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What Do Selective Colleges Look for in an Applicant? Engagement Beyond the Classroom: The Extracurricular Record (page 2)

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Apr 28, 2011

Community Service

Many colleges also like to see that a student has been willing to contribute time and effort to help others through community service. There are lots of ways to do this, and in fact some high schools require a certain number of hours of community service for graduation. Just as in extracurricular activities, sustained involvement over time is a plus, and a major time commitment will have more impact on your application than one that is less extensive. Generally, a leadership role in a community service activity, in addition to a major time commitment to it, will have the most impact of all since it reflects the student’s energy level and ability to work effectively with others.

Work Experience

Most college applications give students an opportunity to list their work experience. Depending on its nature, paid work can nicely complement a student’s special interests (for example, designing Web pages or working with developmentally disabled children). Work can also demonstrate leadership ability, if the student has a job that involves supervising others. Finally, an extensive work commitment can reflect the student’s socioeconomic background and indicate that the income is important to supporting the student and even the family. Admissions officers realize that work responsibilities of this type can limit how much time a student can devote to other activities.

Students who do activities out of their own interests and passions and who create activities for themselves stand out—even if the activities were done down the street and not in an exotic locale. Students who do activities because their parents pay for them and they need résumé dressing are a dime a dozen and blend into the overall pool.  - Parent with experience in the admissions process

Follow Your Commitments

Students interested in applying to selective colleges sometimes try to get involved in specific activities, such as community service, that they think will look good to college admissions officers. In reality, admissions officers prefer a student who has had sustained involvement in one or more activities and grown from them—it doesn’t much matter what those activities are.

Second-guessing what colleges want is usually futile—and not much fun. Do what you love. It makes much more sense to get involved in what really interests you than to try to fit your interests to some preconceived (and probably inaccurate) idea about what colleges want to see.

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