Extracurricular Activities(EA) are important for every student because they allow you to develop a singularly unique profile. This becomes an even more pressing issue when you consider that students at top colleges are routinely top academic performers, which creates an even more heightened emphasis on quality activities outside of the classroom. Each student is going to have 4.0 GPA, and high to perfect SAT scores, so how do you set yourself apart? While there are a multitude of options for every student, finding EAs as a middle school student can be difficult.
Naturally, extracurricular activities are becoming more and more competitive. In fact, many EAs have an admission process in and of themselves, requiring the student to beat out other highly qualified students. As such, a student can never start bolstering their profile too soon. Middle School students, who start building a unique profile sooner rather than later, have the unique advantage of having three to four years of time to develop themselves each summer.
For example, lets say you are a student interested in studying pre-med, but you are in 8th grade. You will quickly realize that there are roadblocks: one’s age, past work and volunteer experiences, academic profile, resume, and writing supplements all have an important place in top tier EA admissions. You might sit back and think, “where do I begin and how can I look better than students who I am competing with”?
As an 8th grader, you can instantly revel in the fact that you have a great advantage: time. You can view options such as Stanford’s Math and Science circles during the school year, which allow a student to work closely with top professors and researchers in fields such as Environmental Science or Computer Engineering. Want to ease into your overall EA journey? You can begin by volunteering for just a single day with HandsOn Bay Area, an organization that sets up single day volunteer opportunities for younger students. Conversely, you could join an organization such as Medical Explorers, which allows aspiring pre-med students to meet with doctors and explore volunteer opportunities in the Bay Area. Lastly, you could go all the way and apply to UCSF and its Summer Student Program, a volunteer program that includes working the entire summer at UCSF Medical Center, for a minimum of three hours a day.
Most importantly, regardless of the intended field you want to go into, your first EA summer should be a time of exploration. You want to see what type of opportunities fit your interests and future goals. But, you also want to diversify yourself as an individual and explore leadership and subfield interests as well. For example, a future pre-med student might spend their 8th grade summer in a junior leadership program, developing his or her public speaking and teamwork skills. Options could even extend as far as creating your own mobile app, volunteer organization, or club at school. Being well-rounded is advantageous because it will give you more experiences to highlight on future EA applications and, eventually, your college applications.
As a middle schooler, take pride in the fact that you are already planning some of the most important years of your life. Since many top EA programs require students to be 16+ (especially in the medical sciences), your first few years can be focused on developing an overall EA plan. It also is one of the best times to begin volunteering and seeing how extracurricular work outside of school operates. Do not fret that you might have limited options when you first start out, all of your hard work will pay off each and every summer!
By Ryan Eller, ThinkTank Learning Admissions Consultant/Academic Counselor