Applying Internationally – Building Your Extracurricular College Profile

ethnic young woman using laptop while having tasty beverage in modern street cafe

US high schools often build extracurricular activities into their student experience, but this might not be the case if you’re attending a high school in another country. In my years working in China, I’ve often seen students struggle to build their extracurricular (EC) activities list. If this applies to you, here are some options. 

Summer Programs in the United States

One of the best things you can do to boost your application as an international candidate is to attend a summer program in the United States. You’d be able to: 

1. Establish your English fluency & writing ability. Admissions officers want to know that their international students will succeed in a rigorous, all-English academic environment. A high TOEFL score alone won’t necessarily demonstrate your ability to succeed, whereas attending a pre-college program in the U.S. definitely will.

2. Demonstrate your commitment to your intended Early Decision (ED) school. During a summer program, you’ll be able to talk to professors and current students to see what student life is like on campus. What better way to show a school that you’ve done your research and know with certainty that they are the best fit for you?

3. Develop your interest in your intended major via relevant summer programs, research programs, and internships. 

A student interested in majoring in business could explore:

A student interested in majoring in biology could explore:

Some favorite programs based on feedback from our students include: 

Summer programs can vary widely in start date, program duration, cost, application requirements, and admission competitiveness, so it might be useful to talk to a counselor to discuss which ones are the best fit for you.  

My recommendation? If you are at all interested in attending a summer program, you should start looking into them now. Many programs have rolling admissions, but applications to the most competitive summer schools will have deadlines January through early February. It is especially important for international students to start early, as schools may impose an even earlier deadline to give you time to apply for your visa.

Costs to Consider

The drawback of attending a summer program in the U.S. is that they can be financially costly –  requiring flights, lodging, local transportation, and the cost of the program itself. You’ll have to research which programs are the best fit for you. Each application could require several essays. If admitted, you’ll have to pay for your visa application as well. Lastly, the weeks you spend in summer school could be time that you might need to spend preparing for the SAT or other standardized exams. 

Self-Paced Online Courses

Taking an online class can be a great alternative to attending a US-based summer program. Many online learning platforms partner with top-tier universities such as Stanford or HKU, and yet are either free or relatively low-cost. The classes are usually niche in topic like college courses, taken at your own pace, and free of the pressures of due dates and grades. However, if you want to take on the challenge, you can also pay a small fee to take such classes more formally, which would allow you to receive official certification or even college credit (which looks fantastic on your college applications). The initiative in and of itself and then the discipline required to complete a self-paced online course demonstrate mature and driven qualities to an admissions officer. A student who seeks extra enrichment showcases intellectual drive and resourcefulness. 

Here are a few of the Empowerly Team’s favorite online learning platforms.



EdX is pretty similar to Coursera, except it was founded by Harvard and MIT and has a particular focus on STEM courses. Some notable ones include:

  • Introduction to Data Science (UC Berkeley)
  • Fundamentals of Transistors (Purdue)
  • Global Health Case Studies from a Biosocial Perspective (Harvard)


CodeAcademy is a great option for intended EE/CS majors, or anyone interested in learning programming. The resources introduces Python, HTML, JavaScript, C++, and other major programming languages.  

The School of the New York Times

  • Check out the Certificate in Content Marketing online course from the NYT School. 
  • The School of the NYT Certificate in Virtual Reality covers VR storytelling, Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production. This is a great way to gain content knowledge in a rapidly developing EdTech and entertainment tech platform for media enthusiasts, storytellers, and the tech-intrigued alike. 

Would you like to develop your English journalistic writing?

These are just a few resources to get you started. Check out a much more extensive database of resources by accessing the Digital Toolkit. The Digital Toolkit features a database of summer programs, internships and research opportunities, and much more. 

Working with an Empowerly counselor can help you position your personal brand and story in the most outstanding way, allowing your admissions potential to fully set sail.

We’re real people. Give us a call. We wish you the best of luck and we’re on team YOU.

Questions? Let us know!