6 months ago
Admissions Advice

University Difficulty Approximation: Extracurriculars

Please tell me how to research what and how many extracurriculars a university is looking for

I am a rising senior, looking into Computer Science university.

I don't know what & how many extracurriculars do universities look for, therefore I have trouble estimating my chances (especially since extracurriculars aren't my strong point). Their websites aren't exactly helpful, only giving general shenanigans. I also know that public schools generally care less than private schools, but that's all I know.

Also, if you already know approximately what extracurriculars (if my academics are average among the accepted freshmen data) will get you into . . .

All the UCs (especially since they don't do SAT anymore)

Stanford, CMU, MIT, UIUC, Georgia Tech

Please help me.

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6 months ago[edited]

I'd clarify is that there are no such things as a CS university because CS is only a major, not the academic mandate of an institution like The Webb Institute of Naval Architecture where only 1 major is offered in shipbuilding and engineering. Within the schools, you listed like Stanford, MIT, or CMU, they are equally known for other colleges like CMU College of Art where you can study Drama, or Painting, or Architecture. Or you can major in Gender and Women's Studies, Ancient Medieval Studies, or Comparative Writing at MIT.

If you are a Top 20-40 college these days, the goals of the institution are not mono-dimensional like earning the most money to educate students in CS. They are multi-dimensional. Top colleges want their cohorts to maximize their potential as humans in order to as MIT says in their on-site tours "serve the greater good of the world" They only want the best humans, not just the best students because so much of life involves interacting with other humans whether it's social, project-oriented, fraternal, sports, university clubs, campus jobs, teaching opportunities, travel abroad, etc. In exchange, they hope that these successful graduates will continue to support their school with large contributions which will be used to build better facilities and provide aid to deserving applicants.

Sometimes the best way to discover something is not through one's rote learning through books, lectures, or assignments but through experimentation and thinking and working outside of the box. I don't know if East Campus at MIT still exists but I remember watching videos of how EC students built a wooden rollercoaster in the middle of their housing quad. Every year a group of students "hack" something on campus, like putting a Boston Police car on top of the main building. It takes ingenuity and big guts to figure out how to disassemble a car and sneak in at night and haul it up to the top of the dome so that the world can see it before class.

So the point is that if you want to join the best Cirque de Soleil academic circus, you have to have something to offer other than grades and test scores. And if you personally know any brilliant humans, you know that they are lifelong learners who all have interesting hobbies, habits, and eccentricities.

So similar to what Shaq said but through a different lens, you have to be someone interesting that has evidence of some potential to be remarkable. So maybe you can multi-task really well and play video games, code in Python, and listen to German operas all at the same time. Maybe you can solve a rubrics cube in 11 seconds or play 20 concurrent games of chess or recite the 1st hundred digits of Pi forwards and backward.

Most Collegevine members want to know what the shortcut or hack is to get into an Ivy or Elite college but the question they should be asking is whether or not they would be a good fit for such a place, to begin with. I highly recommend that all HS students spend time both visiting the campuses of the colleges that are on their list and actually talking to students and alumni who attended these schools. Remember that of the nearly 2 million HS graduates, only about 1% actually matriculate into Top 10 Elite STEM schools like MIT, Stanford, CMU, JHU, RICE, which is far less than the 4%-9% acceptance rates.

If after doing some research, you truly believe that these schools would benefit from having you there, then take your best shot. But also have a serious backup plan with plenty of target schools to hedge those bets.


6 months ago

You're having trouble finding anything more than "general shenanigans" because there is no exact answer for your question and not every school will be looking for the exact same thing.

Let's start with what extracurriculars schools want. While it will depend specifically on the school, most colleges will want students to show leadership, commitment, determination, etc in their profile. Rather than finding ECs which you think schools will want to see you should be aiming to find ECs which you are passionate about, will thrive in, and will want to continue. Generally you want to have a "spike" which you've excelled in and shown clear passion for, in your case this would be Computer Science, and then some other ECs which show off your curiosity for learning and passion for other things. Take a look at these links: https://blog.collegevine.com/extracurriculars-for-aspiring-computer-science-majors/, https://blog.collegevine.com/extracurriculars-to-consider-if-you-plan-to-study-computer-science/, and https://www.collegevine.com/livestreams/4102/finding-your-spike-with-elias.

How many ECs you should have depends on the caliber of your ECs and the amount of time you have. If you only have 1-2 ECs you're probably going to have a difficult time getting into the schools you listed unless they are really strong. On the flip side, just having a bunch of ECs, say 8-10+, isn't guaranteed to help either unless you've made sure you've committed to them. Colleges aren't really interested in students who have done a bunch of stuff just for the sake of doing a bunch of stuff. Being in a ton of clubs for only 1-2 years with no leadership positions, volunteering for 25 hours, and participating in a college summer camp isn't going to impress them. But if you spent 4 years in 2 clubs (with leadership positions), joined student government for 3 years, volunteered for hundreds of hours, and did an internship that would be more impressive for a college even though it was only 5 ECs.

Am I explaining that ok and does it make sense? For the schools you listed, if your academics are average, you're going to need to have a strong EC profile and write really strong essays. I don't want to be a downer but I do want to set realistic expectations: if you're only starting on your extracurricular profile right now you're going to want to add more target and safety schools to your school list because many of the schools you listed will be long reaches for you. That doesn't mean you shouldn't apply or won't be accepted but if these are the only schools you're interested in you need a back-up plan.


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