Updated: Dec 10, 2018
High school students from Russia and other Eastern European countries often underestimate how important extracurricular activities are in the admission process to American colleges. An impressive list of activities outside of classroom, however, can convince an admission officer to offer you a spot in the upcoming class of your top choice school. In fact, the more selective the school, the more important are extra-curriculars to get in.
Large non-selective state schools don’t have enough resources to evaluate tens of thousands of applicants and they will admit almost everyone who meets their GPA and SAT requirements, without looking too far beyond the numbers. Nation’s top schools, on the contrary, scrutinize each application under what they call a “holistic review process” because they receive the same number of applications as state schools but for a tenth of the spots. Holistic review means that admission officers evaluate all components of your application, wishing to learn all about your academic strengths, your passions, your leadership skills, and your potential to succeed at the school and after graduation.
Each year, schools like Yale and MIT have many more qualified applicants in terms of grades and scores than they can admit. To select one out of five valedictorians with nearly perfect SAT scores, admission teams need to examine the qualities that grades and test scores don’t show. Extracurricular activities offer this insight. If you don’t have them, the officers will think that you’re either boring or lazy. If you have a long list of activities, all of which you started a year before applying to colleges, they will still think that you’re either boring or lazy and they will also know that you’re trying to trick them into thinking that you’re not.
Hence, it doesn’t not matter what exactly you do outside of school. What’s important is which personality traits you demonstrate through your extracurricular activities. You want to show schools that you’re passionate, you can lead, and you care about the world around you. A great way to show passion is time commitment. Is there something that you’ll enjoy doing for years? Is there an activity that makes you want to pull all-nighters and forget about time? I wouldn’t have played table tennis for years or I wouldn’t have enrolled in a four-year after school art program if I weren’t passionate about the sport or painting. There aren’t as many high school clubs in Russia as there are in the United States. You can demonstrate your leadership skills by starting one. Find a few like-minded classmates and start a math club, a debate team, or even a school’s newspaper. Finally, volunteer your energy and skills to make a difference in your community. It’s extremely important to show that you care not only about yourself, your success and achievement, but also about helping others around you.
(This blog was originally written by Nadya Stryuk.)
This is a picture of my Model UN team in 2015! My friend on the far left is wearing her country badge.