If you are a high school student keeping up your grades and keeping busy with some activities you enjoy, while also spending time with family and friends, congratulate yourself! You are obviously managing your time well as you work towards your goals.
Having said that, many students decide they want to do more. Specifically, they hope to differentiate themselves on their college applications with an outstanding extracurricular resume.
It’s a problem, however, when students think this translates to taking pricey service trips abroad; or starting a club for the primary purpose of claiming the title “founder”; or gaining membership in multiple organizations without really doing anything.
To develop a resume that will truly stand out, one that deeply showcases your interests, highlights your leadership skills, and underscores your values and character, consider other ways to upgrade your involvement.
First, What Not To Do
It is meaningless to randomly join groups or undertake projects that do not underpin or intersect with the things that are important to you. Be thoughtful and selective about how you spend your time; a school counselor, mentor or other advisor can give you some feedback for your ideas if you’re unsure about where to start.
Also, don’t wait until the end of junior year to decide you need to do something… (Anything… and quickly!) There is nothing wrong, of course, with trying something new senior year; but an activity that represents a natural progression of your interests — rather than a resume line you’d like to fill — will authenticate your interest and involvement.
Being authentic — being true to who you are at your core — and perceptive about what motivates you, is key. Choose activities that help you grow (at your own pace). You’ll know you are on the right track when you feel challenged, but not overwhelmed; energized, but not depleted, by your choices. Here are some ideas to help you elevate your extracurricular activities:
- Promote a passion
Maya’s favorite pastime was knitting. She learned it from her grandmother, who enjoyed it as a relaxing social activity. Knitting also provided an outlet for Maya’s creativity and developed her problem-solving skills. After her grandmother passed, Maya decided to organize a group at a nearby senior center, exchanging tips with other knitting enthusiasts and inspiring novice knitters to learn more.
- Explore a career interest
Job internships for high school students are limited and competitive. You’ll need to start early and do some research to land one. But remember, there are other ways to learn more about your fields of interest. Some ideas include job shadowing, summer programs, personal research, a community college class, or a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).
- Create your own opportunity
If what you want doesn’t exist, create it! Here is one example: Jen wanted a temporary means of earning money to pay for a summer engineering program, but babysitting and tutoring weren’t adding much to her savings. She used her mechanical inclinations to her advantage by buying old bikes, cleaning and repairing them, then reselling them for a nice profit. She paid for her summer program and learned some basic lessons of entrepreneurship, too.
- Step outside your comfort zone
When Devin resolved to create his own opportunity to explore his career interest in teaching, it made sense to combine it with his love of dance — he’d been dancing competitively for years. With the support of his dance studio, Devin initiated a year-round weekly dance class for students with special needs. He was a little nervous at first because he did not know what to expect — and he was in charge! But he took a risk, reached out to an underserved population, and in the end, reinforced his faith in both his desire and his abilities to instruct and connect with others.
- Solve your problem
Do you shake your head on a regular basis wondering why something is the way it is, and how you’d like to make it better? If you want to improve something, start where you are. Whether your inner engineer cringes at the poor design of the school cafeteria’s lunch line or your heart for social justice longs to inspire a local service group, step up to see the difference you can make in your own world.
- Commit to your community
Even as a sixth grader Ray could not get enough of math. After competing in middle school math competitions, he realized he would have loved that same opportunity years earlier. He began a math club at his old elementary school, starting with games, adding tutoring the next year, and organizing district competitions the next.
- Learn logistics
Ray’s math club required preplanning to lay the groundwork. He needed to secure permission from the school principal, enlist the aid of a club advisor, arrange for classroom space, get help with publicity, and set up a system to communicate with parents. As he gained further insight into the tasks required behind the scenes, he also gained self-confidence in his abilities to execute his expanding plans.
- Demonstrate dependability
Part of developing maturity and cultivating success is following through. This means that if you commit to a part-time job or volunteer position every Saturday morning, you arrive every Saturday — in the morning. This is not to say you won’t ever have a scheduling conflict or fall ill, but if you find yourself regularly making excuses to cancel, rethink your choice of activity.
- Leave a legacy
Let’s return to Ray – although it was difficult for him to think about leaving his math club, he wanted to make certain it would endure. During senior year he trained two of his former students (who were now high school freshmen) to co-lead the group once he left for college; they will do the same when they are seniors. Ray’s longer view of this activity further conveyed his commitment to improving his community.
- Uplift others
Some students demonstrate high achievement and involvement in athletics or academics or performing arts, for example. But if everything you do seems to focus entirely on yourself, try to incorporate some of the suggestions above to find activities that will also uplift others.
You may or may not find a new passion in service; but at the very least, you’ll have a better appreciation for your own advantages. And without a doubt, colleges will be noting what you’ve contributed to the greater good, as opposed to just yourself, when they envision what you might contribute to their campus.