Elevating Your Extracurriculars for Summer 2024

Elevating Your Extracurriculars for Summer 2024

The strength of your curriculum (rigor), the grades you receive in academic courses (core academic GPA), and your extracurricular activities (ECs) are what matter most in the evaluation of a college application. 

College counselors can help students choose the right courses and connect them with the learning support they might need to achieve excellent grades, but advising on the extracurricular activities that will help students stand out is much more complicated!

It’s getting harder and harder to stand out extracurricularly; a lot has been done before, and it can be tough to come up with original ideas when the internet provides conflicting information. It is easy to pay to undertake research or get published; spend time on a college campus taking a course alongside peers; or travel the world serving communities you don’t have an intimate connection to but that are exciting to visit and experience. For some applicants, these ECs do the trick—really! 

However, if you are targeting selective schools, you’ll benefit from not taking the easy path when it comes to ECs. 

Your ECs will need to not only support a clear academic narrative and demonstrate your intellectual curiosity but also highlight what matters most to you and what you care about in your world. You will benefit from getting creative! 

We understand not everyone needs or wants full-blown college counseling, but we also want to make sure students really understand the role of extracurriculars in the college admissions process and spend their time wisely. If you are interested in a standalone extracurricular planning session to maximize the summer of 2024, reach out!

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Jeff Selingo – Upcoming College Admissions Book

Jeff Selingo – Upcoming College Admissions Book

I’m excited for Jeff Selingo’s upcoming book and its emphasis on considering the vastness of higher education beyond a handful of selective schools—much needed. Read more about it below.

Lots of people have been asking me what I’ve found so far in the research and how they might help, so I wanted to give a quick update before the calendar turns to 2024.

First, as I’ve talked to parents and college counselors in recent months, I’ve been thinking about what this book needs to do. In much the same way as Atomic Habits and The Power of Habit tried to shift our mindset about developing better habits, my belief is that this book must help us reexamine what makes a “good” college. The goal is not for students and parents to settle for a second choice, but to consider the vastness of higher education beyond a handful of selective schools.

As I map out the book, the first half will be focused on explaining to readers why they need to reevaluate their college strategy in the first place. If you’ve been through the process recently, you’re probably thinking duh, of course they do. But everyone approaches this process as newbies, thinking their experience will be different. And as my editor reminds me, we live in an aspirational society: we want to aim for what we’re told is the top.

In the first half, I plan to illustrate how the admissions landscape has shifted in just the last few years by following the college-going experiences of recent graduating classes at three or four high schools that I’m in the process of identifying now (if you’re at a high school and want to be considered, reach out). For that section, I’m often reminded of this scene from Jeff Makris, director of college counseling at Stuyvesant High School, for a piece I wrote in New York magazine last year:

While we spoke, Makris pulled up the admissions results for his students going back to 2016. He rattled off a bunch of college names. About the same number of his students get accepted at the usual suspects in the Ivy League now as six years ago, though many more apply too. What might surprise students and parents from a few years ago, however, is the next set of colleges Makris mentioned: Northeastern, Case Western, Boston University, and Binghamton University. In 2016, 298 students applied to Northeastern, and 91 were admitted; last year, applications to the Boston school jumped to 422, but only 49 were admitted. Last year, 129 Stuy students applied to Case Western, about the same number as in 2017, but admits were almost cut in half to 36. In 2016, the acceptance rate for Stuy’s students who applied to Boston University was 43 percent; last year, it was 14 percent. Normally, Makris said, about 50 to 75 graduates enroll at Binghamton University, one of the state’s top public universities but a safety school among many Stuy students. This fall, 124 students went there.”

So how can you help? He says:

I’m always on the lookout for families who’ve been through the process at least once and have a kid in college (or recently out) and might have a story to tell about how they were on the path for Plan A and it didn’t work out—they didn’t get in, they couldn’t afford it, or for some other reason it wasn’t the right fit—and they turned to Plan B, which in the end turned out better.

If you can help in any way as a potential source, please complete this short form. I won’t be able to respond to everyone, but I will reach out if you fit what I’m looking for to illustrate the research.

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Perfectionism and the College Application Process

Perfectionism and the College Application Process

Perfectionism and applying to college don’t mix! 

A quote from Angela Duckworth exemplifies precisely why:

Perfectionistic people work hard but unsustainably so. They often find themselves in the sapping zone of diminishing and inverse returns to their efforts.

We work with many students who have perfectionist tendencies. These students spend extreme amounts of time focusing on aspects of the college process that have little to no ROI. We see this in parents, too! 

There is no such thing as a perfect college application because there is no such thing as a perfect applicant. 

Our work also highlights another one of her sentiments: perfectionists tend to self-sabotage because they retreat when things get tough or they sense imminent “failure” instead of reaching out for help. This one always gets us because we exist to help. 

Perfectionists are world champions at self-sabotage. When things get tough, when it looks like failure is heading their way, the anticipated shame and embarrassment are so fierce that perfectionistic people are reluctant to put forth any further effort that might allow others to discover their shortcomings. So, they procrastinate or simply give up to ward off fears of failure.

Perfectionism doesn’t lead to success. It’s also exhausting. If you struggle with it, seek out help before you get too deep into your college app journey—students and parents! 

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College Admissions Interviews

College Admissions Interviews

General interview prep questions below!

High School Experience

  • Tell me a little bit about your high school.
  • Tell me about the courses you are taking currently.
  • Tell me about your favorite class(es) you have taken. Why favorite(s)?
  • Which class has been your least favorite? Why?
  • Which classes have been the most difficult (or most challenging)?
  • What subjects do you plan on studying at [school name]?
  • What activities and/or classes have you taken part in related to that field?
  • What does your dream career look like, what is your dream job?

Extracurricular Activities

  • What extracurricular activities are you involved in?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • When you’re not in class, studying, or doing homework, what do you do with your time (organized activities or things for fun)?
  • How did you get involved/started with ____ activity?
  • What activity is the most meaningful to you and why?
  • What extracurricular activities do you hope to be involved with in college?
  • How have you spent your high school summers?

University Specific

  • What type of environment are you looking for in a college/university?
  • How did you become interested in [school]?
  • What do you find most appealing about [school]?
  • Why do you think you [school] might be the right fit for you?
  • Do you know any students at [school]?
  • If you had an opportunity to tell the Admissions Committee anything about yourself, what would it be? Why?
  • What would you want the Admissions Committee to know about you that may not come across on your application?
  • If I were to ask you to think back in three months to your visit to [school], what would be the first thing to pop into your head?
  • What have you learned about [school] that seems unusual or surprising?


  • If you got up and your best friend sat down, how would they describe you?
  • How would your teachers describe you?
  • If you had a year to do anything you wanted, what would it be and why?
  • What books are you currently reading? Or what have you read recently for school?
  • What has been a controversial issue at your school? What was your reaction, and how did you get involved?
  • Where have you made the biggest impact at your school or in your local community?
  • Where is your favorite place you have ever been? Why? Where would you like to go (if money and time were no object)?
  • Would you and where would you like to study abroad? Why?
  • What do you think is the most pressing issue of our time? Why?
  • What is your favorite book and why?
  • Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you wanted to talk about?

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Colleges Using The Self-Reported Academic Record — SRAR

Colleges Using The Self-Reported Academic Record — SRAR

Applicants must complete the SRAR for the following schools, where required. You can typically find more information about the SRAR on a school’s application instructions. Please read them. 






Baylor University (TX) — optional

Binghamton University (NY) – optional

Clemson University (SC) — required

Duquesne University (PA) – optional

Florida A&M University – optional

Florida Atlantic University — required

Florida Polytechnic University (NOT Florida Tech) – optional

Florida State University — required

Kean University of New Jersey — optional

Louisiana State University – optional

Montclair State University (NJ) – optional

New College of Florida — optional

New York University – required

Northeastern University (MA) – required

Pennsylvania State University — required

Rutgers University (NJ—Camden, New Brunswick and Newark) — required

Texas A&M University — required

United States Air Force Academy (CO) — required

University at Buffalo (NY) – optional

University of Connecticut – optional

University of Delaware – required

University of Florida — required

University of Minnesota Twin Cities – required; also uses CA Courses/Grades Report

University of North Florida — optional

University of Oregon – also uses CA Courses and Grades Report (need to submit only one of the two—not required to complete both)

University of Pittsburgh (PA) – required

University of Rhode Island — required

University of South Florida — required

University of Tennessee Knoxville – required

University of Texas Arlington — required

University of Texas San Antonio – required

University of West Florida — required

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) – required

***Please be sure to check with each individual college website to determine if this information remains current***

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Common Application ‘How To’ Videos via AXS Companion

Common Application ‘How To’ Videos via AXS Companion

As you open a Common App account and work on the base data, you might find the following videos (created by the CA ‘AXS Companion’) helpful:
Please note this section is NOT required for all colleges: Completing Courses & Grades video
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Achievement v. Accomplishment

Achievement v. Accomplishment

A great article to read and reread. Let this one sink in…

“Achievement is the completion of the task imposed from outside — the reward often being a path to the next achievement.

Accomplishment is the end point of an engulfing activity we’ve chosen, whose reward is the sudden rush of fulfillment, the sense of happiness that rises uniquely from absorption in a thing outside ourselves.”

The process of applying to college feels overly-achievement oriented, when in fact, it’s applications that highlight both that tend to be the most compelling.

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More on college rankings (and what Frank Bruni has to say)

More on college rankings (and what Frank Bruni has to say)

Bye bye, US News? We dream of the day you go away for good! 

There’s a college for everyone, and most admit more than half of the applicants. You don’t need a ranking to locate them or to develop a set of requirements for your best-fit college. That said, building your own college ranking is an excellent place to start if you feel overwhelmed. Like ChatGPT, please don’t rely on it entirely. You need to make your list your own, which means putting time and energy into independent research. Scouring websites, speaking with reps, students, and alumni, reading blogs, talking with career services or financial aid, there are just so many ways to learn about colleges—even YouTube and other social channels can be learning tools. 

And hear what Frank Bruni has to say. 

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From a teen’s perspective: dealing with college admission stress

From a teen’s perspective: dealing with college admission stress

I came across an article by a student at Menlo Atherton (Dylan Lanier) that I wanted to share. You can access it here or read it below. 

I’m 20+ years out from college (and a low-stress application process), but my days are wrapped up in this world. When I think about college admissions today compared to even a few years ago, the #1 thing that stands out is how much more stressful it is for everyone involved. The number of students (and almost always, they are excellent top students) we see presenting mental health red flags is far too high.  

Where you go to college is…simply where you go to college. It’s four years of exploration, developing independence, and figuring it out. I hope both students and parents who are in or approaching this process can keep in mind that it’s a four-year stop on a long journey; it’s not the end game, and it’s not an ultimate goal. 

It’s that time of year again: No, not Pisces season. College acceptance — and rejection — season.

At M-A, the energy is electric, and not always in the best way. Seniors are on pins-and-needles waiting for letters to come back from the colleges they applied to a few months back. Juniors, on the other hand, are already stressing about their own applications to come next year.

While I recognize the importance of higher education, I think that too many of us compromise our mental health by spending countless hours worrying about college. It’s important to enforce practices in your daily life that help you decompress. Not only will you be a happier and healthier person, but you will perform better in all areas of your life. You can’t crush that AP Lit test if you’re only thinking about college! So, here are some of the ways I find most effective to de-stress:

1. Time Away: Find a relaxing activity you truly enjoy, be it hiking, painting, or reading on the couch. Set a designated time for yourself each day or week to spend solely on that recreation. I recommend choosing a hobby that requires a lot of focus in order to prevent your mind from wandering back to college.

2. Community: Your family and friends are great resources for support and distraction. Go out to dinner, watch a movie, or just talk about everything under the sun other than college. Connecting with others will not only lift your spirits but place your attention on them instead of your own worries.

3. New Goals: The reason college admissions are so stressful is that we view them as the ultimate goal. Therefore, pick new, smaller goals that can help you satiate that need for accomplishment, such as learning an instrument or holding a bake sale for a local charity.

4. Mindfulness: Look, when I first tried meditation, I was just as skeptical about its benefits. But I can confidently say that it has considerably lowered my stress level and allowed me to reflect on my life without the typical emotional responses. I recommend downloading an app like Calm or finding guided mindfulness meditations on YouTube to help you commit to and get the most out of the practice.

Acknowledging your college stress and recognizing the negativity it brings into your life is the most important step. Understand how it’s impacting your daily life and respond accordingly with specific, customized strategies to limit those effects.

However you choose to de-stress, be sure to fully commit to the process. Take it from a fellow student: Nothing is more important than your well-being, and taking concrete steps to improve it will yield exponential benefits. Best of luck in your collegiate endeavors and your journey to de-stress!

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Colleges Where Demonstrated Interest is Important or Very Important

Colleges Where Demonstrated Interest is Important or Very Important

What is demonstrated interest?

Demonstrated interest (DI) is something universities measure to determine the level of interest a student has in their school. It may include:

  • Signing up for a mailing list
  • Opening and clicking through emails
  • Reading a school’s website
  • Attending a webinar or virtual info session
  • Attending an on-campus info session or tour
  • Attending a college fair and talking to an admissions rep
  • Talking to students, staff, or faculty
  • Submitting optional components of an application
  • Following or engaging with a school on social media
  • Applying early decision

College Kickstart has compiled a list of popular colleges where the Common Data Set entry for “level of applicant’s interest” is reported as important or very important.  Head over to their site for the list! 

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