• Beth & Tim Manners

How Activities Influence Admissions

Updated: Oct 3, 2019

It used to be that colleges looked for “well-rounded” students, whose interests spanned as broadly as possible. These days, we hear more about the “well-grounded” student, who tends to delve vertically into a particular area of interest and shows a deep level of commitment.


This is reflected in our survey results, with 67 percent saying “consistency/depth within interest” was most important with respect to extracurricular activities. By comparison, “diverse interests,” was selected by just 27 percent. Consistent with this, 73 percent said “long-term commitment” mattered most.

What do you value most in extracurricular activities?



Our findings do seem a little at odds with a concurrent demand for a certain level of eclecticism in academics: many schools seem to favor those who express passion for both the sciences and the humanities, as much ardor for physics as the classics, for instance. Perhaps it’s that schools remain impressed by omnivorous interests, with the proviso that the student connects the dots between them to create a larger, more interesting and memorable portrait.


So, it may be the connections between activities, as much as the activities themselves, that tell the story. This does not necessarily mean that extracurriculars should be linked with academics, however: just 17 percent said such connections mattered.


What matters most, according to our survey, is “leadership/initiative,” cited by 75 percent of respondents. Presumably that means it’s still impressive to be captain of a team, president of the class, or editor of the school newspaper. Yet “initiative” can manifest itself in other ways, such as founding a club or organizing an event.


Surprisingly, just 27 percent said that “originality/creativity” is important. This may not mean schools are unimpressed by innovative extracurriculars, just that they don’t necessarily expect it.


Next Thursday: The Secret of Supplemental Essays


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