4 Personal Values Your Extra Curricular Activities Should Convey About You

May 1, 2018 by

Next fall, college admissions officers from top-tier schools will spend hundreds of hours poring over thousands of college applications with 4.0+ unweighted GPA’s, multiple AP courses, and near-perfect SAT/ACT scores. You’ve spent the last four years working towards this moment. So, what else can you do to stand out in a pool of very qualified candidates?

Your extracurricular involvement is an excellent chance to convey your unique qualities and WHO YOU ARE. Take care not to waste this opportunity! Showcase values and talents that grades can’t quantify and money can’t buy, like commitment, maturity, initiative, and leadership. These are key traits that colleges would like to see more on their campuses. So, don’t list every club you joined on campus club day. Do shift your focus to one or two extracurricular activities that you were substantially involved in and where you made a significant difference. Keep in mind that extracurricular activities do not necessarily have to be clubs or campus-only organizations.

When selecting which extracurricular activities to highlight, consider how to convey these 4 revealing personal values:

1. You value quality over quantity. Many students join eight or 10 clubs they’re not terribly interested in because signing up for lots of clubs “looks good on college applications.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Listing eight or 10 clubs that you were not substantially involved in will actually work against you. It suggests you value quantity instead of quality. Instead, invest your time in two or three clubs whose causes you firmly believe in and for whom you wouldn’t mind giving up a Friday or Saturday night. That way, when it’s time to write about them, you will communicate your experience with passion and purpose.

2. You plan for and achieve long-term goals. Knowing how to identify a goal and strategizing toward it is a valuable life skill. For example, let’s say that after running Frosh/Soph Track and Field for one year, you put forth the effort needed to make the Varsity team the following year. During the off-season, you worked out like Rocky Balboa; you woke up at 4:30 am to run hundreds of steps before school, plus you logged additional miles each afternoon, and even threw in a few 10K races to assess your progress. Your hard work paid off when you easily earned a spot on the varsity team the following spring. That’s certainly an inspiring story to tell about setting goals and reaching them. Or, maybe you are more artistic than athletic, and you aspire to publish a novel you’ve been working on during your down time? Tell the admissions officers about your story arc, what inspired you to write it, your submissions journey to multiple publishing houses, and what you’ve learned about yourself along the way.

3. You demonstrate initiative. Did you teach yourself a new coding language in order to help your team build an award-winning robot in the most recent Robotics competition? Or perhaps you overheard your female classmates discuss the lack of women in executive leadership roles, so you researched discussion topics and organized a speaking series that, as it turned out, was well attended by both students and adults, and received very positive reviews in the local newspaper?

4. You exemplify maturity. Perhaps your extracurricular experience involves harnessing your creative energy around young children who look up to you as a trustworthy, safe leader. Summer camp counselors or student tutors can exemplify mature judgment and empathetic behaviors that can positively impact young children’s self-confidence and sense of empowerment. You may even remember a time when someone closer to your age than a parent offered you a fresh perspective on a challenging situation.

5. You collaborate well with others. Very often, students who crush academically rigorous coursework lack interpersonal skills. While colleges certainly want to attract students with the creative minds and talents to design flying cars and build rocket ships that travel to Mars, it is imperative that these students also bear the ability to socially engage with others in a respectful, positive way. For example, most people are aware of Steve Job’s strong legacy as an innovator and creative genius. After all, under his leadership, Apple developed into a powerhouse of technological success and continued potential. In his book, Steve Jobs, biographer Walter Isaacson describes a man who had two sides, “good Steve” and “bad Steve.” “Bad Steve” was known to embarrass interview candidates, berate colleagues during well-attended meetings, and openly use foul language to describe competitors. In the case of Jobs, this often meant that his colleagues and employees were afraid to approach him, which only closed off his ability to see the world from perspectives beyond his own. So, no matter how smart you may think you are, be sure to stay open to others’ ideas and provide feedback in constructive, not destructive ways. By drawing from the power of collaborative interaction, you will earn yourself a place of respect among your classmates and future colleagues, whose help you will likely need to achieve your own level of success.

If you’re still not convinced that extracurricular activities can successfully convey WHO YOU ARE, here’s a good example of comparison: Alice is a member of the school Service Club. She attended a couple of meetings, left early both times, and committed to a single 2-hour time slot during the yearly holiday canning drive. Josie is also a member of the school Service Club. As Vice President, she planned the monthly meeting agendas, met with several local grocery stores to arrange multiple canning drive dates, organized the various volunteer schedules, found last-minute volunteer replacements when people like Alice didn’t show up, and finally, organized the pick-up and delivery of hundreds of cans to the local food bank each time the club held a drive. In fact, many club members noticed how respectful and kind Josie was towards everyone, which only made them want to help her even more. In return, she accomplished even more! Given her minimal contributions to the organization, there won’t be much that Alice can relay about herself and her values. In contrast, Josie’s significant contributions communicate that she is a committed, organized, personable, goal-oriented, and persistent leader.

I would certainly want Josie on my college campus. What’s more, Ivy League schools love having driven student leaders on their campus, because these students demonstrate a strong dedication to a particular field. They will eventually become successful alumni who will represent the school well.

It’s important to note that you can use your substantive extracurricular experiences as topics for your college essays.

All in all, stay dedicated and true to your passions. Pursue leadership opportunities, and then leverage them on your college applications.

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college and career prep company that provides boot camps and tutoring on college applications, essays, and academic subjects all over the US. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students, first responders, and veterans. Jason has appeared in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, the Motley Fool, Fox Business, and other great outlets.

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