The Tuesday Q&A: Do I Need Extracurriculars?

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QUESTION:

I’m a 16-year old high school student in China and I want to go to an American college.  I see that the schools I want to attend want you to participate in activities outside of class, but I never really have.  How important is that?

ANSWER:

The short answer?  VERY important!  Students in the U.S. have a bit of an advantage here, because they’ve been told from Day 1 that extracurricular activities are an important part of the school experience and help you get ahead in life.  That’s why high schools and colleges across the U.S. offer after-school sports, clubs, events, and competitions for students to run and participate in.  We get that this emphasis on involvement outside of the classroom isn’t the same in other countries, and that can create a problem for kids applying to U.S. schools.

So, what’s the solution?  If you’ve still got the time, get involved in something OUTSIDE of school. Look for something that you are really interested in, something that you’d want to do at college as well.  If you enjoy writing or photography, join the school newspaper or yearbook staff.  If you enjoy tinkering with computers, see if your school has an IT or Computer club.  Or, if you’re feeling REALLY ambitious and creative, START a new club!  Maybe you LOVE to argue, but your school doesn’t have a Debate team.  Find a teacher willing to sponsor the club and some friends and classmates with the same interests, and you’re on your way!

Now, if it’s later in the game and you don’t have a lot to go on here, the key is to get creative.  If you’ve got time, get back into some activities you were in before, whether at your school or with an outside organization.   Maybe you were in a local football or cricket club when you were younger?  Maybe you played a role in a local youth theater group?  Maybe you wrote an article for the school newspaper a few years ago?  If you get back into it now, it will look like you’ve been doing it on-and-off for a while and establish your continued interest.

Whatever you do, make sure you’re doing SOMETHING outside of the classroom. It really can make or break your application. It takes more than a high GPA and some strong test scores to get into an American university; they want three-dimensional people with more than just academics to offer.  So find something that fits you and show some passion for it, because that’s where you’ll really shine.

And who knows – maybe you’ll continue doing it (and enjoying it) once you’re IN college 🙂

— Jon Frank

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