This is the second article of our three-part blog series “How to Get Into College”.
Having dispensed with transcript, test scores, and application essay in our first installment, we follow up here with a few more “Get Into College” essentials.
#4: Extracurricular Activities/Résumé
Because college campuses are often filled to the brim with a dizzying array of non-academic possibilities to choose from, admissions people want to understand your level of interest and commitment to activities outside the structure of your transcript. On your application, you’ll probably list your most important activities, including school activities, volunteer opportunities, work, the arts, non-school athletics, public service, hobbies, etc. Why do they want to know about these? Because schools want a well-rounded student body whose members – to use a slightly jocular example – can play the flute and play fullback, dress a turkey and address an auditorium.
Sports, clubs, local government, Rotary, SCUBA, EMT, acrylics, gemology, debate, journalism, the best rhubarb pies in the South – the list of experiences about which an applicant can write is literally endless.
Admissions wants to see strong commitment to a few rather than shallow commitment to many. Participating in a Spanish Club, if all you do is eat empanadas, won’t add a single thing to your application. But if you’re an officer or member who organizes and promotes activities within Spanish Club – well, now that’s a story to tell.
So, when you list your activities in a college application and in a résumé, choose those activities to which your have contributed your energies in some explicit, positive fashion. Be able to succinctly explain your unique role, outcomes, and how they affected you and others. Remember, a résumé attached to a college application is not a document that’s part of a job application. Rather, it’s a compilation of your life outside the classroom, a life that shows commitment and curiosity. With activities, it’ll be depth over breadth.
Virtually all schools consider extracurricular activities pretty important. Got hobbies? Share them!
#5: Letters of Recommendation
Interestingly, not all schools require recommendations. That’s because those schools probably believe that no one will write a negative recommendation, so why consider them at all if they’re always going to be so positive? However, most selective schools consider recommendations to be a vital part of an application – and they usually want two recommendations. ALWAYS check the application requirements of the schools to which you’re applying. Without required recommendations, your application will not be complete, and you won’t even be considered!
Tap your junior core-course teachers, especially in subjects related to your intended major (Medicine? Chemistry teacher; Journalism? English instructor; Unsure about your major? The teachers who know you best). You’ll most likely also need a recommendation from your school counselor or a school administrator who knows you well. When you approach a teacher, ask politely, of course, and explain that the colleges wants anecdotal information about you as a student in your recommenders’ classes rather than a general character reference.
Choose a teacher who knows you well enough to write about your academic abilities. You don’t want a very general, and somewhat tepid letter from a teacher who can’t remember you well and in whose classroom you sat with another 35 students. Are you a rising junior? Cultivate a good student-teacher relationship in the classroom this coming year. Show enthusiasm, curiosity, and maturity.
Only about 20% of schools consider recommendations as important in the application. See our opening sentence….
#6: Other Test Scores, like AP, IB, Subject Tests
Over two-thirds of schools consider actual scores from AP and IB tests of only moderate importance in the admissions decision. It’s important to actually take the tests to round out your academic experience. Being a National AP Scholar is a feather in your cap. On the other hand, a significant majority of schools don’t care about SAT Subject Test scores.
There are two instances where these scores may come in handy: when you are applying to very elite schools, and when you are on “the bubble,” i.e., your qualifications put you right on the borderline of consideration in the admissions office. Highly competitive schools may actually require that a student submit two or more SAT Subject Test scores – and successful students often submit more than the required number. As always, carefully check the admissions requirements at the earliest opportunity to determine what’s hot, and what’s not.
Part III offers our view of several more application pieces. Tune in, won’t you?