Helping Students Find the Perfect Extra-Curricular Opportunities

Extra-curricular Activities

One of the key pieces to a standout college application is being able to demonstrate as much success and accomplishment outside of the classroom as inside of it. But with so many potential ways to spend extra-curricular time, students can easily become overwhelmed and miss out on great chances to build their resume.

Educators, tutors, and test prep professionals can help their students maximize their chances to impress admissions counselors with some tailored guidance about positive ways to spend free time. At the very least, the end result will likely be some well-deserved teenage pride in a job well done (regardless of the size of the admissions envelope).

Start with Personal Passions

Stapling a laundry list of activities and community service experiences onto a high school resume won’t do the trick. The top schools aren’t looking for which candidates have done the most; they are looking for candidates that have made deliberate, mature decisions about how to use their time.

Start any conversation about students’ extra-curricular decisions by unpacking their interests. What are they passionate about? What gets them excited? When left to their own devices, what do they actually want to do?

Encourage students to follow these personally relevant paths rather than blindly stockpiling a list of clubs and charity work.

When it comes time to share these experiences in an admissions interview or an application essay, colleges are looking to see the connection between who a candidate is and the things they have chosen to do. Students who show the capacity for identifying and following their passions provide a safer bet for schools looking to establish an active and positive campus community.

On the other hand, if the only reason a student can give for joining, say, the Spanish Club is that they needed more extracurriculars on their transcript, that student might as well not have joined in the first place (especially in the eyes of an admissions office). Students should be pursuing activities that provide a personal satisfaction, not ones that are simply seeking the approval of others.

This isn’t always easy for teenagers to do on their own. The support of an adult role model can provide a strong guiding influence.

 Help Teens Volunteer Safely and Responsibly

Volunteerism is a great way to build your college resume. Charitable work has long been recommended by educators who advise college-bound students. The message has become gospel to the degree that many schools even require community service work as a graduation requirement.

But be careful; not all volunteering opportunities are created equal. Some require commitments of time, energy, and experience that the typical high-school student may not have to give. Others can even be quite expensive, requiring participants to shell out money for things like travel, supplies, or organizational costs.

Part of guiding students towards positive charity and community service opportunities is making sure you are recommending reputable and respectful organizations that won’t take advantage of enthusiastic teenage volunteers.

Sure, there are service opportunities available worldwide, but often there are plenty of ways for teens to make an impact that can help their own communities. While helping rebuild a home in the next town over may not have the same “wow factor” as rebuilding a school on another continent, it has been argued that the trend of volunteer tourism (the multi-billion-dollar industry that brings thousands of young people to impoverished and needy areas to help) probably amounts to doing more harm than good anyway.

Take the time to make contacts with organizations in your area that might be accepting of some teenage help. By putting together a variety of different local opportunities and doing some preliminary vetting, you will be more prepared to offer students options that are more likely to match their interests and provide positive experiences. This will always be safer than leaving your students to search for opportunities on their own.

Start with a list of volunteer opportunities. The idea is to help get you to establish your criteria for which leads make the most sense for you to pursue.

Getting Paid Doesn’t Hurt

For some students getting a job may be the ideal after-school and weekend activity. This decision is one that can have a positive impact on both a student’s college prospects as well as their ability to afford the tuition once they get there!

Let’s be honest. Not everyone can afford to jet-set around the world to help address the issues they are passionate about. Heck, even volunteering locally can mean students miss out on the opportunity to earn money at a job.

College admissions offices are filled with real-life, working people who understand that earning a paycheck can be a very important thing. They are also well aware that there are only so many usable hours in a day.

Once things like school, family obligations, test-prep (PSA: Don’t forget the deadline for the August 2017 SAT is July 28!), a social life, and sleep get factored in, students who choose to work aren’t typically left with much time for things like regular volunteer commitments or community service. However, come application season, teens who already demonstrate the ability to manage these complexities show a level of maturity that the top schools want to bring on campus.

As an educator, encourage students looking for a job to choose employers that will respect both their age and their time. It is easy for students to push themselves (or be pushed) too far and burn out. Ideally, a job should be a chance for positive growth, not something that impedes it.

Unlike volunteering, a lot of the jobs available to high school students aren’t always easily aligned with personal beliefs and aspirations. That doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for personal character building! Even terrible work experiences can be full of valuable lessons that, if articulated well, could be the ticket to an acceptance letter.

To help uncover those on-the-job moments of growth, encourage students to reflect upon their work experience; it will help when it comes time to share the experience as part of the admissions process.

As an educator, tutor, or test-prep professional, you can help create and identify opportunities for students to express their interests. Follow up and use that insight to help make recommendations for how they can turn those interests into action.

As part of your ongoing guidance, keep an eye out for signs that students may be overdoing it. Be sure to intervene before the stress causes bigger problems. Finally, create opportunities for students to write and talk about how they are spending their time so that it is second-nature when colleges are the ones asking.

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How have you helped students put their time to good use? Share your advice and experiences with our readers here in the comments below and on social media!

Matt McCorkle