This is the next video in my series on extracurricular activities. If you missed the previous posts you can find them here:

Today I’m going to explain how students need to have extracurricular activities to match the type of programs to which they are applying. This means the less competitive the university, the less emphasis will be placed on a student’s activities. However, students considering more selective school (top state universities and hard-to-get-into private colleges) may find the same resume that is fine for one program is holding them back in a more competitive environment.

I find many students have difficulty understanding the difference in demands. My best way to describe the increasing expectations for activities is to draw an analogy to sports. In this video I describe how you can evaluate your resume in light of the particular schools or programs you are considering.

You don’t have to be considering Harvard, Rice, or Stanford for this information to apply to you. As many state schools become increasingly competitive, understanding how your resume can help (or hold you back) is essential.


Are your extra curricular activities holding you back when it comes to admission to top programs or top schools?

I’m Megan Dorsey from I’m also the cohost of “The College Prep Podcast” and I work with a lot of students who think that simply having top grades and a few focused extracurricular activities will be enough to get into a top program or one of the ultra-competitive schools. And then they’re sadly disappointed.

In fact, every year we hear stories from around the country of top students– valedictorians with perfect test scores– who are denied admission and surprised because they thought that those grades and those test scores were, we’re just going to be like the silver bullet, the magic ticket to get them in and they realize too late that a lot of the students who got in had equally strong grades and scores, but also had some incredible resumes.

So is your resume holding you back? Do you have the extracurricular activities to get into the school you want? And can I get into a local college? Sometimes that might be your community college or probably it doesn’t matter what activities you’ve done, if any, but then we move up more and more competitive.

Maybe you’re looking not just to go to one of your state schools, but the top school, we call that the flagship university, that in my case in Texas is University of Texas or Texas A & M. In California, that’s UCLA and Berkeley as opposed to maybe your Cal State schools.

Or maybe you want to get into a top ranked program. The school itself might not have the biggest name, but you want to get into the best musical theater program.

Or then we get into those ultra-competitive schools, the Ivy League and Ivy-like schools, and each step along the way, you need to have a better developed resume.

In other words, just as we could see, your grades and your scores have to improve to get in as we go. So does your resume, and I think the best way to make this clear to people is to give a sports analogy.

A number of years ago I was working with a top swimmer. He every year in high school was always making the state meet fast times. He was the captain of the swim team, best swimmer at his school and I was asking him, you know what type of schools are you’re looking at? I know you’re thinking of doing a swim in college. And he shook his head. He said, “Oh, Mrs. Dorsey, I can’t swim for UT. You have to be a Olympic fast to swim for UT. And I know on fast, but I’m not that fast.” And then he was able to outline a number of other schools from, “Hey, I’m fast enough here, but I might not get a lot of time to swim– might not play a lot.” Versus if I go to some of these other schools, “I might almost be too good for their program. I’m not going to improve enough with the coaching and the competition that I have around me.”

So a lot of times we can identify, we can think about that and we can say, Oh yeah, I can think of that great basketball player who’s just not big enough, fast enough, strong enough to play at the big division one school, but might be a great asset to a team at a division two or division three school.

So if we think about our academic extracurricular activities, like athletes might think about their sports and they know their stats and they know how they fit in, I think you can get a better idea of “do you have a strong enough resume?” He didn’t have fast enough times to swim for a particular school. Do you have a strong enough resume to make it at the types of schools you’re looking at?

Recently I met with a student who told me he has got great grades, top of his class, a near perfect SAT score. We were working on getting National Merit recognition with his PSAT and he said he’s interested in engineering. And I was asking him what sort of schools you interested in? He said, he thinks his top choice is Stanford. And I said, “well, do you have the resume for Stanford? I know you’ve got the grades and you working on those sat scores. Do you have the resume to go to Stanford?”

He said, “well, um, I think so. You know, I’m involved in NHS and I’m captain of the robotics team,” and he listed a couple other minor things and I just kind of shook my head and I felt like saying you’re like the swimmer who’s trying to compete on an Olympic level team, but you don’t have the times. There’s nothing wrong with being involved in what you’re involved with, but that type of resume is not going to get you into this type of school because everybody else who’s applying there with great grades and great scores has a much better developed resume than you do. And I think sometimes it’s hard because we see local, we see what’s going on at our school. “I’m the top of my school”, he was the captain of his robotics team, but I said that’s not going to be enough.

You know how many captains of the robotics teams from different schools are going to be applying for Stanford engineering? What else can you do to help yourself stand out?

Next week I’m going to finish up my series on extracurriculars and I’m going to give some answers to the question of what else can you do to stand out? What can you do beyond joining the clubs available to you at school or participating in sports or pursuing your interest? What can you do to develop a resume that’s not just going to take you to a local college, but that’s going to help you get in those top schools in your state or those highly ranked programs that might prepare you for ultra-competitive admissions. So go over to college prep sign up to receive my newsletter and stay tuned for answers on what else you can do so that your extracurriculars are not holding you back.