2 years ago
Admissions Advice

Can volunteering be my main extracurricular activity for selective colleges?

I am a rising senior who has struggled with mental health during the first two years of my high school career. Because of this, my overall grades are pretty lackluster and I am ranked 70 out of 174 and my rural public high school- with an overall average of 93.43 unweighted and 94.18 weighted. However, I am on the path to recovery and really put my nose to the grindstone during my junior year. I took 3 AP classes (and self studied for another), algebra 2/chemistry, and health. This year, I got an average of 102.33 (my school multiplies AP class averages by 0.05). Also, I got a 5 on my psych and human geography exams and got 4's on lang and apush. Writing essays under pressure is a struggle for me and I did not start the last essay questions on both lang and apush, which I assume contributed to my lower scores. I will not be taking the SAT/ACT as well. As for extracurriculars, I have about 120 hours built up from miscellaneous volunteering activities- but they are largely unrelated to my intended major, psychology. Arguably my 30 hours at a soup kitchen being around homeless people (a population disproportionately affected by mental health problems) could be somewhat relevant, but i still feel it is an indirect connection. I'm a member of two clubs at my school, gender sexuality alliance and reading club. However, I do not hold a leadership position in either because they require votes from members. I went to a special needs school for mental health for my sophomore year and none of my friends attend these clubs, so I was screwed from the start in that respect. Recently, I've had a wonderful breakthrough in my extracurriculars and I'm now participating in a volunteer internship at a non-crisis mental health chat website. It involves offline outreach, active listening (and getting feedback), dealing with mental health problems, and referring people to places that can care for them in more severe cases. So far, I've found it to be very fulfilling work and I'm quite happy to be a part of it. I'm still at the start of the internship, but I was wondering... Can this bolster my profile enough for my college applications? What about in more selective colleges? My dream schools are Cornell and UC Berkeley, if that helps describe what I mean by selective. Also, I can choose my number of hours in the internship. How many hours should I shoot for in order to achieve this if its possible?

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@Sarah6162 years ago

Out of curiosity - why won't you be taking the ACT/SAT? If you're worried about the writing portion, don't be - colleges don't look at that portion of the exam. A good test score could really boost your profile, especially with your worries about grades :)

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Accepted Answer
2 years ago

Hi @eagerstudent29!

I think it's helpful to break down your application into its main components. That is, your grades will be compared with other students' grades, and your extracurriculars will be considered against other students' extracurriculars at different stages of the admissions process — you need both to get in.

Your grades seem very strong, but I'm a bit confused about your ranking. It seems remarkable that almost half your rural high school class would have a 4.0 GPA, and that you'd only be near the median (with APs to boot). This may make admissions officers wonder if classes at your school are particularly easy, but on paper you should have the grades to be competitive at most schools.

Now, on to extracurriculars. The reason we often deemphasize volunteering is because many students treat it as a checklist: that they just need to cross off so many hours for their college applications. However, you've demonstrated a genuine and consistent interest in your volunteer work (with mental health especially) that I think it could be your main spike in your college applications. (For more on spikes, click here: https://blog.collegevine.com/how-to-find-your-college-application-spike/)

The last thing you'd need to demonstrate extracurricular-wise is some kind of achievement or recognition. The most common way to do this is to earn an officer position within a club, but if that's not feasible, then you should focus your efforts on demonstrating leadership or initiative within your current position. Maybe you work with a particularly large number of patients, or you spearheaded a successful event in your organization. The point is you should have something which fits on a resume and speaks to your accomplishment in that group. At the very least, for a school like Cornell, you should dedicate as much free time as possible to that extracurricular so that it sticks out on your application.

Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any questions.

What are your chances of acceptance?
Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
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Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

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