College admissions officers consider many factors when reviewing applications, including how applicants spends their time. Typically, college applications ask applicants to list their activities in a grid or chart. The Common Application currently provides ten spaces for students to share information about their extra-curriculars. For some students, that is not enough room, while others students consider ten spaces as too many. My high school sophomore swims competitively year-round. He spends all of his time in the pool. He’s not involved in many school clubs, he doesn’t do a lot of community service (and when he volunteers, his commitments are usually swimming-related), nor does he have a part time job (aside from occasionally making money by helping a swim coach in the spring). When it comes time for him to apply to college, his activity list will reflect pretty much only one thing: swimming. And that’s actually ok. I’m not worried that he isn’t “well-rounded”, because, clearly, he has a passion and is pursuing that passion to the nth-degree. He might not fill all ten spaces on the Common Application, but his list will reflect his priorities.
The college admissions process doesn’t reward well-roundedness the way it used to. Today, college admissions offices value the depth of activities more than they value overall breadth. This might be good news to students. It isn’t necessary to check off a list of activities just because you think it will good on your college application. Instead, you should focus on developing your authentic interests and taking the initiative to go deeper into what you really care about. That might mean you have to take risks and push yourself beyond your comfort zone.
But what if you lack a clearly defined interest? How can you develop an activity and take it to the next level? Here are some pro-tips:
Push yourself to try something new. Start with a hobby or general interest and get involved with something related to that topic. For example, if you like to play video games with friends, perhaps think about researching game design, or sign up for a class over the summer to learn to code.
Reach out to a teacher who knows you well. Ask that teacher to help you identify activities/organizations that might interest you. Here’s a sample question to ask your teacher: “I’m really into creative writing but I’m not sure how to pursue that interest outside of school. Do you know of any literary clubs or writing groups that might help me continue to develop my work?”
Get your friends involved! Participate in a service project as a group and you take charge in organizing everything.
Sometimes, just getting started is the hard part. Don’t be afraid to take the first step and use your resources to help you get going. You can do it!