My nine-year-old looked at me last night with concern in his eyes and bemoaned the passing of another holiday season. Now that the presents have been opened and the ceremonial confetti, which marks the passing of another year, has been swept away, there is nothing to shield countless teenagers from the dreaded realization that even my young son reached, which is that it is time to go back to school.

While many students will suffer through the post-holiday blues, I see this time of year as a chance for a new beginning. Students will get the chance to start with a clean slate in the classroom as the semester comes to an end; however, the new year also offers numerous possibilities outside of the classroom.

In the increasingly competitive admissions game, where inflated GPA’s and eye-popping standardized test scores are becoming the new reality, students have to find a way to differentiate themselves from the emerging masses of over-achievers.

Colleges are looking for students who “make the most of their high school experience,” and that experience must extend outside of the classroom and beyond the confines of the normal school day. Just being in the Beta Club or making the trendy weeklong trip each summer to help underprivileged children in some exotic location is not enough anymore. Admissions representatives want to see students really get involved in their communities and take leadership roles inside and outside of school. These same admissions reps look for young men and women who appear to have a defined sense of self and the role of the individual in a greater community–and this type of understanding is not achieved by checking off the extracurricular boxes.

With this is mind, here are a few tips for how to approach each new year:

Extracurricular Activities

  • Less is more – When I was in school, I thought that the more clubs and organizations I joined the better my profile would look; however, this is simply not the case. Focus in on the few things that you are really passionate about and find ways to make a difference. Schools would rather see extended participation in a few meaningful extracurricular activities where students can take leadership roles.
  • Do what you love and the results will take care of themselves – My mother always told me to find a job I truly loved and that success would surely follow. The same logic applies to extracurricular activities. The more passionate you are about the sports, clubs or charities you are involved with, the more likely you are to continue participating in them and the greater the chance that your participation will have a profound effect on you.
  • Find a way to make it happen – Don’t let the lack of opportunities available to you at your school or in your community limit your possibilities.  If you feel passionately about mentoring special needs kids and your school does not have a program set up for that, then take the initiative to start your own program. Colleges love to see kids step outside the box to find new and creative ways to make a difference. The club you start or the charity you set up on your own may me the one thing that separates you from the other students who take the path of least resistance.
  • Don’t make excuses – You can always find a reason not to do something new. Make this the year of “yes.” Sometimes that will mean that you have to step outside of your comfort zone, but nothing good comes easy!

For more tips on leveraging your extracurriculars, come meet with the team @CollegeSC!