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What extracurricular activities are more appealing and noticeable to faculty at Columbia University?

Hi I’m currently a rising senior in high school and I’ve been considering which colleges I would like to go to. At the top of my list is Columbia University but it’s very difficult to get into. Are there any particular extracurricular activities that stand out more on the college applications? #high-school #college #extracurriculars

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John’s Answer

Angelica you’ve probably heard “Columbia University takes into account your extracurricular activities on your application,” but you might be wondering what that really means for you. What are colleges evaluating when they look at your extracurricular participation, and how can you ensure that your activities make a good impression? First, it’s important not to spread yourself too thin. Colleges aren’t looking for sheer quantity; they want to see passion and commitment to activities that you find meaningful. Choose a few activities that genuinely interest you and strive to take on leadership roles or otherwise contribute to the team, club, or group. Deepen and develop these interests over time. Don’t choose activities solely because you think they will impress admissions officers. They want to know what you enjoy so they can envision how you might get involved and contribute on their campuses. The bottom line is this: Participate in the extracurricular activities that you want to participate in, then think about how you can best lead and contribute in these areas.

PASSION – Your activities are supposed to be a reflection of you and what you care about. Admissions officers can usually tell when you're just doing activities to pad out your resume. Colleges love students who are passionate because, more often than not, they are the ones who will stick with something through thick and thin and go on to change the world. You can show passion by focusing on a couple activities and dedicating a significant amount of time to them.

LEADERSHIP – Leaders are the people who will be at the forefront of change and the first to take on new challenges. Since colleges are looking to educate and shape the leaders of tomorrow, they love to see students who are taking initiative to be leaders through their extracurricular activities. You can do this by leading a group or activity, being in charge of a project, or otherwise motivating or directing other students.

IMPACT – How have you changed your activity for the better? Have you expanded membership or the amount of activities your extracurricular does? If you saw a problem, did you fix it? Once again, colleges are looking for the people who are going to change the world someday. In your activities, you can show them that you're the type of person who takes something and leaves it better than you found it.

Angelica aside from any of the previous evaluative components, genuine, demonstrated interest in Columbia University and your choosien engineering major is an often overlooked and unused aspect of college applications. Expressing your specific interest in a certain program or initiative proves to admissions officers that you have done your research, and helps give them an instant image of you making a direct impact on campus. While the components discussed above are used by universities to evaluate countless applicants year after year, all you can really control is your own distinct voice, perspective and performance where it counts. Put in the effort, always do your best, and you will be just fine.

I hope this was helpful Angelica

John recommends the following next steps:

National Honor Society (NHS) – National Honor Society is an organization for high-achieving students that focuses on scholarship, leadership, and service. To join, you must have at least a 3.0 GPA, and teacher recommendation forms are typically required. NHS prefers candidates who have demonstrated good character, as well as a commitment to service and leadership. If you decide to participate in NHS, consider going for a leadership position, such as president, vice president, or treasurer of the club. Being an NHS officer demonstrates that you’re a top leader among some of the best students in your school, which is certainly attractive to colleges.
STEM Clubs – If you’re still interested in technology and engineering, it’s a great idea to join a STEM-related club at your school. This is especially true if you’re applying to Columbia University, where the admissions team wants a class of students who are deeply curious and passionate about STEM fields.
Self-development – Finally, universities want to see that you’re a self-starter. Taking a massive open online course (Mooc) can highlight that you are serious about studying – and will often come with a certificate once you’ve completed it. This small time commitment can improve your personal statement. Otherwise, consider entering competitions to prove your capability against other students. Take part in an essay competition and you’ll stand out from the rest.

Thank you so much! That was super helpful. Angelica P.

Your Welcome Angelica, It was my Pleasure. Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value. John Frick

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EmilyAnn’s Answer

I think it's really awesome that you've set such ambitious goals for yourself. Go you! As far as extracurriculars go, it's hard to find something that is completely unique to you. I'd look for things that you do outside of school, rather than extracurriculars that students at other schools might also be involved in. These schools are getting thousands of applications and most are top students with great GPAs and involvement. So, you really want to find something about yourself that really sets you apart from others and run with it. Maybe you've worked with a charity that isn't very well known, or volunteered your time doing something really unique; or maybe it's something like a small side business that you've put time and effort into. The best way to stand out for a school that turns away thousands of extremely qualified applicants is to prove to them that you're different and unique and will add value to their community.

I'm not sure what other schools you're looking at or the reasons Columbia is your top choice, so this may not apply. My best advice, though, would be to expand your search beyond Columbia/Ivy Leagues. I love that you've set a high bar for yourself and wanting to get into a tough school is amazing. With that being said, sometimes these schools are incredibly expensive for the value and you shouldn't get down on yourself if you can't get in. While you may have a great experience and education at Columbia, that isn't to say other smaller/more affordable won't provide the same. At the end of the day, you should be looking for a place where you will get a good education and has an environment that will support your growth and development as a student and emerging professional. In my experience, I got into a few top rated private schools, and ultimately chose to go to my state school. Not only am I getting a great education and love my school's environment and culture, I am so glad to not have huge student loans on my shoulders that I would have had going to some of those other schools. At the end of the day, it's really what you make of it, and the name of the school will do very little in the eyes of a future employer. But of course, if you consider all the pros and cons and still really really want to go to Columbia, go for it!

Good luck and I wish you success wherever you end up!!

Thank you so much! I appreciate it. Angelica P.

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Alexandra’s Answer

I would agree that what matters is that you show passion about your extracurriculars and show consistency as well. For example, if you played volleyball for a semester in high school and then switched to dance, that does not show consistency. But if you spent a couple of years on a sports team, debate club, volunteering activity or drama/dance group and you performed/competed with others, this would look impressive. Always put on your resume the following:

- how many hours per week you participated in the extracurricular activity
- for how many school years you did it
- what kinds of events or competitions you did as part of this activity
- what kind of awards or certificates you won

Here is an example:

School Modern Dance Group - 2018-2020, rehearsals 3 times per week for 2 hours a week, two performance per year in front of an audience of 300, travelled to other schools to perform, coached new members;

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Nathaniel’s Answer

I've been away from Columbia for a long time (College '72; Grad School '80; faculty '81), but I talk with younger graduates from time to time. I gather that what registers most in terms of extracurricular activities is service to others, especially to communities: social/political organizing; health provision, teaching. Personal skills--musicianship, arts, writing--are important, but they'll count more if you also have the community part.