The extracurriculars you participate in in high school really allow you to showcase your various passions and interests. Admissions officers can sense your excitement about the activities you really care about — it's evident in how you chose to spend your free time.
You should never do things just for the sake of it looking good on college applications. Admission counselors are trained in detecting disingenuity a mile away — it really detracts from your application. They want to know you as a person, what things makes you jump out of bed, your interests, world view, etc.
With this in mind, often times students don't know about the sheer variety of activities that exist. Here's a small list of some of the more popular activities (please feel free to contribute any other activies...you can edit this wiki anytime!) For each item, we've indicated the prominence or value of the activity in italics — this denotes how much colleges value those specific activities.
- International Science Olympiads - All of these science olympiads have multiple rounds of selection for the team that will represent the USA in the international competition. Medium to Very High
- USNCO (US National Chemistry Olympiad) / International Chemistry Olympiad.
- U.S. Physics Team / International Physics Olympiad.
- USABO (USA Biology Olympiad) / IBO.
- USAAAO (USA Astronomy and Astrophysics).
- North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad / International Linguistics Olympiad (ILO)
- United States Geography Olympiad / International Geography Olympiad
- USA ESO (US Earth Science Olympiad) / International Earth Science Olympiad
- US Philosophy Olympiad / International Philosophy Olympiad
- Science Fairs / Research Showcases
- Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF). Very High
- The Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. Very High
- Google Science Fair. High
- Imagine Cup. Students 16 and older are eligible to enter Microsoft’s global competition by creating an original technology project from start to finish in one of three categories: games, innovation and world citizenship. High
- Brain Bee - similar to the spelling bee except you're asked questions about neuroscience. Later stages of the competition also include practical components like brain anatomy, disease diagnosis, etc. Medium to High.
- Summer research programs - In general, summer research programs are a great way to get practical experience solving a real problem. High schoolers who go through these programs can get a good view into the lives of grad students / researchers.
- Research Science Institute (RSI) - Very prestigious summer research program. 80 of the world's most accomplished high school students work with amazing professors for a summer. Very High
- SSP – The Summer Science Program - Summer program involving astronomy, physics, programming, etc. High
- Simons Summer Research Program. High
- Clark Scholars Program. High
- High School Honors Science Program (HSHSP). High
- The Garcia Center for Polymers at Engineered Interfaces High School Summer Research Program. High
- Science Olympiad. Goes from regional competitions --> state --> international. Medium to High
- Unpaid research at local colleges, universities, or labs - this is super useful since its practical experience in your field of interest. It shows initiative since you were able to reach out and get an internship as a young high school student.
There are a ton of math competitions offered for high school students. Some are for particular states / counties only - a master list can be found here.
- American Mathematics Competition (AMC) / American Invitational Mathematics Competition (AIME) / USA Mathematics Olympiad (USAMO) / International Math Olympiad (IMO) - This is the premier math competition for high school students. Some colleges (like MIT) will even ask for your scores on these competitions if you have them. Medium to Very High
- American Regions Mathematics League (ARML). High
- Harvard - MIT Mathematics Tournament (HMMT). High
- UCSD Honors Math Contest. Medium
- Princeton University Math Competition (PUMaC). High
- Math Prize for Girls - requires AMC cutoff score. Medium to High
- USA Mathematical Talent Search (USAMTS) - Participants are allowed several weeks at a time to work on 5/6 proofs. Medium to High
- USA Computing Olympiad (USACO) / International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) - Rigorous and challenging, but very prestigious algorithms-based computer science contests. Contests are taken individually at home. Regardless of whether you're interested in competing, online algorithms training program is incredible for general knowledge/edification/college. Very High
- American Computer Science League (ACSL) - Relatively easy but major, nationwide computer science contest. With a bit of study, it's not overly difficult for your school team of three or five to make nationals. 4 yearly tests with written and programming portion. High
- FIRST Robotics Competition - The premier Robotics competition for high schoolers. The best teams are well funded with corporate sponsors and several coaches. A lot of high schools will have clubs dedicated to this contest. Very High
- Botball Robotics Program - Fully autonomous robotics contest with fixed pieces, Legos and other. Has Regional, State and International levels. High
- International Autonomous Robotics Competition (IAROC) 2017 - autonomous robotics competition involving Roomba's competing certain tasks . High
If you've participated in a Junior Varsity / Varsity sports team in your high school, especially if you're planning on playing in college, you should mention it on your application. You can connect this interest with others as well - for example, I spent a few weeks volunteering at a tennis academy to give back to the community.
National Academic Quiz Tournaments - the format generally involves two teams of students competing head-to-head from all areas of knowledge including history, literature, science, fine arts, current events, sports, and popular culture. Medium to High
Debate and public speaking. Many high school will have clubs dedicated to having students compete in local, state, and national circuits. You can participate in Lincoln Douglas debates, Extemporaneous, Parliamentary Debates, etc. National Forensic Association. Medium to Very High
Model United Nations - Debate pressing political issues with mock United Nations sessions. Many schools will have clubs dedicated to prepping for the various conferences. Medium to Very High
Student Council - You can join the governing body of your high school and run for positions such as Class President. Medium.
- National High School Poetry Competition - All U.S. high school students are eligible to enter this contest. Poems must be 20 lines or less (title and spaces between stanzas do not count). Medium
- National Council of Teachers of Engligh Achievement Awards in Writing . High
- National YoungArts Foundation - National writing (or dance, art, cinematography, etc.) competition. High
- Scholastic Art & Writing Awards - Writing competition that ranges from regional to national level. Low to High (depending on placement)
- Publish in a literary magazine. Winter Tangerine Review, The Adroit Journal, PANK, DIAGRAM, Word Riot, Vademecum Magazine, The Postscript Journal, Killing the Angel, etc. Medium to High (depending on magazine)
- Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2017 – The Poetry Society - International poetry competition sponsored by the U.K. National Poetry Foundation. Medium to High
Don't be afraid to work on personal projects that you find interesting. Often, these make for great essays and allow you to funnel your passion into something you can actually make. For example, I spent a lot of time making websites (one of which was EasyDefine), which ended up being used by students across hundreds of cities and countries.
Many students join/create clubs for things they are deeply interested in. These could range from getting a group of like-minded people together to create a science magazine, prepare for a competition, do community service, play chess, practice sports, teach their fellow classmates a topic, etc.
Some colleges accept a sample of your work as a part of your application, so it's a good idea to create an accompanying portfolio.
- Music - Including participation in an ensemble, having your own band, playing various instruments. It's especially good to highlight tangible accolades such as winning a marching band battle, etc.
- Visual Arts
- Volunteer work
- Help out your family with their business or start a small business of your own (Colleges love entrepreneurship)
I was super interested in computer science and tennis in high school, so I spent most of my time participating in clubs/competitions related to that. I was on my high school tennis team and participated in ACSL, Botball, IAROC, etc. We went to the national/state level for many of these competitions so we learnt a ton of practical skills regarding programming/robotics. I also spent some time with math/science competitions including Brain Bee and the various science olympiads.