College Admissions: Extracurriculars and Volunteering

Whether you are a freshman just starting high school or a junior getting ready to apply to college, getting involved in extracurriculars and volunteering is always the way to go. It is never too early/late to get involved!

Why Extracurriculars Are So Important in High School

Here are some helpful tips that can help you learn whywhen, and how you should pursue extracurriculars at your high school: 

Why? Learn more about yourself

The truth is, no matter what your experiences are, experience in general is always great. By putting yourself out there and doing something you wouldn’t normally do, you would be surprised by how much you can learn about yourself.
Maybe sports aren’t for you, but that does not mean that you can’t try something new. Aim to be bold and courageous! Take an art class, join the debate club, or join groups that meet up to talk about their nerdy obsessions with Marvel Superheroes and Harry Potter.
When I was in high school, I was a member of leadership, glee club, cheese club, and even the National Thespian Society. And with those opportunities, I definitely learned a lot of things about myself. In fact, those were some of the most memorable and valuable moments of my high school career.

Why? Show colleges who you are

Along with making new friends, finding new interests, and discovering more about yourself, extracurriculars can also help with college applications. According to College Board, staying involved is extremely important to College Admissions Offices. In fact, colleges will use your experiences as a way to judge your character in ways that grades and test scores cannot.
So, whether you play on the school’s basketball team, perform in annual school plays, tutor freshmen during your lunch breaks, or work a job outside of school, colleges want to know who you are and what you do. Students who are passionate and motivated are exactly what they are looking for in applicants.  

When? Ease into high school  

Aim to start getting involved between the end of your freshman year and the beginning of your sophomore year. This is usually the perfect time for students to start exploring. Why? Adjusting from middle school to high school can be challenging. Easing into things gives you just enough time to get used to high school, but also enough time to gain plenty of experience before college comes into play.

When? It’s never too late  

Absolutely not! Though it is recommended by college admission boards to start EC’s earlier on in your high school years, exposing yourself to new things late in the game is never bad. As long as you stay committed and can gain some value from your experiences, there is no reason why beginning a little later in the game should hold you back. If your interests and passions are clear in your applications, colleges will love to hear about your experiences!

How? Ask your teachers

After deciding you are ready to take a step forward by getting involved, your first thoughts are most likely going to be along the lines of “Where do I go, and who can I talk to?” Here is the golden answer: Ask your teachers!
Students are often too scared to ask their teachers directly for advice and help. Quite honestly, they can be your biggest allies in navigating through high school and eventually preparing for college. Also, take note that most clubs and activities on campus are all overseen by teachers. As such, asking the right teachers can always connect you to the right opportunities. In all, don’t forget to stay open-minded, and don’t ever be afraid to introduce yourself!

Making Extracurriculars Work in High School

After learning about why extracurriculars are so important in high school, now is the time to figure out how to squeeze them into your schedule. Whether it be a sport, part-time job, or the school’s journalism club, the key is knowing how to prioritize and fit extracurriculars into your calendar.
One of the best things about pursuing extracurriculars in high school is that it helps you develop the organization and time management skills you’ll need in college. Here are some helpful tips that will help you find the right balance:  

Make a planner your new best friend

One of the most common pieces of advice given to high school and college students is to keep all of your dates and schedules in one place. It saves time and energy while also preventing scheduling conflicts, miscommunication, and procrastination.  
If keeping a planner is new to you, it may seem tedious at first. But after you experience the benefits of this small effort, it will start to feel more natural:  

Find the right planner for you

Most students prefer a notebook style planner, where they can physically write things down and take them wherever they go. If this is what you do choose, try to get one that is larger in size and has a monthly calendar page at the beginning of each month. Placing all of your big and important events on this page is the best way to plan. You can save any details for the specific day/week they pertain to. You can hang a big master calendar in your room.
If you are more of a technologically savvy kind of person, which is definitely not uncommon among high school students, an online planner or calendar is a great way to go. Using Gmail’s Calendar or using a personal iphone app can work, but make sure whatever you use is easily accessible.

Learn how to budget your time

If adding extracurriculars to your schedule is scaring you a bit, don’t fret. It’s also OK to wait until you get settled into your class flow to see how much you can add to the mix. Remember, extracurriculars aren’t just a luxury, they’re an investment in your college applications and time management skills.
So to help you decide much to take on and when, ask yourself the following questions:  
When am I available?

Try pursuing EC’s that already fit into your schedule. If you’re only available for an hour or two after school, try finding a club that fits that same time schedule. Don’t feel like you have to move things around—just find what fits naturally.

Does this work for my family?

Many high school students rely on their parents for transportation and have to be mindful of family schedules. Also, some extracurriculars, like sports teams for example, require money. That said, if either of these factors is preventing you from taking on desired extracurriculars, simply communicating with your parents and teachers can help you find a solution.

Can I maintain my lifestyle?

Last but not least, don’t forget that your grades and personal well-being come first. Don’t add so much to your schedule that your grades or sleep begin to suffer. Take your time, talk with your family and teachers, and think about the decisions you make before you make them. With proper time management and communication, you can balance it all.

Budget your time—and your finances—by taking a free online practice test with Kaplan, the world leader in test prep.

The Importance of Volunteering in College Admissions

When you think about college admissions, you probably think about the basics, like SAT or ACT scores, grades, GPA, essays, and letters of recommendation. While all of those things are undoubtedly important on your application, it’s also crucial that you start building your resume. One way to do that is by volunteering.
Volunteering may not increase your SAT or ACT scores or boost your GPA, but it can provide you with the competitive edge you need in the college admissions process and help you stand out among other applicants.
Here are four ways volunteering can help you on your journey to college:

  1. Experience. Volunteering can provide you with some great experiences outside the classroom while also appealing to college admissions officers—especially if they read about your volunteer work in your application essay. Apart from test scores, grades, and GPA on your transcript, admissions officers also want to see who you are outside of the classroom. Volunteering allows you to showcase another side of yourself. It provides an opportunity for you to speak passionately about a cause or organization that you believe in and have dedicated some real time toward. Don’t forget to include it on your LinkedIn profile or online resume, which many future employers will go to learn more about you.
  2. Leadership. College admissions officers love to see students who are passionate leaders, and volunteering is a great way to gain some leadership experience. Instead of merely completing the mandatory service hours that may be required by your high school, take the time to research a cause that inspires you. The more inspired you are, the more likely you are to be involved and take on a leadership position. This will show admissions officers that you can meaningfully contribute to the campus community and be an active member of the student body.
  3. Scholarships. That’s right—volunteering can lead to scholarship opportunities through various organizations. Do Something, for example, offers two types of scholarships, one of which awards $10K to four lucky students. Join one of their volunteer campaigns and show how involved you are—it can pay off, big time!
  4. Networking. While volunteering, you will encounter and work with many different types of people who can help you develop professional skills in a field you may be interested in. Some of these people may even become your mentors and be in a perfect position to write your letters of recommendation for your college applications.
  5. Personal Enhancement: Don’t just volunteer to boost your resume, application, or chances of getting into college; really do your research and find something that speaks to you. Not only will this help you speak naturally and passionately about it in interviews, it will help you learn about yourself and figure out where you’d like to give back down the road.

What are the many various ways you can get involved and volunteer? Find inspiration in these examples, and remember that giving starts in your own community.

  • Last year, teens participating in Do Something recycled 1,333,135 aluminum cans that would have ended up in the landfill.
  • Over the last 25 years, New York residents have given over 1.6 million coats to be distributed among their fellow residents.
  • In one Kentucky city, volunteers collected 143,600 lbs. of fresh fruit and vegetables that would otherwise have gone to waste by gathering leftover produce from farms after harvest and day-old donations from supermarkets.
  • You can be a catalyst for giving! A study from University of California, San Diego, found that altruistic acts inspire others—up to two degrees of separation away. Your friends and your friends’ friends will all be inspired by your generous behavior and good deeds.
  • In 2012, Americans volunteered over 7.9 billion hours of service.
  • College alumni gave over $9 billion in donations back to their schools in 2013.
  • Giving back can make you happier! Researchers at Harvard and UC Riverside found that spending time or money on others releases mood-enhancing endorphins in the brain, making you happier than if you’d spent it on yourself.
  • Students who give back to their community through volunteer service hours are 19% more likely to graduate from college on time.
  • Consider this when giving to your local food drive. The most needed items in food banks are always peanut butter, tuna, and beans.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and volunteer! Not only will you be doing something good for others, but you’ll be helping yourself on the path to college and investing in your career.