How Colleges Evaluate the Activities List

Unlike public universities, which base their admissions decisions primarily on objective criteria, private universities typically base their decisions on a more holistic review. The three basic attributes graded by private universities in the holistic review are academics, activities, and human qualities.

As college admissions advisors, we are often asked about how to create the strongest resume. This is best considered early in high school, not later when a student contemplates the college admissions process in junior or senior year.

Within the activities attribute, colleges will consider everything a student does outside of the classroom. Activities can include formal extracurriculars, hobbies, athletics, community service, employment, or family commitments. The admissions representatives will grade student performance based upon the caliber of the effort or achievement (depth) and upon the size of the community or geographic area (breadth) in which the student performs. For depth, colleges look for achievement, not just participation. For breadth, students with national, international or professional achievements will receive the highest scores, followed by those who compete regionally, within the state, within the county, metropolitan area, or high school

When students ask us whether they should seek out additional activities in order to present a more impressive resume, our answer is often “no.” Instead of presenting a laundry list of activities in which the student’s involvement has been minimal, it is preferable for students to “go deep,” competing on a larger geographic scale (for example, the state finals for track or a national debate competition). It is also important that students use their limited time outside the classroom pursuing things that actually interest them. You cannot fool admissions officers by padding your resume with activities that don’t stimulate you. That’s not the way to impress your dream school. If you concentrate on activities that bring you joy, you are more likely to achieve in ways that will make colleges take notice.

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