There is more to getting into a quality college than studying. Image Source

Are you a high school student looking to get into a top notch college?

Are you a college student looking to pump up your resume with something meaningful?

Extracurriculars make a huge difference.

Sure… getting good grades is the ideal path to getting into the average college of your choice. Very few people will give you trouble about skipping out on extracurriculars if you’re not involved in steep competition.

But… if you want to compete for the really good college spots and the really good jobs then you need to think about more than your grades. If you learn to use your extracurriculars right then you can even have lower than average grades and still compete.

What you need to know is actually pretty simple.

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What The Normal Student Does

Helping your community is something you should do for pleasure. It will barely help you pad your college application. Image Source

The average student looking to pad an application or resume focuses on the classic extracurricular building advice like…

  • Do community service
  • Do an academic extracurricular
  • Do something you enjoy
  • Become the leader of an organization
  • Get good at your extracurriculars and show commitment

These are all fine and dandy but they come with one fundamental problem.

They take forever!

Seriously… do you really have enough time to spend an extra 15 hours a week padding your college application or resume? If you do then I guarantee it’s because you consider those activities you’re doing social activities as well as extracurriculars. My point being: you enjoy them so you have time for them.

If you don’t fit into the traditional mold of student then finding and making time for extracurriculars is a pain in the butt. It can be miserable if you don’t enjoy yourself.

But it doesn’t need to be that way…

In fact… this traditional strategy to extracurriculars isn’t all that effective.

Colleges have plenty of applicants with student government, club, and sports experience. Student’s are always competing on these grounds. That makes them significantly more competitive. Being a class treasurer doesn’t mean much when you’re competing against dozens of class presidents. Being an average athlete doesn’t mean much when you’re competing against Olympians. And… most clubs don’t mean much either. Sure… they’re nice but that’s about it.

Do you enjoy your extracurriculars? Then keep them up. If you don’t (or are scared they’re holding you back) then don’t feel bad letting them go.

Does It Sound Impressive?

Impressive is only based on perception. If your work doesn’t look impressive then it will not be treated as impressive. Image Source

This is the fundamental question to selecting extracurricular activities.

College extracurriculars don’t have to actually be impressive. Tons of students have impressive extracurriculars and schedules. College can’t usually appreciate how impressive they are. They have no good way to make those judgements. They’re forced to decide how important your extracurricular is by keywords.

“I worked with (insert impressive name here.)”

Try inserting “the U.N.”, “Senator Jenkins” , “Judge James Harper” , “Beyonce” , “Doctors Without Borders.” Now try entering “Millfield Town Volunteer Committee,” “Williams High Class President” , or “my team.”

I hope you can feel the difference.

Some things sound impressive. Some things don’t.

Getting a job stuffing envelopes for an impressive organization means more to your college application than getting a job doing a variety of tasks at a local organization. (Sure… if you get to discussing the details in exacting detail then the variety might help but big names increase your chances of getting that far.)

If your extracurricular doesn’t sound like a one in a million opportunity then you’re missing a huge opportunity.

In fact, just having a single impressive sounding extracurricular that lasts you a few weeks can give you as much of an advantage as 4 years of the classic cookie cutter extracurriculars. That may sound strange but it’s true for a simple reason.

A Good Extracurricular Is Hard To Find

Sports can be a good extracurricular that impresses people but it requires a huge investment. For college, think simplicity. Image Source

If your only goal is to find an extracurricular or two that increases your chances of impressing people then virtually never join organizations that are open to everyone.

Clubs may show your personality but they will not impress anyone. Showing up to a club is super easy and anyone looking to compete for college can do it. Becoming a leader could help but even if you get the leadership role, you’re not going to look too impressive.

If getting involved in the extracurricular is easy and straightforward then it’s not impressive.

Impressive extracurriculars usually come from:

  • Personal or Family Networking
  • Applying for competitive spots
  • Being so good at something that you can’t be ignored (Shout out to Cal Newport)
  • Entrepreneurship

I know…

This all looks a bit uncertain. How sure can you be you’ll get these exclusive opportunities? Anything impressive has to look that way. That is the key to it being impressive. It’s obvious not everyone can do it.

If something is uncertain then how could you possibly use it to compete for a college spot? What if you can’t compete? What if you apply and get rejected?

Here is the fundamental secret (Seriously, don’t tell anyone. It will ruin its value for all of us :P)

Don’t stop poking!

Just keep applying and talking and trying new things until you finally get something impressive.

Filling out an application can take an hour or two. Making new friends can take virtually no time at all. Talking to friends about people they know can take almost no time. Playing at something you’re good at is what you want to do anyway. Entrepreneurship is tough but, again, you pick your battles with it.

Joining a single club will cost you hours and hours a week. Joining a sports team can take you many hours more each week. Most standard extracurriculars take forever. Skip them and apply for impressive extracurriculars.

You don’t need 10 impressive extracurriculars to compete with your extracurriculars. One or two will match months of effort using the traditional methods.

If you try long enough then you will find exclusive and impressive opportunities.

You will end up with the kind of application or resume that gets a “Wow!”

That’s the key.

Get noticed.

The best way to get noticed is to skip the traditional strategies and focus on finding a few key opportunities that makes your name stand out from the crowd.

You’re an impressive person. This is the way you make them realize it.

Have any ideas? Did you do anything impressive to pad up your application or resume? Talk about it in the comments below.

The Secret To Impressive Extracurriculars (Without Sacrificing Your Free Time)

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2 thoughts on “The Secret To Impressive Extracurriculars (Without Sacrificing Your Free Time)

  • January 3, 2017 at 10:35 pm
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    Great article Aaron!

    I agree. It’s fairly straightforward to join school funded extracurriculars. Even though they can be super fun, they aren’t always impressive in the eyes of colleges/employers.

    Your mention of Cal Newport reminds me of his book “How to Become a High School Superstar”, in which he endorses activities that the college/employer cannot imagine doing themselves. Anything that’s foreign immediately seems more difficult–even if it took less time.

    That said, I’ve found the task of finding/ starting one of these activities to be a bit difficult–so my advice to students would be to get started early on.

    As you mention, friends and family are a great place to start. I would also check with your school’s career center (if you have one) or teachers.

    If you want to do your own thing (as I did with Study Forth). Find out what you feel very passionate about, find some friends, and just start. Things will work themselves out as time goes on.

    Reply

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