When preparing students for the college admissions process, we place a lot of emphasis on identifying and developing students’ interests in addition to good grades and test scores. As we’ve said before, students’ interests are important because it helps colleges make admissions decisions and build well-rounded classes. However, developing students’ interests isn’t just about getting into college – they’re a key factor in helping students succeed during their four years and after graduation.
Why Do Extracurricular Interests Matter to Colleges?
When admissions officers review college applications, they don’t just assess an applicant’s grades and standardized test scores. Instead, they also factor in extracurricular activities and volunteer work to get a comprehensive view of who you are, both inside and outside of the classroom. Admissions officers take your interests into account because the activities that you choose to pursue say a lot about who you are as a person and the impact you may have on a college campus. That’s why virtually every guide to college admissions includes a section on extracurriculars—it’s an important part of the application process that can impact your admissions outcomes.
How Students Can Benefit From Defining Their Interests?
Whether you love playing tennis or prefer practicing violin, your favorite extracurricular activity can help you navigate every step of the college application process more smoothly. When you’re looking at schools, hobbies and interests can help you decide which institutions deserve a spot on your best-fit list. Later on, these same pursuits will distinguish you from other applicants and even point you in the right direction when it comes time to choose a major.
When Selecting the Right College Major
These days families and students can misplace their focus in the college admissions process, aiming for “name brand” colleges and choosing the right major that they think will help students land the best jobs after graduation, rather than emphasizing fit. In order to build a balanced college list, students need to research and identify colleges that are great academic, social, and financial fits. Students will be happy and successful at colleges that best fit their needs while studying a field they’re most interested in.
A student studying a subject that doesn’t hold a lot of interest will not do as well in the program simply because he or she is just not passionate about it. Don’t focus simply on ROI or starting salary when selecting what to study or which colleges to apply to. Choosing the right major and colleges that offer the right academic programs that match students’ interests is important to ensure they thrive and graduate in four years. Colleges often offer detailed descriptions of the majors offered at the institution. Majors at Yale, for example, are listed online, along with all of the requirements.
When Boosting Their Chances of Admission
As we’ve said before, colleges have institutional needs, and a student’s selected program of study can factor into the admission decision. Selective colleges and universities want students who are sure of their academic path and have demonstrated meaningful interest in that area through extracurricular activities, course selection, and more. This is where having focused interests is most important because it lets colleges know where a student fits into their campus and gives them reassurance that this student will be successful and graduate in four years.
When Making the Most of Their Time in College
Again, your interests and intended major have a huge impact on where you attend college, and if you choose a major or school that doesn’t fit your academic interests or goals, you’re less likely to perform well and will miss opportunities to gain meaningful experience. When researching colleges, look at the programs, clubs, organizations, and more that are offered outside of the classroom that can help you further your interests or develop new skills. If you’re passionate about writing and design, see if first-year students are able to get involved with the campus magazine. Many colleges and universities have dozens, if not hundreds, of different activities, clubs, and organizations for students that cover a myriad of topics and interests. Look for colleges that fit those needs.
While a college education is meant to help students learn and hopefully prepare them for a future career, higher education is also about exploration and personal growth. By identifying your passions and interests and selecting colleges that fit your needs and goals, you’re not only ensuring you get into a great-fit college, but you’re also setting yourself to have an extremely fulfilling college experience.
How to Identify and Develop Your College Interests
Before selecting colleges to apply to, students first need to identify their interests. What do they want to study? After all, you are going to college to get an education, so academic areas of interest should be the main focus when researching colleges for your balanced college list.
#1 Start Early
9th and 10th grade students should spend time exploring different areas of interest through reading, extracurricular activities, volunteer opportunities, the classes you take, and more. What are you most excited about? If you’re in a business club, but find yourself skipping meetings or putting in minimal effort, then this activity clearly isn’t a passion. Drop it for something you do enjoy, whether it’s art, music, athletics, or something else.
Do you love camping and the outdoors? Maybe you have strong opinions about environmentalism and preserving nature. Explore that! Devote all your energy to the things you truly enjoy, not what you think will look good on your activity list.
#2 Get Involved
So you’ve found an activity or subject you really enjoy – great! Now, work to make an impact through meaningful involvement. Take on a leadership position in a related club, organize projects that will help advance, or learn how to start a club in college. You can also find a way to turn that interest into a volunteer opportunity.
There are many ways to develop interests outside of clubs or activities as well. If you’re interested in entrepreneurism, take some free online courses on the subject, subscribe to publications, create a blog about what you’ve learned, or even start your own business! The goal is to find creative ways to learn more about a subject and gain experience that can help you decide whether this is an area of study you really want to pursue in college.
#3 Don’t Be Afraid to Branch Out
Sometimes an activity or topic that interests you turns out to not be what you expected, and that’s okay! Don’t be afraid of trying something and not liking it. Remember, colleges want to see sustained involvement in activities that really interest you. If you try something and don’t like it, drop it and move on. By stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new, you’re already preparing yourself for the college experience and putting yourself one step closer to finding an interest that you’re truly passionate about!
Now that you know why college interests are important, it’s worth exploring other application tips such as how many colleges you should apply to.