How Do I Show Colleges I Play Tennis if I'm Not on My School Team?

Question: How can I show colleges that I play tennis regularly (as an extracurricular) without actually being on my school team? I'm in 9th grade, and my high school tennis team is extremely good, and therefore very hard to make. I do play in USTA tournaments though, and am planning on participating in them more often (~ once a month). Is this enough to present tennis as an extracurricular?

First the good news ...

Your college applications will give you the opportunity to list (and briefly describe) all of your extracurricular activities. You can put whatever you want on this roster and aren't limited to organized school clubs or teams. For instance, if you compose flute solos in your free time, correspond with a pen-pal in a foreign country, and play daily heated chess matches against your dad, this is all legitimate application fodder and might even be more interesting to admission officials than the predictable school endeavors. Thus, you should definitely include your tennis on an activities list, explaining that you do it on your own and have also been in USTA events.

Now the bad news ...

While admission officials will certainly view your tennis as a productive use of your time, it probably won't do much of anything to make you stand out in a crowd or to push your application toward the “In" pile. College folks do respect students who make a commitment to sports, but when it comes to doling out admission “hooks," they are largely focused on the athletes who are strong enough to contribute to the college team and are recruited by a coach ... whether by being a star on a school team or by moving up the ranks in competitions outside of school. Most other athletic undertakings will be seen as “worthwhile" but won't give acceptance odds a boost.

Yet, regardless of its impact on college verdicts, tennis is a great addition to any teenager's schedule and can be a wonderful way to stay fit and make friends throughout a lifetime. So I hope you stick with it ... and maybe you'll even improve enough to make your school team later on.