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Category: Community Service

College Applications: Writing about Extracurriculars

Yes, yes, we know you’re obsessing about essays and scoffing at the idea of thinking about extracurriculars at this stage (“If I haven’t done them by now, chances are I won’t…”) but READ ON.

While the posts about how to make the most of your summer stressed the importance of Extracurriculars, we realize that a lot of the time, students mess up when it comes to writing about extracurriculars.

Besides the essays, the Activity Section on the CommonApp needs the maximum attention from you. The University of California has a similar section and so does every major alternative to the CommonApp. So whether you are using this particular application or not, the rules still apply. Remember to give this plenty of time because this can’t be done in a hurry.

But first…What is The Activity Section?
A section of the CommonApp that condenses the hours of effort outside of class into 10 activities total

Out of the millions of students who use the Commonapp, how do you ensure that your application stands out?

So if you keep the super fun CommonApp essay away, the application has the regular questions that any application would, hardly intriguing if one can say that! But, if you have spent a major chunk of your high school years sweating it out on the field or actively participating in extra curricular events at every possible level, the CommonApp has a dedicated section called the Activity section, to showcase them and put forth a stronger application and personal profile that will help in setting you apart. But, the trickiest bit is to understand this section and be certain about the activities that you want to talk about and ensure you have managed to leave an impression on the reviewer.

So what are the activities that I can list out?

You can list everything that you have participated in from Grade 9 on. This includes summer activities, volunteer work, internships; both in and out of school and clubs and organizations like speech and debate, music, drama, art, sports and science. The more diverse your list is, the better it is, as you come across as an individual who is open to trying out new things and will continue doing so, if admitted.

How many activities can I list out?

There are ten spaces to fill in activities, however please remember Ten isn’t necessary! Your commitment to the activity needs to come through and not the number of activities. Signs of dedication include an activity participated in continuously or an activity where you have achieved a level of distinction, either as a founder, leader or member; made a significant contribution; or were publicly recognized or won an award.

PLEASE DON’T MAKE ACTIVITIES UP TO FILL THE BLANKS. It is better to show significant participation, leadership, and personal development in 3-4 activities than write about ten activities that you were hardly involved in.

I have more than 10 activities, what do I do?

If you have listed your top 10 and have more activities to add, or feel you want to talk more about a particular activity and were limited by the 150 character limit, then the CommonApp has an “Additional Information” section where you can list these out.

To do a good job:

1. Prioritize. There are 10 spots and they should start in the order of most important to the least. Spend some extra time figuring out which one you want where.

2. Use Space Well. You don’t have too much room so don’t waste it. Write the role and the Organization in the top box so you don’t waste characters and use bigger words. Rather than “Came up with…” say “Developed.” In short places like this, every character counts!

3. Give Quantities where you can. Instead of saying “Collected money for poor” tell us “Collected $40,000 to buy back-to-school supplies for 400 slum-children”

Note: You have a place to provide hours and years so do not repeat.

4. Provide Links. This can also come into the additional information section, but it’s always great to provide a link to something tangible – a blog, a website, a newspaper article or dropbox

5. Show Leadership.You may not be President or Head Girl, but rather than just saying “Member of Football team” tell us how you may have stepped up as a leader by saying “Led football practice and coached junior members of team”

And most of all, be honest and be specific. Don’t lie or exaggerate in an unbelievable way. Don’t over-estimate hours so that the total is actually more than 24 hours a day. We still don’t have time turners.

Hence proven the CommonApp is not just an application form. It needs you to exercise those brain cells, get creative and smart with your words and put forth the best self-brand that you can! So get typing!

 

5 Takeaways: Simplifying the Application Process Workshop

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Earlier this week, as it is tradition, we had panelists from our soon to be College Freshmen class give their words of wisdom to the class of students applying this year and starting college Fall of 2017.

And so, a HUGE Thank you to the Class of 2020 Panelists who came to give their Words of Wisdom to the Class of 2021 in our “Simplifying the Application Process” Workshop at the CollegeCore Office!

Our Panelists were:

– Aditri Bhagirath – Carnegie Mellon University

– Anahita Sehgal – UCLA

– Ananya Mittal – Princeton University

– Aryaman Sethi – University of Chicago

– Rishab Srivastava – UC Berkeley

– Shankar Salwan – Northwestern University

– Shivam Bajaj – University of Southern California

– Simran Arora – Brown University

ICYMI: We had pages and pages of notes but since we can’t share them all, so see below for 5 Key Takeaways from our students.

1) Make a Balanced University List:

Balanced2

Enthusiastic parents and ambitious students may say “Ivy League or nothing else” but be realistic about it.

Dreams are dreams for a reason. You may feel right now that you want to apply to all the Ivies even if you have no chance of getting in, but each rejection hurts a lot. You need targets and safeties to balance that.

And we mean targets too. Applying to 8 Ivies and 1 safety like Drexel isn’t good either. What if you only got into Drexel? Would you go there?

Plan out Early Action and Early Decision as well but understand where it gives you an edge versus where it may be better to apply Regular Decision.

2) SAT / ACT Tips

SAT

The sooner you finish your SAT / ACT testing the better. Plus a reminder to Self-Study. No one can teach you to take the SAT, you have to put in the effort. The tutors have tips and tricks and ensure practice. Remember you are taking the test and not your tutor so the effort has to come from you in the test and before the test.

But don’t put too much pressure, the SAT / ACT isn’t the be all and end all. An excellent SAT score won’t save you if your school grades aren’t there. Remember, the SAT is a reflection of one day of exams and not of four years of prep like your grades. So balance your efforts.

3) Get cracking on your Essays

Start soon. You may write one CommonApp essay or you may write three. The most difficult part is starting. Remember you’re trying to stand out, so don’t make it generic, it needs to be about something important in your life. Don’t harp about your achievements, the rest of the CommonApp will cover that. Instead talk about challenges and motivations. Don’t be clichéd. If you are talking about a somewhat generic topic (like sports or community service), bring a new perspective like talking about your motivations why rather than narrating what happened. Don’t get too much feedback. Each perspective will confuse you and will be distracting. Do keep your focus narrow. This is a “Slice of Life” essay and a small experience and not story of your entire life. Follow us on Facebook because keep posting the latest essays available.

4) Take Charge of your Interviews

Unlike job interviews, these interviews are informal. They aren’t subject specific and can feel random at times. Prepare the questions but don’t rehearse them otherwise you will sound stiff. Balance. Guide your interviewer: You can guide the interview to discuss things you want to talk about. Suppose you want to discuss your dance and your interviewer chats about Bollywood. This is what you can do.

  • I’m a huge Bollywood dance fan!
  • But my favorite is Jazz which I’ve been learning for the last three years (showing your accomplishment)
  • In fact, I was really interested in the Jazz dance troupe at XYZ college (connecting to the college)

But don’t talk the entire time, let your interviewer talk to and let it evolve into a conversation. Remember to be prepared with questions at the end.

5) Don’t Overdo the Recommendations

There are school recommendation and external recommendations. Each University allows a different number of external though they all want 1 Counsellor recommendation and 2 Academic Teacher recommendations. But just because the college allows more, doesn’t mean you should send more. College Admissions says heavier the file, the faster it sinks. Only send them if they add value and aren’t repeating the same thing over and over.

Mantra of the Day: BALANCE

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Don’t spend all the time on school, or all the time on applications

Don’t overdo or underdo extracurriculars

Don’t make crazy unrealistic University lists

Balanced3

Make the most of your Summer – Edition 2 (Grade 11 / Rising Juniors)

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Continuing with the Game of Thrones references in our Summer Series (check out the last one here), 11th Graders and Rising Juniors, this second set of the Three Part Series on how to make the most of your summer is for YOU!!

College seems like next year’s problem, but now is the time to start! So get set, get ready, because summer time is here and we have tips for you on what you can do to be ready for college admissions.

1) University Visits

College Visits

You probably JUST got done with Grade 10 boards and for a treat, your parents are taking you to (_____INSERT COUNTRY HERE____) Whether US, UK, Europe or Canada, use this summer to go visit colleges so you can understand them better. Even if you aren’t travelling far, venture to Delhi University or NID in Ahmedabad or Ashoka in Sonipat or the tiny college near your aunt’s place in New Jersey. It’s important to start acquainting yourself with colleges now, whether in person by visiting or virtually by checking out their website and videos. For tips on how to make the most of your college visits, check out an earlier blog post here.

2) ACT / SAT diagnostic

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Once the college admissions process starts, you’ll realize that there are acronyms! Acronyms galore! But these two Acronyms – ACT and SAT – are super important standardized tests you need for the college admissions process. But before you just blindly follow what other people are doing (Sharma uncle’s son did the SAT….) take a diagnostic this summer. Figure out what you’re good at and then start studying for it. You should really plan to take your first attempt this fall (Oct / Nov / Dec for SAT and Sept / Oct / Dec for ACT). Need some help figuring out the tests, see this.

3) Summer Schools

Summer School

While the reaction to Summer Schools ranges from “Aww man” to “Yay!” there is definitely value in them. How much? That calls for another, longer post. In short – competitive summer schools, like SUMaC are a valuable indicator of a student’s capability but non-competitive ones don’t help in admissions. They do help in other ways including helping a student understand and prepare for the college-level curriculum, explore their interests (and show admissions what they do to follow them) and learn about universities first hand! But no need to head to the most expensive summer schools money can buy, colleges are coming to us! Whether its Ashoka‘s High School Program, UChicago or MIT, they are here, so make the most of them.

4) Internships

Internship

I see this reaction a lot. In fact, there are times when I think about high school students getting internships and I think of the scene in Dil Dhadakne Do when the Aunty Brigade is gossiping away and Priyanka Chopra ticks them off – “GET A JOB.” And her aunt looks up: “Paagal hogayi? Kya hamein kaun job dega? (Are you mad? Who would give us a job?)” But an internship is a great fit for a student who is looking for more specific insight into a particular industry or company, who wants to figure out what it means to be an Engineer or a do Genetics research. To get the experiences that will help guide your education and build a network of people you may want to work with some time in your life. There are a few places that will hire high school interns, however, your parents or school may be able to facilitate shadowings as well.

5) Start a Blog

Blogging

Whether it’s an interest in writing poems or commenting on the political world around you, or even cataloguing your fun chemistry experiments, a blog is a great way to share your thoughts with a larger audience. While grades and test scores are important, blogging allows you to document your experiences and demonstrate your interest in a particular field. But starting a blog in October of the year you’re going to apply is BAD. That signals that you just woke up and created an artificial interest for the sake of admissions. Instead, start NOW! Create your domain (WordPress and Blogger are great) and define your topic. Remember to stay regular. For tips and tricks on a good blog, stay tuned for an upcoming post.

6. Do Something different

Yoga

Frank Bruni’s NY Times Article saying that Stanford took 0% Applicants was the scariest April Fools Joke (because it could be true in a few years!), but he brought up a good point. The article says – “In the stack of applications that I reviewed, I didn’t see any gold medalists from the last Olympics — Summer or Winter Games — and while there was a 17-year-old who’d performed surgery, it wasn’t open-heart or a transplant or anything like that.” While we don’t want you to use your brother as a guinea pig for surgery, use the summer to step out of your comfort zones. Whether its learning acro-yoga or organic farming or even working in sanitation, do something different!

7. Study

Go Study

Grade 11 / Junior Year is NOT the time to slack off, especially if you’re applying abroad. While colleges in the US and Canada look at your grades across 9, 10, 11 and till your grade 12 midterms, Grade 11 is the last full academic year they get to see on your transcript and so it’s VERY IMPORTANT. Get ahead of class, or work hard on subjects that are tough for you. Pick up a book and study!

Make the most of your Summer – Edition 1 (Grade 12 / Rising Seniors)

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Temperatures rising and vacation approaches and as much as we want our days to devolve into lazing by the pool and watching Game of Thrones (Season 6 woohoo!) we want to give a few great tips and hints to college applicants. So this, is the first of a Three Part Series on how to make the most of your summer!

This first edition is for our 12th Graders and Rising Seniors. Before you know it, October will be here and Early Decision deadlines will be upon us. Colleges like knowing what you’ve done with your summer, so get yourself up and go out and conquer!

1) Common App essay

Essay Writing

I don’t have to repeat this to the seniors who have already started, but the Common App essay is an essential part of the process. Topics for 2016-17 came out early January  and seniors, if you haven’t already started, get a jump start on your essay! The topics are the same as last year, and are, as always, eliciting personal thoughts, opinions and stories. Whether it’s writing about a time when you stood up in class and challenged a popular opinion on the way a student election was going, or stepped up to become an adult, taking on responsibilities that transformed your perspective, the colleges can’t WAIT to know. A CommonApp essay is never one and done, and the summer is the perfect time to work on your drafts, give yourself the time to work, rework and rework again.

Essay Writing 2

If THIS is how you’re feeling, reach out to us! We’re doing essay brainstorming sessions with our students every week.

Pro Tip: Carry a notebook or start a notes section on your phone. The most fascinating essays we’ve ever read have been inspired at the oddest moments – on a plane when cut off from all wi-fi and external distractions, a student reflected on an illuminating trip to Haridwar or when the metro broke down and a student stepped back to observe the people around him.

2) Recommendations

Summer means school is closed! And while you as students are looking at filling your free time, so are your teachers. Before school closes, you should absolutely request your teachers for Letters of Recommendation – THEY ARE FREE! Remember, your teachers are probably writing letters for dozens of students and in case you’re applying early and hoping that your teacher can get your thoughts in on time, give them time to work on it.

Recommendation

Pro Tip: While it’s a good idea to get a teacher who can comment on your academic readiness for the major you are applying for, it’s more important to choose someone who really knows you. Remember to help your teachers by giving them a copy of your resume or list of activities, maybe even filling out a page of anecdotes reminding them of a time you participated in class, interacted with them on something important (whether inside or outside the classroom) or went above and beyond.

3) Standardized Tests

SAT Koala

The last few attempts of the SAT and the ACT before the Early Deadlines (Nov 1) are upon us. You have two attempts of the SAT (June & October) and two attempts of the ACT (June & September) left to finish up your Standardized Tests and Subject Tests. The summer is a great time to work on them and make sure you nail the exams. If you’re still unsure, read up on the New SAT vs the ACT.

Pro Tip: Both exams are marathons, not sprints. We aren’t SAT / ACT coaches but, as third party bystanders, the biggest mistake we’ve seen students making is not enough full-length tests. When the students tire at the end of three hours, they make stupid mistakes, ruining the effort they’ve put in. Use the summer to do at least 20 practice tests! Then go kick that exam’s ass.

4) Research Colleges

Besides the Common App essay, you will have the much-dreaded Why X College essay, so use the summer to research colleges and finalize your college list. You may not get the chance to go visit colleges (check out our tips if you do) but you can still do your research while at home. This first great resource is the website. No seriously, the website is there for prospective students, so USE IT. Next, check out the college on social media.

Research College Social Media

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, keep up with colleges via their social media networks. Just don’t forget to clean up your own.

Pro Tip: Besides primary data, use forums like College Prowler, College Confidentional and Unigo to learn more. Additionally, YouTube is an amazing resource as well, for college virtual tours and general videos to get a sense of the campus.

5) CommonApp Application

Roll Over

Late 2015, Common App announced a new feature – the Common App Rollover! This is a huge change for us all because seniors would otherwise have to wait till August when the new Common App came out to begin their applications. While students still need to wait for the supplements, you can now get a jump start filling out oodles of data in the Common App during your summer. So grab your passport and information and settle in, let’s get this show on the road.

Random Note: We as counselors love the Common App for bringing families together. Confused? Well, every time we sit with a student to help them through the app, we reach a point when they need to call their parents – “Dad, when did you go to college?” The sound of a student reaching out to their parent to learn more about them warms our hearts. And makes us laugh.

6) Activities

Oprah Resume

I wish it was that easy, but ever since Oprah retired, you have to WORK for the resume. Once you start the application, you’ll realize that the Common App has 10 little sections for you to write about your involvement in various extracurricular activities. Depending on the kind of person you are, 10 can either be a lot or too little. This section isn’t easy and can take a lot of time for a few reasons 1) you need to rank your activities 2) you need to condense your experience with each activity into a character limit smaller than a tweet.

If you don’t have 10 activities, the summer is a great time to find some! It could be Community Service or an Internship, or something that sets you apart. But really, you don’t have to cure Cancer to get into Harvard or Stanford, you can find other activities to pique the admissions officers’ interest. Admissions Officers are looking for a few things – Leadership, Depth vs Breadth and time spent – and they use that connect to what you would do on campus.

Pro Tip: Start with a resume so that filling out the sections becomes easier.

7. Online Courses

Mooc

I know I know, you’re sick of hearing about them. But really, MOOC’s have been a boon, allowing students to explore their interests beyond the curriculum. Looking at the rigid CBSE and ICSE curriculums in particular, the classes you attend in school rarely allow you to mix and match across interests or show that you can and will go above and beyond. Thus, online courses are extremely valuable because they allow you to show an array of interests and explore your major in greater detail. Check out Coursera, MOOC List, eDX for a few! Moreover, colleges understand the value too and have been asking you about them. Brown had an essay in 2015 that said – “Please list the courses, including those you may have taken outside your secondary school, that relate to your chosen field.”

Pro Tip: Look for certified courses so that you are able to share them with colleges. You can also refer to these courses in Why Major type essays.