Want to get into your college of choice? Extracurriculars matter

Hey college-bound seniors, the 2010-2011 Common Application has been available online for over a month. For those students who have avoided taking a sneak peek, let me preview the one major revision, the expansion of the "Activities" section. In response to thousands of complaints that the previous application only allowed for the listing of seven activities, the 2010-2011 Common Application expands this section. Now applicants are provided space for eleven activities, reflecting the increased importance college admissions officials place on nonacademic pursuits. In this increasingly competitive college environment where students' test scores and GPAs continue to escalate, extracurricular activities are one true way for students to differentiate themselves from other applicants.

Beware, colleges can see through resume-filling activities. Hammering nails for an afternoon with Habitat for Humanity or dishing out soup at a homeless shelter one evening is not the type of activity that impresses colleges. They are looking for continued commitment, passion and leadership. Tall order for a high school student, but it is what students applying to the most competitive colleges offer, in addition to excellent grades and near perfect test scores. Which student stands out more, the student who donates old clothes to a clothing drive, or the one that organizes the drive and convinces his entire school to participate? How about the student who occasionally attends art clubs meetings versus the student who invites local artists to introduce club members to new mediums, or organizes a local student art exhibit? Passion and depth of commitment are what matter.

I am the first to admit that many students are seriously overcommitted. I am not suggesting that applicants must fill in all eleven spaces with extraordinary accomplishments. Colleges would rather see three or four activities that show real depth of commitment or leadership than eleven "one shots." So what should sophomores, juniors and seniors do at this point? Attend your school's club fair. If you have an interest that isn't represented, start a new club. If a club already exists, really get involved; consider holding an office in the club. Remember, a club faculty mentor may be someone you choose to write your college recommendation. More importantly, clubs allow you to explore new interests. Colleges care so much about your nonacademic endeavors because they want interesting, engaged people with diverse interests to add depth to their college community.

Maria Badami is an educational and college consultant with College Directions CNY, 7030 East Genesee St., Fayetteville. 243-6658. collegedirectionscny.com.

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