Extracurriculars look good on a college application, they enrich the lives of you and your community members, they prepare you for the real world (which is kind-of my schtick, you might say), and they are all-around a lot of fun. No matter what type of extracurricular you do, it will make your four years of high school a little better. In fact, doing many activities around my community led me to a place I never could have imagined: A special living-learning community at the college I will attend. But how can you ensure a good activity experience that is actually valuable to you in all of the above ways? Maybe these six tips can help.
6 Tips for Extracurricular Activity Success
1. Join Early.
If you see something at your high school’s activity fair (or other such gathering), sign up. There’s no harm in learning more, as you can always bow out gracefully if you realize it’s not for you. Unfortunately, for many clubs and organizations, if you don’t get in on the ground floor, it will be much more difficult to get in at all. Positions and schedules fill up, events get planned and executed, and soon there’s nothing left for you to do, which is no fun and no help.
Also, don’t wait until Junior or Senior year to join up. Not only does this usually take you out of the running for a leadership position in favor of those with seniority, it also looks like a ruse to college admissions officers (even if it isn’t).
2. Stick with it, in whichever way you like.
To stay an integral part of a club does not mean leading the charge on everything, doing all of the work, or being the boss (tough as it may be for all of us to realize). The beauty of school clubs (as opposed to jobs or committed volunteering) is that you can participate as much or as little as you like and still be involved.
I’ll use my school newspaper as an example. Some people want to be leaders, and come in for meetings and workdays with vigor. They move ahead as editors and stay involved, learning valuable skills and helping each-other along the way. Some equally as important people don’t want to do this. They stay staff writers or photographers and are just as much part of the paper as the editors, only in different ways.
But it’s not just the paper. Take a charity club, for example. If you like art, make some posters. If you like web design, create a FaceBook or Wordpress page for the cause. If you want to lead, be a leader in the effort, and if you don’t like collecting money, work somewhere else. There are millions of opportunities if you stick with a club, so don’t quit or fail to join just because you’re afraid you’ll need to do something you don’t relish.
3. Open your eyes and vary your initial school selections.
This is a tip I learned the hard way. I love journalism and so the only two clubs I joined in Freshman year were the school newspaper and the school’s FM radio station (broadcasting my own weekly news show for a year until I stopped radio as a sophomore). In middle school I had worked on the literary journal, but neglected to join up as a high school freshman. Occasionally, I regret this. My school has a great many clubs to join -- publications, charities, community and social clubs, trivia, science, and math teams, and foreign language organizations; really everything under the sun. And while I have loved every minute of working on the student newspaper, I often wonder whether I should’ve been more varied in my in-school choices. I guess this is a personal choice -- a choice I chose not to make.
But that’s not to say I didn’t do anything else.This is where the next tip comes in.
4. Look outside of school.
You know me, I’m big on the real world. If you read my AP article then you know I feel that students can really shine outside of school either as volunteers, intern-types, workers, or just concerned members of a community.
I’ll use myself as an example. I write professionally for TeenLife, and wrote some content for the Boston Globe GreenBlog. Additionally, I volunteer at a National Historical Park every summer (which is, interestingly, what I wrote my Common App essay about). Beyond that, I’ve volunteered briefly on a political campaign, I’ve participated in charity events with my synagogue (where I student-teach kindergarten inSunday morning religious school) and I’ve tried generally to go places like museums and sites to learn more about the world around me.
Letting alone the college application, these are just things that make you a more productive member of society and a completely better human being.
5. Quality, not quantity.
Now that I’ve told you to go out and do everything, let me tell you something important. For goodness’s sake, don’t do go out and do everything! I think my greater point is that you shouldn’t let anything stop you from trying something, not that you should try everything. Choose what you want to do wisely, as this is a big time commitment. If you take on too many things (even with careful consideration), it’s not going to work. Your club will end up with a useless member whose plate is too full to do anything valuable, and you will end up stressed to the nines about all the valuable things you’re not able to do. It’s a lose-lose and it doesn’t help anybody.
To summarize, keep your mind open, but keep your schedule that way as well.
6. Passion over pressure.
This sort-of goes hand in hand with Tip #5 as well as with the ideas laid out in my previous TeenLife blog post, “This Is Your Life: Planning Your Future” as well as my aforementioned AP post.
Don’t do something because it looks good on an application. Don’t do something because your parents or your college adviser want you to. Don’t do something because (and I know this sounds like sixth-grade health class) all the cool kids are doing it, or even because your friends are.
Do something because you want to, plain and simple. This is your life. Live it. This is your day-to-day schedule. Fill it how you like. This is your future! Attain it.
Carpe diem everybody! This is your day. Seize it!