When it comes to college admissions, a student’s grades, course rigor, and test scores are always the most important factors of consideration. But of course, a student’s extracurricular activities can really differentiate an application.
Activities let schools know what a student is interested in. More importantly, extracurricular activities can (and should) show a student’s leadership, commitment, passion, perseverance, teamwork skills, initiative, focus, character, effort, maturity and interest in others.
When it comes to extracurricular involvements, many students shy away from faith-based involvement for a variety of reasons. Some of our Jewish clients, for example, mention that admissions officers may be anti-Semitic or prefer a particular religion. While this may be true – and impossible to know – we would argue that you do not want to attend a college that has anti-Semitic admissions officers. And, given the number of Jews at top colleges, we’re fairly certain that this reason is based more on conjecture than on fact.
Other students feel that colleges would prefer a different type of activity such as a sport or performing art. Several of our students spend up to three hours daily on a sport, thinking that this will be the “key” to college admissions. And, in very few cases, it is. But, for most students, all it does is ensure that this child will have a “one activity” resume – something not coveted by the colleges at all.
On the other hand, joining a synagogue, church, or mosque youth group gives a student many opportunities to showcase their positive traits, including leadership and character, while gaining service hours and even work experience. Anything from attending a mission trip, taking a leadership role in a Maccabi group, to volunteering to teach in a classroom can look great on the college application.
Another reason to get involved in your local religious group is because – in many communities – this is where much of the non-profit work takes place. Sure, you can go on the Internet and hunt down organizations looking for teen help. Or, you can go directly to your local rabbi, priest or clergyperson to find out about one of the many service projects taking place in your own backyard. What you are looking for is quality work with a purpose. To shine on an application, a student must maximize the time spent in extracurricular activities – any activities – by focusing, getting really involved, and working hard.
When writing about any extracurricular activities, students will want to do the following:
- Show that the involvement has been growth-producing, productive and-or meaningful. Colleges are looking to see if the student made a real difference. This can include starting a website or social media campaign for the cause, growing a tutoring group/youth group/choir, writing articles for a bulletin, increasing membership or donations, and generally making a difference in the community.
- Demonstrate leadership and initiative. Colleges would like to see students have moved up in the activity. Typically, this is signaled with a change of title and an increase in responsibility. Students who have progressed from a regular member to a position of leadership demonstrate this, for instance. Initiative includes anything a student comes up with and then executes that makes the group/organization better. For example, suggesting and then carrying through a new fundraising effort, or participating in and then organizing an event for the congregation or clergy.
- Received recognition. As possible, students should take their initiative and ideas to the highest levels they can. For example, if a student is working on a project for their JCC, they should focus on reaching further and try to spread their initiative to many or all JCCs. Significant efforts that go beyond normal efforts made by students should be publicized in hope they can gain national or international media attention. Awards and honors earned are also important. If there is an award or honor offered by the group, a student should make every effort to reach that level of recognition.
Whatever activity students choose to get involved in, faith-based activities are a great chance to set themselves apart. As we’ve said to many a parent, “I’m fairly certain your child will not grow up to be a professional lacrosse player, but she will be a Jew/ Christian/ Muslim/Jain. Let’s encourage that.”