How to Impress Adcoms with your Extracurriculars

Want to know how to impress adcoms with your extracurriculars? Follow Eternity_Hope2005’s excellent advice that was originally placed elsewhere on our boards, but deserves to be featured on one of our most popular boards.

"Let me tell you something. Everyone wants to look brilliant and versatile. I mean who doesn’t want to tell the admissions officer that they are everywhere in the community and have taken a phenomenal amount of interest in extracurriculars.

The plan to talk about specific ec’s rather than all of them is still much more efficient. Here’s why. An admissions officer simply has to look at your ec files in order to determine whether or not you have been involved in the community. You don’t need to write an essay and specifically tell him about your numerous community activities in order for him to butter him up about your “versatile” skills.

Almost everyone who applies to these top schools has pages and pages of extracurricular activities. You’re not the only one who has been extremely “versatile” as a high school student. Thousands of students clearly want their ec’s to stand out; they are all going to be indicated them in an essay and have their counselor’s recommendation include those numerous activities they have done outside of school.

This conveys a message to the admissions officer that you are certainly involved in the community. So the admissions officer will say “this kid right here is not someone who limits himself to school and academics. He certainly takes part in the community and that is a good thing.”

However, if you really want your admissions officer to ADMIRE you (in other words want your folder to truly stand out); you’ve got to show your personality as not just involved, but truly passionate and real. What this means is that you won’t seem like just a application folder anymore; instead you seem much more animated and creative - in short, much more human and real. This is what separates you from that other kid who also had the same, long list of ec’s.

How does one do this? How does one show their personality like this? The only real choice that you have is through your essay. Some might say interview. Well, most schools actually place much more importance on your essay than your interview. The reason is simple: Your essay is your only communication medium inside that committee room. Only one person interviews you but everyone reads your essay. It is the only way that you speak and show your feelings and creativeness. Your essay can be an amazing asset.

By picking specific ec activities and talking about them; your writing prose and content go much deeper and beyond the superficial areas.

As a result, you won’t seem like a kid trying to impress an admissions committee about how versatile you are. Instead, you will convey something deeper and more meaningful to them: your livelihood and passions. When you focus and narrow down on a topic and speak about yourself very experiences very deeply; it shows your feelings, thoughts, and ideas so much more. It makes you seem so much more human and real; not just as an application folder sitting in front of their eyes out of the thousands! It makes you more unique and real in front of their eyes.

I have had many friends with tons of ec activities and 4.0 GPA along with a very rigorous curriculum and a good SAT score get rejected from places like Dartmouth, UPenn. After all these years (I’m now at one of the top engineering schools in the country), my friends and I realize why we got rejected from certain places we tried to get into back then. We just never conveyed ourself enough to the admissions committee.

Here’s the deal. Think of it as two different cases.

Case # 1) This kid named Jill has her list of ec activities and talks about how she is very versatile and yada yada… She also relists most of his ec activities in an essay of its own.

Case #2) This kid named Jenny has the same list of ec activities. Instead of listing all the activities over again in another essay, she picks one activity that she felt the most passionate about. Jenny than goes very in depth and talks about her feelings and experiences about that one activity. She even talks about how it has helped her be a slightly different person in life. How it has helped her to look at things in a different and more optimistic perspective and than Jenny backs this up by listing the specific events in that one activity that really impacted her.

To me, Jenny shows much more of his personality than Jill. I really didn’t need Jill to re-list all her ec’s and I feel that Jill is trying to FORCE IT. She’s trying too hard to get the admission’s admiration and that is just pathetic. Goodbye Jill.

Jenny on the other hand has done a superior job of conveying her personality and experiences. She did not seem like she was forcing it across. It is clear that Jenny is not trying hard to capture anybody’s attention; she is simply speaking about who she is and how she feels about life. This person has much more of an impact on me than Jill.

Jill is just one of the thousands of applicants who seem like they really, really want in this college. That’s all I can say about her other. She may have good grades and good test scores but thousands who apply to these top schools have those same credentials; Jill just is not standing out in her application to me.

Jenny is someone who I can visualize as a real person outside of her material application file that I’m holding. That coupled with good grades and SAT scores and recommendations presents a MUCH stronger file than Jill’s. She isn’t perfect but she is someone who the admissions would take very seriously. Chances are in her favor that they will take her.
Get the point?"


Excellent Post!

Ladies and Gentleman,

I apologize for posting on the individual forums so many times. I received a lot of input from prospective college students that it was extremely helpful. I didn’t realize all I had to do was have it be on the “featured discussions list” before posting it throughout cc. If you’d like to discuss about this topic, let’s just do it here on this featured thread.

In any case,
Good Luck

And if you have any specific questions,

Just contact me on AIM - OR - just e-mail me.

I must say, this post will help me ALOT in the future. I still got one more year to think about colleges, and take the entrance exams. Unlike the majority of students in this forum, I do not have a huge list of ECs. My school charges $50 per activity as a result of the diminsihing school budget. I am only in two school clubs and participate in a couple of volunteer programs (20hrs a year). There is one thing I am passionate about. I’ll be looking forward to writing about it in my future college applications.

Again, Thank You

Godfather, can you make me an offer you can’t refuse?

No one needs a long list of ECs. What students do need is depth in an EC – being more than a member, but really having some kind of impact on an organization or on the people it works with.

And, for those who can’t afford ECs, working a job does count as an EC, and if you have to work a job to help support your family or to earn money for college, that is a very impressive activity to have! Colleges love students who are willing to take on a job in order to help their families or to help themselves achieve their dreams.

Doesn’t matter if the job is gruntwork, in fact that can be even more impressive because it shows how responsible you are.

Does high school science research count as an EC? It is probably the one thing I am most passionate about, and at times work over 40 hrs/week on it (even during the school year). I would be able to write a great essay about it, since it truly has changed me as a person, both directly by teaching me things not only about science, but also about how to think, and indirectly since I have met so many amazing people and been exposed to so much outside of my own little world at Siemens, ISEF, RSI, etc.

Well try to get a lot of ECs but ADCOMS really want to see comittment so they would love to see you have like 50+, 100+, etc hours on one extracarricular activity like volunteering at a hospital, etc. They like to see passion and comittment.

only 50+ hours?? for what a month? a year? total?

Do colleges only like the volunteer stuff like feed the homeless, volunteer at a hospital, etc? Do they not look at other types of volunteer work as favorably as the help the needy type ones?

Yeah, 50 sounds a little small. I have spent around 500 hours on research-so does it count as an EC or not?

And kk, I think volunteer work that helps the needy more directly is probably looked upon more favorably, since it shows that you actually care about the people. For instance, volunteering checking people out of the library helps the library (which is a public organization) by saving one worker’s wages for a year or something, but if you pick up litter, you are doing something other ppl wouldn’t do if you weren’t, and same with if you were organizing a food drive for the homeless.

I think volunteer work is a little bit different than other ECs. While simply saying that you had X volunteer hours may grab the attention of adcoms, any person with some spare time can do insincere community service just to make themselves look good on paper. You’d really have to stress the importance and passion you have for doing community service as a means in itself to truly impress adcoms.

And zogoto, if 500 hours spent researching science stuff isn’t an EC, I don’t know what is.

eternity_hope2005, I really liked that post. I’m currently struggling to write the first drafts of my college essays (I’m a rising senior), and hopefully this post will point me in the right direction.

i’m really bummed. my school requires you to have 80 hours total your whole high school career. i can only afford to do the bare minimum. i’m really dedicated to theatre stuff, so i never have time to do an extensive amount of volunteer work outside the theatre (like cleaning out costume rooms, volunteering at kid-shows, etc). hopefully colleges will see how dedicated i am to theatre.

You dont’ need to do any volunteer work. Colleges are interested in outside interests: clubs, doing independent research or learning something on your own; church involvement; working a job, volunteer work.

Your dedication to theater sounds like an impressive EC. Colleges would prefer to see a student pursuing one or two interests in depth than to see a wide range of superficial activities that look like the student was just trying to look good to adcoms.

An EC is something you are passionate in.

heh, thanks guys. that made me feel a whole lot better. i knew that being dedicated to one or two passions was a really impressive EC, but i needed outside assurance. =)

My daughter, a sophomore at Duke, spent most of her hours after school each day either taking dance classes or teaching dance to younger students. I used to worry that she did not have enough school-related ECs since she pretty much lived at the dance studio and never became an active member of a club or sports team at her high school. She kept assuring me that her passion for dance would override her lack of other activities outside school. She was right!

As I recall, she wrote her entire essay on the lessons SHE HAD LEARNED from teaching the younger students as opposed to how much she had taught them. Although she never allowed me to read her essay, I do know that it must have been exactly what the adcoms were looking for!

I am so glad to hear your story. I was getting worried about my daughter - she spends so much time with her dancing (typically four days per week) that she has no in-school activities. You give us some hope.

Of course we didn’t get to hear the daughter’s GPA or SAT, maybe that was a boost. I mean if you’re a 4.0, 1600 you’ll be able to disregard the EC category a bit more.

I don’t get adcoms, a lot of them must be stupid. If they press the idea of ECs, don’t they know they’re going to get people just doing it for college. They should shut up about it and just let people do it themselves.

The people who have a passion do it without the college thing in mind. So if the adcoms didn’t push the EC importance so hard this issue of “passion” would be moot.

Agreed. I suppose that the adcoms sort of saw through my app that I didn’t really care too much about this EC that I wrote about- thought it’d be more impressive than my true love (riding horses). Was denied from a lot of places…

However, definitely learned my lesson and wrote about riding in my transfer essay-it worked!!! What can I say? Just give it a shot, even if it might be lame at times.

The main reason why I didn’t write about riding horses the first time around was because I love it so much that i wasn’t sure how to convey it and make the essay coherent about my feelings regarding dealing with horses. But after a year and of better understanding of why I was still riding in college, I was able to convey myself better. As for HS students, if you’ve been doing this EC before high school, why are you still with it despite tight schedules? I think that’s the idea.

Everyone acts like you have to win a load of awards and stuff for your EC for it to matter.

I’ve been playing piano for ages now, and I’m extremely talented, and can compose complicated pieces in all the main styles of piano.

It’s just for fun though, and I enjoy it. I don’t go out and sign up for talent shows to win and brush up my college application. And I don’t think that means I don’t have passion for it.

I have so much passion for music I don’t need the load of awards I could easily win.