Advice for extracurricular ideas?Answered
I’m a freshman in a public high school. I live in a pretty insignificant state and according to college vine the main issue with my admissions chances are my extra curriculars. I’ve won national level awards in BPA for the past 2 years (was headed to nationals this year but that got cancelled). I’ve been a part of a team that went to a state math league competition. And I’ve been a part of Girl Scouts for 10 years and whilst a part of this organization I’ve completed my Bronze award (20 community service hours) and on my way to complete my gold award (80 hours of a take action project). I do spirts but I’m not very good at them. I want to major in Mathematics and maybe physics and am hoping to get into either CalTech, MIT, or Princeton. Any recommendations of what kind of activities I can do to improve my chances?
So a couple of notes—if you're currently a freshman, then it sounds like some of the activities you're mentioning happened before high school. Colleges are primarily going to care about what you've done IN high school, and anything from before HS isn't going to matter all that much for their purposes. (E.g., on the Common App, they will give you checkboxes for each activity that say 9th/10th/11th/12th grade, but no other options.)
That doesn't mean that 10 years of involvement in Girl Scouts—which is awesome!—won't matter, but it means that you need to continue doing that through high school for colleges to really pay attention to your achievements there. Same for the awards you're mentioning; things you do in your sophomore and junior year will matter way more to colleges than things you did in 7th or 8th grade.
The other thing though is that, from what I know about how CV's system works, it looks at your ECs as if you're applying to college with them right now—so for any freshman, it's probably going to tell you that they're not quite where they need to be. Which is fine; you have plenty of time to work them up to that point. What I would say if you're interested in Math and Physics at schools like Caltech, MIT, or Princeton, see if you can add some more engineering or STEM-related activities to your resume. Whether that's interest clubs, a Robotics team, related internships or summer programs (obviously not this year, but maybe next or especially the year after), or even just some kind of hobby that develops your interest or skill—something that reinforces your eventual area of study would be a great idea.
It is better to start extracurriculars now than never. If there is limitation towards your ability to advance in extracurriculars, I am pretty sure they will grow to understand because other students are also suffering with the same blockade. Although you didn't participate in any extracurriculars during freshman year, you could try to cram as much as possible during junior year and the admissions committee could see your effort.
I had the same dilemma as you my freshman year, and the most valuable piece of information I received was "depth, not breadth." This basically means try to get deeply involved in a few things rather than mildly involved in many things. My suggestion would be to go deeper into the activities you are already a part of, for example, in Girl Scouts try to become a troop leader, or in BPA run for an officer position. You also may want to join some honor societies. If you are looking to apply to Princeton, MIT, and CalTech, I strongly suggest you join nationally recognized honor societies for math and science (Mu Alpha Theta and NSHS) and then run for an officer position.
However, with schools like Princeton, MIT, and CalTech the most important thing is your GPA and test scores. If you are feeling burnt out because of extra curricular activities or sports and your grades start to slip you will need to prioritize your school work over everything else. Also reach out to your local admissions representative and ask them what would make you a competitive applicant.