I am continuing my series on extracurricular activities. If you missed the earlier parts, you can find them here:

Extracurricular time during high school can give you an edge in your future major or career (in addition to the boost in college admission options) if you plan ahead and spend your time well.

Let’s start from the perspective of the college admissions office. They want to admit students into a variety of programs across campus. Other than applicants listing their top choice majors, how will that college know who is well suited to pre-med, engineering, business, etc? Watch the video for a key question explaining why and how extracurricular involvement can positively impact your chances for admission.

Do your extracurricular choices align with your interests? Would they show a college or future employer your passion for a subject? Do they adequately represent your interest in the field you hope to pursue in college?

Participation in clubs, summer programs, internships, research, elective classes, etc. can give you experience– which gives you a competitive edge.

Not only can extracurricular activities make you a more desirable candidate, they might save your considerable time and money in college if you can determine early on which fields are NOT right for you. A summer program in architecture might tell you that you are more interested in the structural / engineering side of building than the architecture and design aspects. How great to determine that without spending two years and thousands of dollars working through the architecture prerequisites at your university.

Not all extracurricular activities need to be focused on your future major or career, but taking time to explore these areas can be useful to you (and may help in college admission.)

Transcript:

I want to talk about how your extracurricular activities can give you an edge, not just in college admission but in your major or your future career.

I’m Megan Dorsey from CollegePrepResults.com I’m also the cohost of “The College Prep Podcast.” Last week I answered the question, “why are colleges looking at extracurricular activities?” and today I want to give you some more specific ideas on how you can use your extracurricular time, your free time, your summers, to get ahead, not just in college admissions, but also in your future plans.

I recently met with a student who is a high-achieving junior. He’s looking at some competitive schools and told me that he’s interested in studying architecture. I said, “Well that’s great. If I look at your application, your resume, your transcript, how will I know other than you telling me that you have an interest in architecture?”

And this guy said, “Well, I’ve actually been doing a few things. I’ve been learning CAD for this and I’ve been pursuing other interests, and this summer I’m going to do some things with architecture.” So he had a good answer to that. But I work with a lot of students who when they tell me “I’m interested in engineering” (or business or premed or psychology or history) and I say, other than you checking that box or listing it as a major on your application, how would anybody know? If you can’t give a good clear answer to that, then colleges don’t have a good clear answer about why you’re choosing to major in that either.

I think we need to look at why is that important. And it kind of goes to this question, “Would you select an applicant with no experience?” And sometimes when we’re thinking about college, we think, well, high school students haven’t had enough chance to have good experience. But let’s step back and let’s look at the question in general.

I’m, I’m a fan of football. Do I want my team playing a rookie quarterback or a seasoned veteran in the big game? I want the veteran, I want the one who’s proven himself. If you’re casting a show, do you take someone with zero performance ability? They may be greatly talented, but two or three weeks into the practice or preparation for the show, they might quit. They don’t know what it takes to do the type of show you’re casting them for. If you’re hiring an intern, do you want someone with zero experience or someone who’s majoring in the field or, maybe even better, somebody who’s majoring in the field who last summer interned at a competitors’ business. You know, that person knows what they’re getting themselves into.

So when colleges are looking to admit students maybe into a competitive major, our particular program, do they want to take the person with zero experience or are they going to opt for the person who has slightly more experience?

You don’t have to be a veteran NFL quarterback. Maybe you’re the intern who’s at least majoring in that particular field.

So what does this look like for college admissions?

I’ll give you an example. My own daughter is a college freshman and for the last few years she’s been interested in psychology. So the summer between 10th and 11th grade, she took an online psychology class. It was geared towards high school students. So it was appropriate for her. She didn’t have any room and her school schedule to take the elective psychology course, but she found that summer that “yes, this is something I’m still interested in.” So the summer between her junior and senior year, we had her go to a college she was interested in where they were offering a summer intensive program in psychology. She came home once again fired up. “I love this field. I loved what I was learning.” Again, confirming that that was good for her. And then her senior year her Senior AP Research topic was all about psychology. So she got to spend the whole year researching and writing about something that confirmed, in her case, that that was something she’s interested in.

But I’ve had many students who’ve had opportunities to pursue things and they came back saying, “You know, that wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.” And they then save themselves the cost, the expense, the time of pursuing college classes, a major, a career that they weren’t interested in because they got out in their extracurricular free time during high school to test the waters. “Is it something I like? Is it something I don’t like?”

So a lot of people say, “College is a chance to find yourself.” Absolutely. But colleges don’t want to admit a bunch of students who are going to wander around lost for four years. They’ve got their choice and they love to see students who’ve taken some high school extracurricular moments to test out either for positive or negative different majors or different future career options. So it’s definitely something you should be looking into as you plan your summer activities for next year or looking at where am I going to be able to spend my time because there’s so many different things I like doing. Can I find a way to fit in one or two things that will help me with my future career plans or my choice of major?

I’m going to continue my series on extracurricular activities next week with some tips on what you need to look at, especially if you’re looking at more competitive programs or schools. So go over to CollegePrepResults.com and sign up to receive my weekly newsletter.