If you’re in ninth grade (or younger), you’ve probably heard a lot about how important outside activities are for college admissions these days. Getting a 4.0 GPA and perfect test scores just isn’t enough; being a well-rounded student with a hand in a variety of areas is essential to be considered a competitive and worthy applicant to any selective university.
Because of this, getting involved in extracurricular activities is a must for high schoolers (and the earlier the better — colleges love to see development within these activities over time). Here are 4 ways to get going on your search for things to do outside of academics and bolster your competitive standing among your peers.
1) Ask yourself what YOU want to do
This is probably the easiest place to start off. If you’ve already got specific things in mind, lay out a map and start to research what it takes to get involved in these activities. Want to be a soccer referee? Contact your local soccer league and ask them where you can obtain the necessary certification and get started. Want to join one of your high school’s sports teams? Make sure you sign up in time, brush up on your skills, and contact the coach about the starting procedures.
As you’re doing these, keep in mind two crucial questions: how long can I do this, and is it worth it? How long you do an activity can be important, especially when starting in ninth grade. If you join the school tennis team but only plan to do it for a year, you’re not going to rise up the ranks to a top position or win a high-level tournament, and you’re also showing your future college applications reviewers you can’t stick to a hobby. Obviously quitting a small handful of activities over your 4 years of high school is no big deal (everyone changes their mind sometimes), but just make sure you find other things to stick to. Secondly, ask yourself if the activity is worth it. Are you being offered the top position on your school’s swim team? Sounds fun and extremely useful for college applications, but the time commitment might be overwhelming. Timings vary on a person-by-person basis, but in general, anything that takes up more than 3 hours of your day outside of school is taking a serious toll on your academics (and other activities) and should strongly be reconsidered. Only continue if you can handle it, or if you know it’s worth it.
2) Take a look at your school’s various clubs/organizations
Almost all schools have student organizations on campus, and their focuses range widely in scope: you’ll find academics clubs, sports clubs, investment clubs, volunteering/community service clubs, and many more. Try to find some sort of website or written source that has the names and descriptions of these clubs, and take a minute to look through them and take note of the ones that interest you.
Although you may be tempted to just look into clubs that sound interesting, take a step back and ask yourself what each club can do for you. Math may not sound fun, but if you’re good at it than you might find yourself eventually getting an officer position within the mathematics club (and colleges love leadership experience). Volunteering and community service clubs may not sound like fun either, but these types of clubs (especially big ones, which you should keep an eye out for) offer tons of opportunities for students to participate in. These can help you obtain community service hours (if your school requires them for graduation), and more importantly, honest good work that looks good on your college application.
If you stay in the club, try your best to work your way up the ranks. Officer positions are almost always given to new students at the end of each year, so make sure you run (and participate in the club’s events the year before to make sure you actually have a shot at winning). Clubs will have positions such as president, vice president, treasurer, and outreach officer; all of these are positions that show a student was involved enough to apply his/her efforts for the betterment of the club, which colleges will really appreciate, so do your best to apply every time you spot an opening.
3) Look for academic programs offered outside of your school
These days, many summer camps, educational institutions, and companies offer programs for high school students that can take place on weekends or over summer break. These are great for building a foundation in a certain discipline. Are you considering computer science as your college major? Take a look at the numerous coding camps/programs offered (both online and in given areas), and do your best to join the ones that look the most informative and reasonable. Consider yourself a chess whiz? Join a chess summer club and develop your skills will networking with like-minded individuals. Over time, work your way up in difficulty and you’ll have years of solid academic work under your belt; this will show passion, determination, and knowledge, and will almost certainly make your college applications look that much better.
These kinds of programs also tend to offer direct opportunities (and at least information) to competitions related to the discipline you’re studying. Awards are another mark of a great college applicant, so participate in any competitive opportunities you receive through these kinds of programs. At best, you’ll have gained shiny new trophies to brag about to your friends and on your college application. At worst, you’ll have the opportunity to try again!
It may not seem like it, but even paid work looks good on college applications. Almost any kind of job can be sold as valuable experience if you know how to phrase it right, so be open to the idea of any kind of job you get being more than just a money-maker, and in fact an extracurricular activity of sorts.
Jobs can be hard to come by for students, and you’ll likely want to avoid them altogether during the school year, but the right amount of digging can indeed lead to a few good positions. If your city/town is big enough, expect an abundance of summer job openings for youth summer camp counselors, sports instructors, waterpark/park rangers, lifeguards, and so on. These are great positions for people looking for a quick gig during the summer, and the skills you gain from them are actually quite useful. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you might be able to apply your skills to higher level jobs (think software coding, sales, and so forth). Don’t expect a full office job with benefits and a big salary, and in fact, don’t even worry about those things. Just applying your abilities to work at that level is a huge boost to your college application.
Ninth grade is the perfect time to start getting involved in extracurricular activities. You’ve got four years ahead of you, so there’s plenty of time to find the right activities and get embedded within them. Start with your own interests, and work your way out into school organizations, academics programs, and summer work. Make sure you prioritize along the way, asking yourself how long you can stick to each activity and whether the time and effort you put into it are worth it. Over time, you’ll be in all the right places and will have a much stronger college application.