A large part of a student's college application (except for the CSUs) is the description of their extra-curricular activities outside of school. It is important for students to understand what universities are looking for in this area and be strategic in how they spend their time. The key is to focus on depth, growth, and leadership as opposed to a long list of superficial activities.
An additional factor, and extremely one to keep in mind, is making sure that students don't pile on so many extra-curricular activities that they become walking balls of stress. Here are some Dos and Don'ts around extra-curricular activities:
Do: Be strategic.
Select extra-curricular activities that are meaningful and intrinsically interesting to the student. A student's time is limited, so they should choose extra-curricular activities that they truly enjoy. If a student loves animals, volunteer at the local animal shelter. If a student is interested in business, they could reach out to a local business owner and ask to volunteer in their place of business.
Do: Show long term commitment.
Universities would rather see 2-3 activities on a student's application that demonstrate a commitment over time, than a long list of short lived activities. Finding an internship (volunteer or paid) that a student stays with for months or even years is an ideal activity to put on a college application.
Do: Count work.
Working a part time job looks great on a college application and should not be discounted or over looked. Students learn many important skills from after school and summer jobs and universities are impressed by students being able to manage their time and maintain a job, while doing well in school.
Do: Count responsibilities at home.
If a student is limited in the amount of extra-curricular activities they can participate in because of responsibilities at home be sure to explain this on the application. Many students need to babysit their siblings after school while their parents are at work. Again, the responsibility of making sure a sibling's homework is done, bath time, preparing dinner, etc. are all skills that are impressive to universities.
Do: Be creative and unique.
Think outside of the box when deciding what extracurricular activities to participate in. If a student thinks they might be interested in architecture, reach out to a local agency and ask if they would like a volunteer. Most students don't do this type of exploration. The worst that can happen is someone says no, but the flip side could lead to an incredible hands on, real world experience.
Do: Show leadership.
If you are involved in clubs at school, take on a leadership position. This does not necessarily have to be an elected position. For example, if a student is part of a philanthropic club on campus, research a new community service activity, present it to your club, and recruit members to participate. This shows initiative and dedication.
Don't : Join just to join. It is not beneficial for a student to join every club on a high school campus and not do anything meaningful for that club. Universities can read right through a padded application with a long list of clubs, but no description of leadership or actual work being done. If the only involvement a student has in a club is attending occasional lunch time meetings then this activity is not going to do much for their application.
Don't: Over schedule.
Balance is ultimately what is most important for students. Remember that students need down time. If a student's day is packed with activities and school from the time they wake up to the time they fall asleep they will burn out. If a student is over scheduled, dropping an activity is always ok. They do need time to binge watch Netflix or play video games on occasion. ; )