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For students applying to college, having a resume that only highlights their academic accomplishments isn’t enough to stand out from the competition. Students can benefit from showcasing their passions, skills, and dedication through hobbies. It’s never too early for students to pursue their interests in extra curricular activities. The truth is, the more time a student dedicates to a singular interest, the more appealing it will be to college admissions officers. Students who have years of experience with a certain hobby are emphasizing their ability to commit and excel at something.
So, what hobbies should students seek out to impress college admissions officers? Well, the best hobby for students to engage in is one they are eager to pursue. However, for students who need help deciding on hobbies that might be desirable for their college resume, we asked several experts to share their best extra curricular suggestions.
1. Pick a skill or interest and stick with it
Carrie Brummer, Artist Strong, @ArtistStrong
Understand that talent is overrated. Research now shows that if we practice the right way, we can develop any skill. So, pick a skill or interest you have, like art, and stick with it.
Learn about the right kind of practice (you can read the book Peak by Anders Ericsson). Utilize this formula for practice and get results. I spend much of my time debunking the myth of talent because too many teachers have told students “you just can’t do it.” I’m here to tell you that you can. If you like art, music, or some other interest, just run with it.
For example, in as little as 15 minutes of concentrated, focused practice a day over 30 days you could see measurable improvement in your drawing skills. I had a student get into a prestigious university on the merits of her sketchbook because of her visual research and exploration. It works, but you need to enjoy what you are doing and be willing to work at it if you want to grow your skill in a way that makes you stand out.
Admissions decision makers will be impressed with your stick-to-it-ness, as well as what they perceive to be a jump in your “talent.”
2. Use your hobby to give back
Elisabeth Stitt, Joyful Parenting Coaching, @StittCoaching
Colleges are impressed by any hobby that a student is truly interested in and has shown involvement in over a number of years. It should be something the student cares about enough so that when they write or talk about it, the passion comes through. For my daughter, that was ceramics. She took every opportunity she could to improve her skill. She delighted in giving her creations away as gifts and even made bowls as part of a Combat Hunger campaign. Most importantly, it provided true relaxation as, “You can’t center a pot if you are not feeling centered yourself.”
3. Spend your summer job shadowing
Kristen Moon, MoonPrep
Instead of applying for that job at Burger King, how about creating an experience that will supercharge your college application? Job shadowing is what I am referencing.
If you aspire to be a dentist, then shadow one. For future pediatricians, job shadowing is a perfect way to get hands-on experience in a clinical setting. Many students and their parents wrongly believe that job shadowing is hard to come by. That’s because most students approach it the wrong way. The best opportunities will not be found on Monster or Indeed. They are created.
Call your family dentist. Explain to her that you are an aspiring dentist. Then, explain the value you intend to add to her practice. Remember, job shadowing must be mutually beneficial. Pick up the phone and make it personal.
Start with the people you know, people your parents know, and family friends. You’d be surprised how resourceful your inner circle is and just how far a referral goes.
Not only will job shadowing create a worthwhile summer, but it also looks amazing on those college applications. It shows the college that you are not just SAYING you want to be an architect or doctor, you are SHOWING them you took the initiative to explore this passion.
4. Use your extracurricular activities to enhance your college application
Lindsay Muzzy, My College Planning
Student hobbies and extracurricular activities are an excellent way to enhance your image by showing personality traits not otherwise addressed in the college application. The hobby can also serve as a prompt for college essays.
From traveling to knitting to service work, hobbies can provide an insight into who you are and what you can bring to the campus environment.
More importantly, hobbies show consistency, depth of involvement, and leadership roles.
5. Consider tutoring younger students
Janet Ruth Heller, Ph.D, Author and Educator, @JanetHeller1949
I recommend that middle and high school students consider tutoring younger students in reading, mathematics, science, music, etc. This experience will be especially beneficial for future teachers, but many individuals enjoy tutoring as a way to give back to the community. Additionally, you could help out with a sports team for younger or physically challenged children. Such volunteer work will also prepare students to deal with a wide range of people in any future jobs.
Visit residents of nursing homes and retirement homes. Many of these people are very lonely and appreciate visits by younger individuals.
6. Maker hobbies build skills that colleges look for
Sarah Boisvert, Fab Lab Hub
Maker hobbies offered at local fab labs and makerspaces around the world build the type of skills that colleges, as well as employers look for. These may include problem-solving skills, hands-on experience, 3D printing, or digital skills, like CAD. We’ve seen some amazing projects, like robots for first responders. Membership is inexpensive and classes/workshops are offered as well.
7. Participate in competitions that give you exposure to industry leaders
Zach Rinkins, Author and Educator, @ZachRinkins
There are thousands of on and off campus competitions geared toward showcasing the best and brightest collegiate minds in the country. These contests cater to virtually all academic majors and interests. Nearly every professional organization has annual competitions. Awards, Honors & Prizes (Gale, Cengage Learning) is the most comprehensive single directory of awards and their donors. Use this resource to explore more opportunities. Participating in these competitions gives you exposure to industry leaders, develops your credibility, demonstrates your competitive drive, and gives you an opportunity to size up your peers (your future job and graduate school competitors) across the country.
8. Join social skills groups, self-esteem workshops, or leadership camps
Julia Colangelo, LCSW, Child Behavioral Therapist
Colleges would respond to middle school and high school students that are able to ask for help and be assertive. These are skills that support a students’ ability to adjust to new settings and support their social and emotional growth. Colleges want to know that students are able to identify their strengths and set and maintain boundaries. Such talents can be developed in social skills groups, self-esteem workshops, or in leadership camps and programs.
My recommendation is that students develop these skills as early as possible (even in elementary school!) and they will be strong candidates for colleges and life in general. Additionally, this will have a positive impact on the family system through an understanding of boundaries and confidence in making decisions. It’s important for a tween or teen to develop the self-determination to say, “I’m not sure how to do this, can I ask for help from a teacher/colleague/peer?” We don’t want teens to feel like they have to carry everything on their own. This could lead to feelings of withdrawal or hopelessness when things don’t work out perfectly, which is a likely outcome without support.
9. Community service is a positive hobby
Len Saunders, Author, @LenSaunders
I love the idea of community service as a hobby and so do colleges. Not only is it good for the community but kids also feel good knowing they helped somebody in need. Whether you’re volunteering at the local library to help senior citizens with computer needs, or assisting at a local food bank, community service is a win-win situation for most.
10. Run a school newspaper
Caleb Backe, Maple Holistics
The ideal hobby to take up in middle school or high school to impress colleges is running a school newspaper. Unlike other hobbies, such as a sport or debate club, working for or ideally running the school paper gives a student the opportunity to build valuable academic skills while demonstrating value in a number of areas.
Not only is becoming editor of a paper prestigious, it helps build writing skills, promotes teamwork and leadership, and gives the student a platform to showcase content that displays writing ability and even valuable messaging. It doesn’t get much better than that.
11. STEM students should consider starting a radio club
Richard Hayman, Hayman Consulting Group
Perhaps the best hobby for STEM students is amateur radio. Both social and technical activities benefit the student. Starting a radio club in the school demonstrates leadership skills. Amateur radio today uses computers and software extensively. Communication using sophisticated digital modes and satellites impresses colleges.
Local radio clubs have members dedicated to working with youngsters by helping them get licensed and providing radio equipment for school stations.
12. Go outside of school activities to demonstrate true passion
Phyllis Miller, Miller Mosaic
In my book “How To Succeed in High School and Prep For College,” I stress going outside of school activities to demonstrate true passion for the activities in which a student engages. It is one thing to take part in your school’s theatrical performances, it is another to demonstrate initiative by getting a summer internship with a local professional theatrical company.
In addition, activities that show long-term commitment are preferable to a smorgasbord of activities only dipped into briefly. Students should choose one or two activities and demonstrate commitment to these throughout several years, rather than jumping to new activities each school year.
And, of course, participating in activities that help others — and using social media to get additional people supporting these activities — can be very compelling.
13. Choose hobbies that showcase your leadership qualities
Carly Stockwell, College Factual, @CollegeFactual
The hobbies that will impress a college the most are the hobbies that show how unique you are, as well as your leadership qualities. Here are some examples:
- Sign up for band or orchestra, or start your own band
- Write for the student newspaper
- Become team leader of your sports team
- Run for student president and uphold your campaign promises
- Volunteer at an animal shelter, food pantry, or soup kitchen
- Start a fundraiser to raise money for your favorite charity
- Become a tutor in your favorite school subject
- Start a blog on a subject that interests you
- Start your own business baby-sitting, mowing lawns, or selling handmade goods
14. Become world-class, at anything
Nick Thorsch, Internet Marketing Managers, @NickThorsch
Think of diversity, not in terms of race, but in terms of resume, to make you stand out or appear more well-rounded and passionate about anything meaningful to you:
- Become world-class at anything
- Do a job in which you become a teenage manager
- Learn a language in computer coding
- Volunteer at something you’d enjoy
- Show you have heart for those affected by life’s unexpected downfalls or disasters
15. Self-publish books online
Jon Santangelo, Education Expert
High school students can demonstrate novelty and creativity by writing and self-publishing books online. There’s virtually no cost in doing so. Well-written online novels not only prove language command and storytelling, which is vital to the new job economy, they could also generate read views, demonstrating marketability and the ability to serve and grow an audience. These skills are transferable to any industry or field a student may choose and will only increase in demand as the digitized information age continues evolving. Aside from these benefits, the hobby of writing is deemed as potentially cathartic mental exercise of the right brain’s creativity. Consider adding independent, self-published novels to your social media or links to your work on a college application.
A student resume that only showcases the applicant’s academic achievements won’t cut it anymore. College-bound students can get a step ahead of their competition by finding an extracurricular activity that they truly enjoy doing, spending time improving their skills in that activity, and sharing their passion for that activity on their student resume. Instead of spreading themselves too thin with a bunch of activities, colleges prefer students who showcase their passion for one extracurricular activity.
So, if your child is struggling to find a positive extracurricular activity to partake in, go through this list with them, start a dialog, ask questions, and encourage them to find their passion.
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