Essays & Extracurricular Activities: Impressing College Admissions Officers

There’s no magic formula when it comes to what College Admission Officers are looking for in a student. So the question becomes, “How do you get noticed in the sea of college applications?” While grades are important, many experts believe that what makes a student’s application stand out are two main elements: the personal statement, or essay, and extracurricular activities.

Personal Statement/Essay

Many colleges will ask a potential student to submit an essay, or personal statement, which is an opportunity to share more about oneself than the application alone can reflect. It is the subjective factor, and one of the few ways a student can communicate even indirectly with admissions officers to give them a feel for their personality, values and passion. With the right essay, a student can make their presence felt and convey to the reader a sense of who the student is and what they care about. It’s a vital part of the application and one of the few areas in which the student has control. In addition to building a good story about the student, the essay measures the writing ability of the student; it shows college admission officers that a potential student can support his or her ideas with logical arguments. College admission officers want to hear an original voice in the student’s own words; a well-written essay can tip an admission officer’s decision in a student’s favor.

Here are a few tips that will help answer the questions, “Tell us about yourself” and “Why do you want to go to our school?”

  • Focus on just a few things and avoid the urge to “spill everything” at once.
  • Do not simply write out the resume in paragraph form. It’s better to develop one small event, person, place or feeling with a lot of narrative and specifics.
  • Tell a story in the essay; don’t just list facts.
  • Make absolutely sure you know the subject well.
  • Don’t go overboard with flattery. Sound sincere but not ingratiating.
  • Know the importance of writing an informed essay. Do not write about a fantasy meeting with a famous artist, for example. Make it about your own life.

Extracurricular Activities

In addition to selecting candidates based on academic promise and ability, college admission officers are looking for students who have contributed their time and leadership skills to their school and community, also known as extracurricular activities. Most colleges ask a student to list extracurricular activities on their application. College admissions officers don’t tell a student which clubs to join or what organizations in which to become involved. Instead, they hope that a student develops one or two areas of interest, or extracurricular activities, that they are passionate about. Colleges want students to use their imagination and resources to develop and refine their interests. Becoming involved in school or outside of school will make a student more appealing to a prospective college.

What counts most to college admission officers is quality, not quantity of extracurricular activities. They look at how long and how deeply a student has been committed to one or two interests, how much time they have spent each week doing that activity, what leadership role if any they have undertaken and what the student has accomplished.

To learn more about how Westface College Planning can help you and your student prepare for college, call us at 650-587-1517 or sign up for one of our Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Workshops.

Photo Credit: Stewart Black

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