The Coronavirus and College Admissions


By: Joseph Corace | Last Updated: May 6, 2020

College Bound“Extracurricular activities? How?” you might well ask. Social distancing has blown apart extracurricular activities as we once knew them — and a return to the old “normal” any time soon seems unlikely.

Faced with college applications that require you to list your non-academic activities, what you participated in before the Coronavirus shutdown could — and should — be part of a compelling story that demonstrates that you’re the type of person whom colleges want to admit.

Resilience during these unprecedented times, and involvement: yours will play a big role in upcoming admissions. And if you apply without scores to a test-optional college, your extracurriculars will be extra-important. There are thousands of enriching, possibilities distinct from your classroom curriculum. Make them part of your experience now.

It’s not just our opinion. Here’s what Jeremy Alder, founder and managing editor of College Consensus, says in a CNBC post:

importantA lot of schools take extracurricular activities into account. They want to see what you’re doing beyond school in terms of volunteer work and sports and all that, but those aren’t really available right now, so students are going to have to be creative in finding ways to make themselves stand out.

Consider how Harvard substantiates Mr. Alder’s thoughts in its list of “What We Look For:      

  • How have you used your time?girl wearing blue shirt planting plants
  • Do you have initiative? Are you a self-starter? What motivates you?
  • Where will you be in one, five, or 25 years? Will you contribute something to those around you?
  • What sort of human being are you now? What sort of human being will you be in the future?
  • In terms of extracurricular, athletic, community, or family commitments, have you taken full advantage of opportunities?
  • What is the quality of your activities? Do you appear to have a genuine commitment or leadership role?
  • What about your maturity, character, leadership…concern for others?

We’re not suggesting that you engage in activities strictly to impress admissions officers, but if you can initiate and/or participate in activities that are fulfilling for you and provide favorable answers to the above questions at the same time, the resulting effect is a win-win.

In a recent post on, Susan Chan Shifflett, a former assistant director of admissions at Yale University, wrote,

College TestInstead of seeing this time as a barrier, it’s a ripe opportunity to stand out. The Coronavirus crisis is leveling the playing field, and it’s a chance for the most creative and independent students to shine. When I was an admissions officer at Yale University evaluating applications, I was trying to figure out, “who made the most lemonade out of lemons?” or “who made the most of the resources available to them?”

Just as there are thousands of possible extracurricular activities, there are lots of them that can present you well to admission officers, and that you can engage in now. With that in mind, here’s an eclectic group for you to consider:

  • Serve others in need in ways mentioned in this CNN post titled “A guide to helping and getting help during the Coronavirus crisis,” or this CNET post titled “Millions of people can't afford food right now. How to help with Coronavirus relief,” or this (Youth Service America) post titled “Ideas to Act for the Common Good During [the] Coronavirus Crisis.”
  • Volunteer to read aloud children’s and other books for your local library’s recording library.
  • Learn a programming language through IXL, Udemy, Coursera, or EdX.
  • Take an online course through Stanford online courses or Great Courses of the World.
  • Get certified in a software product, like MS Office.
  • Become an entrepreneur by launching an online store through Etsy, Ebay, or other such sites.
  • Start a website with some friends to keep juniors and seniors in your community up to date about Covid19-related changes to college admission and enrollment for this summer/fall.
  • Enhance your writing skills through the 92nd Street Y’s young writers virtual workshops.
  • Take an online AP course through FLVS or Score At The Top.
  • Contact a local science or art museum to see if you can make YouTube recordings for some of their exhibitions, thus “opening” the museum to online visitors.
  • Brush up on foreign language skills through News in Slow French or News in Slow Spanish.
  • Do "remote science" through the projects in Citizen Science projects, with its searchable database of
  • Make YouTube videos to teach something to young students (e.g., science experiments, math tricks, coding, foreign language, current events).
  • Learn about music production through Berklee’s Electronic Music Production and Sound Design Virtual Workshop
  • Start a GoFundMe to buy lunch for local healthcare workers.
  • Start a blog about something that matters to you.
  • If you have programming skills, do home-based coding for nonprofits that need help through organizations such as Code for Social Good, Benetech, or DonateCode.
  • Help the people who are helping the rest of us through a Facebook group like Australia’s Adopt a Healthcare Worker.
  • Learn to code and develop websites through Miami’s Coding Boot Camp.
  • Take free online courses through Coursera, EdX, or a similar resource.
  • Suggest to an organization a virtual internship for you, even if it’s unpaid. It will show that you’re capable, dedicated, and mature enough to seek work and enter the work force.
  • Start a website to showcase – and help! − local restaurants that are delivering meals or offering curbside service.
  • Volunteer to help at an animal shelter.
  • Participate in an online summer immersion program in entrepreneurship through Columbia University
  • Become an online tutor.
  • Volunteer as a counselor for a crisis hotline.
  • Learn a new language via an online learning platform such as Babbel, Rosetta Stone, and DuoLingo, or use sites such as Verbling to help you find native speakers who’ll teach you their language and culture.
  • Become a remote volunteer for a political campaign.
  • Become an art-history expert by taking online tours of world-famous museums:volunteer
    • Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
    • The Louvre, Paris
    • Vatican Museums
    • Byzantine and Christian Virtual Museum
    • Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
    • São Paulo Museum of Art
    • The Frick, Pittsburgh
    • The Palace Museum: The Forbidden City, China
    • American Battlefield Trust: 360-degree Battlefield Tours
    • Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
    • George Washington’s Mount Vernon
    • Westminster Abbey, London
    • Guggenheim Museum, New York
    • Musée d’Orsay, Paris
    • Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
  • Do research remotely. Pioneer Academics, among others, offers high school students the opportunity to do research virtually while earning college credit.
  • Launch an online fundraising challenge to benefit an organization whose work is meaningful to you.
  • Hold online reading sessions to help children, adults, and ESL students improve their reading skills. ESL students in need can be found via organizations such as VipKid.
  • Explore the arts and hone your skills through Interlochen Center for the Arts: music, theater, dance, creative writing, visual arts, and film.
  • Join a global network of digital volunteers helping with research to expose human rights violations: Amnesty Decoders
  • Volunteer to assist blind and low-vision users through this mobile app: be my eyes
  • Participate in a 1- or 2-week virtual summer camp to improve your communication skills (debate, public speaking, interpersonal communication, etc): Virtual Summer Camp
  • Find a remote internship in a wide range of fields, including animation, computer science, graphic design, journalism, social media, and more: 2020 Remote High School Internships
  • Become a photographer − take online classes offered by the Los Angeles Center for Photography.
  • Start a unique project of your own, something that solves a problem, reflects your creativity and leadership, requires collaboration with others, has a positive impact on others, and leaves a legacy.

loud speakerThese are but a few extracurricular activities you might do that will help improve you, help improve the community in which you live, and improve your potential for college admission. It’s a little like cooking your very first omelet with your favorite filing; what’s not to like?

We’ve shown you where the eggs are located and handed you the recipe and the pan. Get cooking, and eat up. And call us if you’d like help starting a unique project of your own – we’ve got the ideas to guide you to fulfillment!

Topics: College Admission College Application College Counseling College Planning College Tips


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