and have gotten some of type leadership position/accolade/achievement in most of them. I do have have one or two things from freshman year but its nothing great. I have heard that colleges care more about what you have achieved or how you have contributed to a club/team/organization rather than just doing something at an average level for a long time. Is it looked down upon to not have most of your ECs all four years?

Seems like if you win a state championship after two years of participation, that would look better to most than not getting beyond school level recognition in three years of participation in the same activity.

Sustained effort and achievement are generally most impressive to top colleges; having had an EC interest for a long time and having attained a high level of achievement at it shows interest, commitment, tenaciousness, ability, and other important qualities. That isn’t to say that an applicant can’t develop a serious interest later on, but it is usually harder to achieve as much in a short time, and things like leadership positions/accolades may be suspect. It will be important for you to relate your newfound interests and achievements to your overall direction and show that these are not transient.

It is not about the time or the specific achievement. See it is a true puzzle. Students that interest the most competitive colleges are not those that set out to craft the perfect history to be competitive to the most elite colleges. See the problem here? They are interested in the students who have remarkable achievements because they are genuinely interested in what it is they pursue and would be involved in what they are doing even if they were not going to report it to anybody. See they are interested in the people who are so involved in what they are doing they are not stopping to wonder if colleges will like what they are doing. It’s got nothing to do with the number of years or “how you have contributed to a club/team/organization”. But it is not achievable by gaming it. You can’t construct something that appeals to the most elite colleges by trying to craft a great history. If you are the type of person that the elite colleges want to select, it will happen without your choosing ways to appeal to the college.

I don’t think it’s looked down upon to not have most of your ECs all four years. I’m a senior now, and a couple of the activities I was interested in throughout my freshman and sophomore years aren’t exactly what I’m interested in now. Some activities that I’m a part of now weren’t on my radar when I first started high school. Colleges like to see your achievements and everything you have accomplished, although duration isn’t bad either. I think the latter is less important though. In my opinion, as long as you have a mixture of activities you have been doing for some time now (over a year) and achieved many things in, then you should be fine.

@lostaccount I’m not trying to game the system or create a “perfect application.” I do different clubs or competition because either it’s one of my interests or I want to get a feel for that subject area. Like when I became interested in business, I joined FBLA. When a Model UN was started at my school, I joined because I like politics and wanted to get better at public speaking. I joined an engineering competition to get a feel of the type of thinking and problem solving engineers do to see if I would like that as a future career. Throughout high school, I’ve tried to discover what I really enjoy and get new experiences. I guess colleges might like students who knew what they wanted to do from day one and do it at a high level, but I’ve gone through high school discovering new interests and trying new things. If colleges don’t like that, I guess I can’t do anything about it.

@renaissancedad I don’t want to get too specific, but when I say accolades I mean placing pretty high in competitions. Does that really look bad in your first year? And by leadership positions I meant I was a treasurer or secretary which I don’t really see why is suspect for your first year. Sure being president in your first year looks suspicious, I don’t underdstand why treasurer/secretary would be considering that’s more behind the scenes work.

Both achievement and duration are important.

From my point of view, achievement will (hopefully and likely) come via duration. Example: when I joined robotics, I was just a lowly engineer and scout for the competitions. Four years later, I’m a director and have won many awards. I think that to a large extent, this can be traced to all of the hours I’ve spent (i.e. duration).

That being said, not every activity needs to be grades 9-12 and have impressive achievements. A few of my activities were just one or two years (stuff like internships or clubs I tried out), and other activities (like badminton) I would put in hours but I don’t have any real achievements (besides beating my family members).

@classof17, as @lostaccount notes, it is not simply a matter of duration or achievement; top schools are “interested in the students who have remarkable achievements because they are genuinely interested in what it is they pursue and would be involved in what they are doing even if they were not going to report it to anybody.” And they are interested in what an applicant might bring to their campus in terms of skills, talents, initiative and interest. You need to make sure that your interest and drive is communicated clearly, regardless of the duration of your activities.