Extracurricular activities

What's really important junior year?

Get the lowdown on grades, extracurriculars and more in our conversation with Teen Life, Dealing with Junior Year StressJunior year is important but, more significantly, it feels important because there is so much going on. Students are juggling a lot -- testing, extracurriculars, campus visits, researching colleges.  But, despite what you hear, applying to college is not rocket science. There is no secret. It doesn't require an advanced degree. Colleges aren't asking 17-year-olds to do anything that 17-year-olds aren't capable of doing.  Applying to college is like any large project, you just need to break it down into smaller manageable parts. Keep that in mind as you start this process.

Our Updated Guide to The Application Form is Available Now!

The Common Application goes live next week -- on Friday, August 1! So we're bringing you a real-time digital supplement to College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step -- our completely revised and updated guide to The Application Form .

It's a complete guide to filling out the college application, which serves as the cornerstone of a student's admission file, including:

Writing Your High School Story: College Admission Advice for 9th and 10th Graders

Speak up in class, learn a system of note-taking, be kind, don't worry about testing until 11th grade, and read, read, read... Mark Moody, Co-Director of College Counseling at Colorado Academy, joins us again with advice for 9th and 10th graders about how to write a high school story that will have a happy ending. 


You’ve made it to the end of another school year! Before you totally shift out of school mode and into your summer adventures, it’s a good time to take a minute to reflect on your school journey as it’s shaping up. Do you feel confident, not so great, or indifferent to your academic record and extracurricular life so far? Now that you have the lay of the high school landscape, you have the tools to directly shape your response to that question for next year and the years after.

Juniors: It's a Myth that some Summer Programs Can Enhance Your Chances of Admission

As you look ahead to how you will spend your summer, we have some advice for you about leadership training or enrichment programs and on-campus academic programs. It is a myth that some of these programs can especially enhance your chances of getting into college.

Leadership training and enrichment programs— for example, the Congressional Youth Leadership Council or the National Young Leaders Conference— position themselves so that when the “invitation” arrives in the mail, students might think they have been specially selected to participate. But even if there are baseline GPA requirements and teachers are required to nominate students, these programs are not selective and have a hefty price tag of thousands of dollars. Undertake such an activity only if it aligns with your interests and is something you’d do even if colleges were never to learn about it. Participation will usually not be a plus factor in an admission decision.

Juniors: Just Do It!

Students -- and parents -- are constantly asking us what colleges want to see students doing outside of the classroom. Volunteer work, student government, a sport, a club? Here's the answer: There is no resume of activities that will guarantee admission to college. You can be involved in soccer, band, debate, robotics, hold a part-time job, have a consuming hobby like cooking or have family responsibilities like caring for younger siblings. But colleges do want to see you do something. If you are sitting on the couch playing video games all day, colleges will not regard that as a positive -- unless you're designing video games.

So this week's advice is: Just do it! Remember, colleges are looking at what you do outside the classroom to understand who you are, but also to understand what you will contribute to the community once you’re on campus. And at this point in your high school career, you may also want to take the initiative and consider a leadership position in whatever activity most interests you.


Seniors: A memorable essay? Might be family breakfasts, piano lessons, or raising pigs...

A couple of years ago, the New York Times published an article claiming students were cultivating summer experiences such as expensive internships or exotic travel experiences "with the goal of creating a standout personal statement." Quick, buy a ticket to Shanghai! NOT! Some form of this urban myth wanders through the hallways of high schools across the country during essay writing season.

This "strategy" couldn't be more wrong-headed. Or, as a former admission officer on Robin Mamlet's staff at Stanford put it -- more colorfully --in an email to us, "YUCK.  That should be YUCK in all caps, bold, italics, the works. With many, many exclamation marks."

What's Trust Got To Do With It?

What place does trust have in the college application process? College advisor Alice Kleeman joins us again this month to talk about trust -- as well as accountability and honesty -- among students, counselors and the colleges. Join her here to learn more about life lessons, integrity, and the meaning of signing on the dotted line.


The hand inevitably shoots up in the back row, just after I’ve explained to a class of juniors or seniors that they will “self-report” their extracurricular activities on their college applications. “But how do they know I’ve really done what I say I’ve done?” The question will be asked. After 19 years of speaking to students about college admission, this is a point of certainty.


Ah, one of my favorite topics: trust. If we stop to think about it, without trust—among applicants and their families, college officials, and counselors—the entire process falls apart like a poorly constructed house of cards. And yet it’s one aspect of college admission that we don’t talk about much, and when we do, cynicism arises on all sides.


Call me Pollyanna (Pollyalice?), but I’m an extremely trusting soul when it comes to the issues that ask for our trust in this process.


Guess what, students? You're in Control!

John Carpenter is back this month with some thoughts about who is really in the driver's seat during the college application process. While it might feel like the college admission offices are steering, if you pay attention you'll see that students have the wheel much of the time. Read on and reevaluate what you've been feeling if things are feeling out of control.

One thing I hear constantly from high school kids over and over is that applying to college is stressful.  And psychologists tell us that stress comes from a feeling that we are not in control -- especially the big stuff.  Getting into college falls into the “big stuff” category. But students have more control in this whole process than they may realize. So, let’s analyze that.

Tufts' Admission Dean Lee Coffin has a George Plimpton Moment

Lee Coffin, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Enrollment Management at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, is having a George Plimpton moment.  Plimpton was a writer famous for his "participatory journalism" which included suiting up for the preseason with the Detroit Lions. Coffin, along with Assistant Director of Admissions Justin Pike, followed suit and donned a full set of gear -- with his bowtie peeking out -- to join the Jumbos for a preseason practice session.

Read the entire post -- Oh, Snap! -- here about his brief tenure as part of the offensive line, special teams and sprint training. "My sanity wasn't tested so much as my stamina!  I had no idea that football players needed so much aerobic capacity!" said the 167-pound Coffin.

Time, time, time... Advice on Squeezing it All into the College Application Years

If experience has taught me anything about these waning years of hands-on parenting it is that there is very much a time and a place for parents to help. The area where parents can do their kids the greatest service is in time management.  Even the most mature teens would be hard pressed to recognize at the outset the huge demands on their time as the wind through the final years of high school.  Our role, I believe is not to do things for them, but to help them envision the process, its demands and how they will squeeze it all into their busy lives.

Here are some suggestions to help them on their way:

1. Help your child plan out their academic life

Sit down with your 9th grader or 10th grader and their high school course catalogue and plan backward from 12th grade. Together, think about what they hope to accomplish academically over their high school years. Help them pick the most challenging classes they hope to take in the subject areas they enjoy. Have them look at the prerequisites for these classes and the paths they are going to take to reach their goals. Granted interests change and so do school schedules, but but kids with a plan have goals for themselves.

2. Ask your child to select one activity in which they will try to excel.