New York– Getting good grades, having strong recommendations, and doing amazing extracurricular activities will separate you from all the other college applicants. Admissions officers want to see a well-rounded student who is academically prepared and active outside the classroom.
If you come off as just another South Asian math genius with no personality, then it’s going to be tough for you. Extracurricular activities reflect your personal interests, hobbies and future career plans.
If you come off as just another South Asian math genius with no personality, then it’s going to be tough for you. An admissions officer is not going to push very hard for you. Extracurricular activities reflect your personal interests, hobbies and future career plans.
The truth is, there is no “one” activity that will increase your chances. Colleges aren’t terribly picky about how you spend your downtime as long as you are doing something meaningful. You don’t have to be president of your student union or a super athlete, but you will have to demonstrate some level of accomplishment and initiative.
Lending a Helping Hand
Photo by nutrientsforlife (Flickr)
Volunteerism is very important, and the key here is real, hands-on involvement. Admission people are usually able to differentiate between the candidate who spends every Saturday tutoring street children and the classmate who engaged in fund raising at a one-off charity event. The person with real involvement is much more likely to get that college admission letter.
"We admire students who are involved in service-learning initiatives," Micah Sieber, an admissions officer at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, in New York told The Choice on India Ink. Sieber said, "Outreach work shows that students are interested in giving back to their communities and we value that."
Many high schools in India encourage students to take part in community work being done by non-governmental organizations. As a student, I taught arithmetic and English to street and working children while volunteering at Butterflies in Delhi.
The truth is, there is no “one” activity that will increase your chances. Colleges aren’t terribly picky about how you spend your downtime as long as you are doing something meaningful.
There are other groups that you can volunteer with that include the Salaam Baalak Trust, which aims to provide homeless children with shelters in Delhi and Mumbai, Swechha, which focuses on environmental issues and Pratham, a group that works to educate slum children in India.
"Students should engage in projects that they're passionate about," Sieber told The Choice on India Ink. "It's more about their personal level of interest that matters, not really the issues they focus on. If we see that students really care about what they're doing and are actively involved, then that's all that matters."
Student Unions and Clubs
It straightaway signals strong leadership if you are school president, head of the debating society or editor of the school magazine. Having a special role in an organization like a club president or treasurer can make a difference, but it doesn't define the validity of your membership.
A student's involvement in clubs and organizations gives an admissions dean a better sense of that student's interests and how the applicant interacts with peers in a nonacademic setting. US colleges tend to prefer students who spend a significant amount of time involved in a few clubs over students who spread their time too thinly over too many activities.
The Individual Project that says it all
Going to the movies doesn't count, but making a documentary about a relevant issue does. When Swati Sharma, was 15 years she went on a safari to Kaziranga National Park in Assam, which is home to the world's largest concentration of rhinos.
US colleges tend to prefer students who spend a significant amount of time involved in a few clubs over students who spread their time too thinly over too many activities.
An estimated 2,500 out of the world's 3,000 one-horned rhinos live in Kaziranga. During her stay in Karziranga, Sharma used her portable video camera to record interviews with forest guards who told her that they protected the park from poachers who shot and dehorned rhinos.
“My short film focuses on how rhinos are poached in Kaziranga because rhino horn powder is coveted in some Asian countries as a medicine or an aphrodisiac. I plan to submit this film a part of my application portfolio when applying to film schools in the US,” said Sharma.
Whether it's making a short film, writing a food or film blog, recording a song, or hosting a science fair, colleges value individual efforts because they show signs of leadership.
Get that Internship Under Your Belt
Colleges like an applicant who uses his or her free time proactively. Whether it's working at a newspaper at a formal internship or as an assistant for a family friend, internships signal initiative and can help admissions officers see how students apply skills to a real world environment.
“When you are talking media, undoubtedly some schools prefer students who have interned at their local newspaper, TV station or at least written blogs,” said A Kumar who has a MS degree in New Media from Columbia University.