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Beyond Grades

Why all work and no play makes a dull college application.

Yes, grades matter. So do the kinds of classes you're taking in high school. But what happens in the classroom isn't the whole story when it comes to college admissions. Selective colleges are also keen to see what you've been accomplishing outside of the classroom. In fact, a strong extra-curricular record can easily make the difference when deciding between students who appear similar academically.

Although it will vary depending on the individual and the college, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Quality, not quantity. It's not necessary to participate in dozens of activities just for the sake of participation. Selective colleges can usually tell who's just joining things to fill a résumé.
  • Do what you love. You're likelier to shine if you pursue activities that you genuinely care about. Take an inventory of your interests and then join existing organizations (or create them) that match your passions.
  • Look for opportunities to be a leader. If the choice is between one student's sheer number of memberships vs. another student's leadership role in a few select activities or organizations, most schools will be looking for the leadership.
  • Muscles and muses get noticed. While not everyone can be skilled in these areas, selective colleges will value participation in sports, music, theater and the arts highly. If any of these fit your interests, be sure to stick with them throughout high school.
  • Variety is the spice of life (and campus). If your interests are more varied, unusual or offbeat than most, don't feel as though you have to rush out and join the football team or marching band. Most colleges are looking for a little of everything, so an avid juggler, dedicated community volunteer, or competitive chess player might stand out more than a mediocre athlete. At small colleges like Carleton, admissions offices try to ensure that each significant campus activity will have a generous number of students who want to participate in all sorts of activities.

Let's face it, colleges would be dull places if everyone only studied. Your extra-curricular activities are another way to show colleges who you are and what you would add to their campus life.

Personal Characteristics

Most selective colleges, including Carleton, are also actively looking to recruit a diverse range of students to attend their colleges. We strive to admit students from a wide variety of geographic, economic, cultural, ethnic, social, and political backgrounds. We believe that promoting this kind of diversity is not only morally responsible, but also results in a better education for our students.

What does this mean for your college preparations? Simply that it's important for colleges to understand your background as fully as possible, especially if you have the potential to add something unique to the diversity of their student body. You can help them understand this through the answers on your college applications, your college essays, and future conversations and interviews with admissions staff when you're further along your path to college.