Starting the School Year off Strong

Whether you are a first-year student or an experienced high school senior, each year of high school is important for your college application. Beginning the year with a clear set of goals to keep you on track and focused will boost your resumé, show your effort on your transcript, and shine through in your letters of recommendation. Some goals to set include: 

  • Getting Involved with School Extracurricular Activities

Colleges love to see long-term commitment to extracurricular activities. This is a true case of valuing quality over quantity. For example, being on one athletic team for all four years of high school and in one school club for all four years of high school, with demonstrated growth and potential for leadership, is more valuable than trying out for a different sport and joining three news clubs but not sticking with them every year. 

As a first-year high school student, it is okay to explore new clubs and interests. However, by 10th grade and above, your resumé should have a focused list of activities and teams you have been involved with for 3 – 4 years. The strongest applicants will also share awards and leadership roles.

  • Leadership

It is wonderful to be involved and passionate; but, your application will stand out even more with proven leadership experience. This does not mean you have to be president and captain of every activity. Any title held and recognition to show your continued devotion to a group and effort to keep improving, is a valuable addition to your resumé. 

Given the opportunity, plan ahead for your college application by setting goals for each year. For example, in 9th grade you will find 2 – 3 activities to commit to. In 10th grade, you will run for a board member position in those clubs or find a job or volunteer experience related to those activities to expand your experiences. By 11th grade, you will have possibly accompanied your club or team to a competition, applied for a summer internship related to your career interests, and demonstrated increased leadership and responsibilities as a now upperclassman in your activity. All of these small steps and goals will lead to creating a very strong and competitive application packet for college. 

  • Volunteer

Involvement with your high school’s organizations (teams, clubs, arts, student government, etc.) is what colleges will look for first and foremost. Colleges want to know you are someone who seeks to be an active member in your school community and will bring those same values to your college campus. However, after looking at extracurricular involvement, colleges will also consider your volunteer experience within your local community, and beyond. 

In the best case scenario, the club or team you are involved with in school, will also partake in volunteering opportunities. However, to further demonstrate other causes you are passionate about supporting, finding ways to help outside of school will stand out to colleges. If you are struggling to find places to volunteer, consider your career interests and where you can gain experience. A hospital, an elementary school or day camp, an animal shelter, a local radio station, etc. 

Many colleges make it clear in their mission statement that they value service to others, so you will especially want to highlight this if you apply to a school that explicitly states they prioritize service. If not, it’s good to know that all colleges look to accept young adults who strive to be positive contributors to the greater society. 

  • Take Challenging Courses 

Lastly, let’s not forget that having a good school year means having a strong academic record as well. At the most simple of formulas, one way to evaluate if your transcript will be competitive is the number of advanced courses you take each year: 

9th grade: 0 – 2 AP or Honors courses

10th grade: 1 – 3 AP or Honors courses

11th grade: 2 – 4 AP or Honors courses

12th grade: 3 – 4 AP or Honors courses

Total: 6 – 13 AP or Honors courses through your time in high school

An AP-packed transcript does not work for every student. The goal to keep in mind here is presenting your best self through consistent growth, improvement in grades, and going above and beyond where you can. Take elective courses in areas that relate to possible careers, such as human anatomy if you might want to be a Physical Therapist or Women’s Writers if you are passionate about female empowerment. Talk with your guidance counselor or another academic advisor you trust early on in your high school experience to plan your schedule accordingly and take advantage of all the classes you may want to explore. 

Overall, colleges want to see well-rounded, dedicated, and passionate students who are eager to make a positive impact on their college campuses. Balance is key in building your resumé. Straight A+ grades and a perfect test score won’t outweigh minimal commitment to extracurricular activities and vice versa. Take some time to determine your strengths, inside and outside the classroom. Work hard to make those strengths shine while dedicating time to areas of improvement. 

If you need support in creating a game-plan for high school (and beyond) or more resumé building strategies, the team at EPC is here to help!

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