8 months ago
Admissions Advice

Extracurriculars/Summer Programs to get into an Ivy League school

If you were accepted into/will be attending an Ivy League or other prestigious university, what kinds of extracurriculars, summer programs, and competitions did you do throughout high school? (For reference: I'm a freshman currently involved in debate team, school soccer, and designing a community garden. I want to go into politics/law when I'm older, but any general recommendations would be useful because I'm pretty stressed out at this point) Thanks for taking the time to read and or answer my question, it means a lot!:)

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2 answers

Accepted Answer
8 months ago

This is a great question, and I'm impressed that you're already working on building your extracurricular list with a view towards your college major and eventual career as a freshman in high school! I've been accepted to a couple prestigious schools in the past (Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, etc.), and my extracurricular resume consisted basically of one spike - music - and nothing else. I was principal cellist of my school orchestra and my youth orchestra and co-principal cellist at NY All State. I had a cello band with which I played benefit concerts and gigs and made recordings that went to iTunes, I attended a few prestigious summer music programs, and I played a variety of solo and chamber concerts and recitals as both a cellist and pianist. I also sang in choir and acted and sang in the school musical at some point. I did essentially nothing else, and I actually quit piano, singing, and acting as a sophomore in order to devote all of my free time to the cello. Despite this, I applied to Columbia and Johns Hopkins as a chemistry major and was accepted to both.

Having a spike like this can be an effective way to get into elite schools, but it's certainly not the only way to do it! One nice thing about being interested in politics and law is that those are very broad fields. If you're serious about politics and might want to write admissions essays about your desire to eventually become a politician, you should definitely look to be involved in student government, consider attending state and national leadership conferences, try to gain some leadership positions in the clubs in which you're involved, and possibly participate in Model UN. If you might write your essays about your desire to pursue a career in law, Mock Trial and Speech and Debate (it seems you're already doing this) would be particularly relevant activities, but all the activities I mentioned for politics and plenty of others would be relevant as well.

This said, it's great to have some other interests too. For example, it'd be great to keep playing soccer, and, if you haven't already, try to make the varsity team. You might try to find some community service activities that are meaningful to you. You don't even necessarily need any of these activities on your resume. You could focus most of your extracurriculars on science, put biology as your intended major on the CommonApp (or just apply undecided), take a few classes in government, political science, and logic during college (or not), and then apply to law school and ultimately have a successful career in law or politics.

There are many different ways to build an impressive extracurricular resume in high school. At the end of the day, you just want to make sure that you find a few activities that are meaningful to you and put significant time and energy into pursuing them. It's great to have a particular niche or focus in high school that aligns with your intended college major, but you can also always figure it out as you go and change directions if necessary.

8 months ago

Keeping my answer simple:

Competed on the debate team, Pres. of the German Club, entered into state science fair (don’t remember status there—it’s been forever ago; I wasn’t the best, but wasn’t the worst, either).

I was accepted into Dartmouth, Brandeis, Boston University, and the Plan 2 Honors Program at University of Texas at Austin.

Seems to me that overfocusing on multiple extracurriculars is not helpful to getting into a college, regardless of Ivy League status or not.

You’ll need to do well on your academics, too.

My son is a junior in HS now. He took part in an extremely demanding band and had a hard time balancing it with the time needed to do well in his studies. He is no longer in band and is focusing on his schoolwork now, to lift GPA and class ranking before applying to colleges.

I’m glad you are looking into all this early in your highschool career. Make careful choices with your time.

Find your balance between extracurricular and your studies. If you find 1-2 activities you really enjoy, you will probably end up taking a leadership role in that club/activity. This can lead to an excellent recommendation from the club’s sponsor/coach/director.

That targeted approach is a win-win-win: you enjoy it and get restored by participating in it. You will show initiative as your participation evolves into leadership roles. Recommendations will be much more focused and personable, based again on your active participation.

Lastly, check out the drop down list in the collegevine.org extracurricular activities when you enter your profile on this site. I found their levels fascinating and helpful to understand how colleges look at your extracurriculars.

Best of luck!


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