What does it really take to get into one of the US Ivys? If you have been studying your college options, you have probably heard of the term 'student profile.' Besides getting stellar grades, the most common advice is to show a wide range of interests, join multiple sports teams, and spend time on community services.
But are top colleges looking for students that are well-rounded? Let's dissect five common extracurricular activities that don't necessarily impress Ivy League Admission Officers:
Music Exams: In Hong Kong, students like to prove their musical skills by passing exams (the most common one being ABRSM). But getting a "distinction" in your Grade 8 piano exam doesn't differentiate you against hundreds of other applicants. Instead of getting hung up on a certificate alone, why not show colleges that you can be creative with your musical abilities?
Model UN: Model UN (MUN) has always been popular amongst students. But with thousands of high school students joining MUN, how do you stand out? Look for ways (or even better, stories) to show how you have developed your critical thinking skills and understanding of global affairs through your MUN experience. Remember, it is not the activity colleges look at, but what you have learned from it.
International Competitions: Students often come to me saying, "I traveled to Shanghai for a basketball tournament. Can I write about it in my essay?" While it's a great experience to travel with your teammates and compete with other international schools, participating in international sports tournaments will rarely impress admission officers (unless you're playing sports professionally). In fact, writing about a sports game is one of the most jaded topics for colleges. With COVID, students may not be able to travel abroad for competitions anytime soon too!
CAS= ECA: This one is especially for all the IB students. Whenever we brainstorm essay ideas, my IB students love to tell me about their CAS learnings. But admission officers would want to hear about what students have done outside of their program requirements. Ivy League schools are looking for students who are self-starters, and they would like to see how you have independently explored community service (or other activities).
Founder of a school club: "I am the founder of the first photography club on campus!" That should demonstrate initiative and leadership to colleges, right? Well, the answer is, "it depends." Elite colleges don't just look for titles (founder, president, etc.), but motivation and impact. Before you start a new campus club, think about your rationale for starting this club and what you hope to achieve from it! Does this school club fit into the overall theme of your college application?
Remember, your time is precious! Between doing well in school and prepping for your SAT/ACT, you need to be strategic about the extracurricular activities you choose. Instead of attempting to be well-rounded (participate in a variety of unrelated extracurricular activities but quite average in all), find your passion and build an extracurricular resume unique to you!