Will Limited Extracurriculars Hurt Admission Odds?

Question: Hi! I'm a high school senior and I have some questions concerning extracurriculars. I have good grades and great SAT scores, but my ECs are a bit lacking. I'm in a few school clubs, but not in any leadership positions. I've done volunteer work here and there, but I haven't been committed to one place. However, I did have good jobs for the past two summers that illustrate my career interests. I've also been playing an instrument for years now, but I haven't received awards or recognition for it. Is this worth talking about? Also, how do you think I fare in terms of ECs? Do you think I can get into an ivy or an elite liberal arts college?
“The Dean" cannot begin to assess your admission odds at an “elite" school based on the information that you've provided here. (But if you want to fork over 150 bucks for a more accurate assessment from which The Dean will profit very minimally, I'll explain at the end how to do this.) What I can tell you now, however, is that admission folks get a bit weary of seeing the same school clubs and volunteer endeavors turn up on application after application. Paid work, on the other hand, can put a spring in their steps, especially if the job is unusual and linked to a passion and/or a career goal. So when you submit your applications, make sure it's crystal clear why you chose your summer jobs and what they entailed. You may need to use an essay, the “Additional Information" section of your applications, or a separate unsolicited letter to explain. You said that you haven't held any leadership roles in school clubs, but how about at work? Do you supervise other employees or serve as a leader at your job in any other way? If so, be sure to say so.Re music: Every admission official in the universe will view playing an instrument as a worthwhile use of your time but, at the most sought-after institutions, some sort of musical endeavor has become almost a given and won't offer a boost at admission-decision time unless your proficiency –or the instrument itself– is quite atypical. Many years ago I attended an information session at Amherst College. The room was packed with visitors, a few even perched on radiators. The admissions officer in charge asked the student next to her to introduce himself and to name his home town and one of his interests. The boy began with something like, “I'm Henry from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and I play the violin." So next in line was Ashley from Akron who played the flute. Taking a cue from his predecessors, Sam from San Antonio announced that he was a drummer, and so on around the room. It seemed to me that musical prowess is perceived as an application imperative at elite schools, much like AP classes and community service. So if you want your own instrumental experience to stand out in a crowd, consider doing something unusual with it. Entertain passersby on the street corner or in subway stations. Start a jazz band for senior citizens. You don't have to win awards to parlay your musical abilities into eye-catching application fodder that ought to be fun for you as well.

Hopefully this free advice from The Dean will be at least worth what you've paid for it. But if you want a little extra insight into your admission chances at your top-choice colleges, consider a College Karma Stats Evaluation.

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: College Karma is a business I co-founded in 2008 with my College Confidential colleague, Dave Berry, after College Confidential was acquired by Hobsons, its parent company. You can read about the Stats Eval near the top of the page here: As I said above, it's $150, and I assure you that you will get your money's worth. I also assure you that The Dean's cut of your $150 fee is so minuscule that it won't cover the cost of the Halloween candy that I am going to buy this afternoon. So I am recommending the Stats Eval for your benefit and not my own.

Keep reading Show less
Find Your Best Fit
Find your best fit college and track your favorite colleges.
Connect with your future classmates
Offer not stacking up? These articles may help
Expert advice and answers to common SAT and ACT questions