The Ivy League schools want students who shine not only inside the classroom but also outside. Because of their holistic admissions policy, having a high GPA, test score and class rank is not enough — an aspirant also needs to have an impressive list of extracurricular activities, many of which are irresistible to the eight prestigious schools.
Some of the best extracurricular activities for the Ivy Leagues are those that instill and hone leadership, teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills. EAs that can help boost admissions chances are the ones that demonstrate passion, self-confidence and excellence in sports and the arts.
The best time to start planning your application to the most elite institutions in the land and the world, too, is the minute you enter high school as it will give you plenty of time to explore many different extracurriculars.
Refrain from joining each and every extracurricular activity that you come across.
Related Article: What is Considered an Extracurricular Activity
If the goal is to impress the admissions officers at the Ivies with your EA list, focus on quality over quantity. Opting for those that scream you are Ivy League material is also a fantastic idea.
Well, you’re in the right place at the right time — this post is all about the best extracurriculars for the Ivy Leagues that a high schooler like you may give a try.
Leading the list of qualities the Ivy Leagues look for in applicants is a knack for leadership. These top-notch schools have a penchant for students who exhibit the potential to become leaders in their communities as well as chosen fields after graduation. This does not mean, however, that they don’t welcome followers.
But if what you want is for your application to stand out from the rest, make sure that you go for extracurriculars that will enable you to show how good a leader you can be.
Being a standout is a must, given that this is how many applications the Ivies got for the class of 2025:
- Cornell University – 67,380
- Columbia University – 60,551
- Harvard University – 57,435
- University of Pennsylvania – 56,333
- Yale University – 46,935
- Brown University – 46,568
- Princeton University – 37,601
- Dartmouth College – 28,357
So, if you want to be the leader of the pack, impress the admissions officers at the Ivy League schools so that you can get a slot before all available ones are given to some of the brightest and most talented high schoolers.
Starting a High School Club
It’s not unlikely for the Ivy Leagues to have a penchant for those who are displaying the capacity to become movers and shakers one day — nothing can give them added prestige more than being the ones responsible for shaping the minds and dreams of individuals who have changed the course of history for the better.
And that is why if you can’t find an already existing extracurricular activity that won’t give you a chance to flex your ability to lead, simply make your own and recruit a lot of members.
What’s really nice about starting a club rather than joining one is that it demonstrates many of the qualities colleges and universities, including most especially the Ivies, look for: leadership, initiative and drive. And when you talk about the club you have established in your admissions essays, you are a step closer to getting an acceptance letter.
But don’t just start any club — institute one that has a meaning and purpose and the propensity to be a smashing success. Needless to say, it will also help if the club is something that allows your passion and creativity to shine.
Starting a Non-Profit Organization
Got a strong passion for a social cause? There’s no need to wait to earn a college degree related to it before you can start touching lives and creating a better future for them.
In high school, you can start gearing up for your future career by starting a non-profit organization.
The choices are practically endless, which means it’s for certain that there’s one that aligns really well with your passion, purpose, dreams and skills.
The steps are fairly simple — establish the goal, decide on the type of the organization (umbrella or completely new), create an action plan, appoint the officers and recruit volunteers.
Many colleges and universities, the Ivy Leagues included, with a holistic admissions policy consider volunteer work an important non-academic admissions factor.
Starting a non-profit in high school is beyond personal volunteer work — it also gives those who wish to volunteer for a good purpose an avenue to feel fulfilled and accomplished.
Consider it mission accomplished for someone like you who dreams of becoming an Ivy League student one day!
The Ivy Leagues find it extremely hard to turn down students who genuinely care about the world around them. And this is why pairing above-average academic performance with an interest in the betterment of the society and the initiative to cause change to happen is the perfect recipe for an Ivy League acceptance letter.
Engaging in political activism can be done in many different ways. No matter the approach of preference, see to it that you partake in one that you are truly passionate and enthusiastic about.
Being a student activist enables you to highlight some of your best traits, the kinds that elite colleges want.
Leadership, dedication, initiative, drive, commitment — these are just some of the things that political activism breeds and nurtures.
And to really impress those hard-to-please people at the admissions offices of the Ivies, look for a cause whose applications can extend past high school and into your major and career path of choice.
One example is David Hogg, a gun control activist, who was accepted to Harvard University.
The eight Ivy League schools, at the outset, banded together for the reason that they were some of the best in the realm of sports, including especially basketball. It’s exactly for this reason why the consortium first came into being right when the NCAA athletic conference for Division I was formed in the mid-1950s.
Nowadays, it’s true that these eminent institutions are more known for their highly selective admissions process, academic distinction and exciting career opportunities for alumni members. Still, they remain some of the best when it comes to sports programs as well as athletic performances.
Just take a look at the total number of championships won by each of the Ivy Leagues since they assembled:
- Princeton University – 506
- Harvard University – 433
- Cornell University 238
- University of Pennsylvania – 221
- Yale University – 214
- Dartmouth College – 145
- Brown University – 124
- Columbia University – 119
Needless to say, participating in high school sports and actually being good at it can make the heads of the Ivy Leagues’ admissions officers and athletic coaches, too, turn toward your application.
Refrain from assuming that these top institutions do not care about athletes since they do not hand out athletic scholarships — all the scholarships they award are need-based.
However, keep in mind that the Ivies may prioritize recruited athletes more than everybody else in the admissions process.
According to Stanford Daily, recruited athletes with high academic achievements get accepted at an 83% rate compared to a 16% rate of students of the same caliber.
Because the Ivy Leagues have a holistic admissions policy, they consider not only academic factors but also non-academic ones when evaluating applicants — and talents and abilities are some of those that can make or break applications.
And this is why besides sports, pursuits that demonstrate creativity can also help boost one’s admissions chances.
Once, someone said that creativity breeds innovation. By now, we have solidified the fact that the Ivies hunger for students who are current and future innovators.
Partaking in art-based extracurriculars does not only flex your creativity — it also lets you demonstrate your personality, uniqueness, passions in life, and communication and problem-solving skills. And because the Ivy Leagues provide a nurturing place for academics and creatives alike, you can be sure that you can call any one of them home.
Here are some great examples of creative extracurriculars that can make your application extraordinary:
- Animation club
- Broadcast club
- Chorus club
- Comic book club
- Community theater program
- Dance club
- Drama club
- Fashion design club
- Filmmaking club
- Graphic design club
- High school theater program
- Jewelry making club
- Marching band
- Orchestra club
- Painting club
- Photography club
- Sculpture club
- Video game development club
- Website design club
- Woodworking club
It’s true that participating in student government allows you to gain leadership skills in high school and even help shape the school policy and experience for the entire studentry. However, it’s not just the campus as well as the lives of your classmates that you may be able to change but also the community and even the country.
Because of the potential and promise student council members hold, it’s no wonder why they are some of the most desirable applicants in the eyes of the Ivy Leagues.
Fret not if you are not a part of your high school student government.
That’s because you can still exhibit leadership, public speaking, organizational and teamwork skills by partaking in related EAs, thus allowing you to submit an impressive application to your top-choice Ivy League school.
Joining Model UN, for instance, lets you establish the fact that you can lead, negotiate, dialogue and inspire change, too.
Being a part of the debate team is also a wonderful alternative to holding a student council position. And speaking of which, you may also give participating in the local or municipal government a try — nothing can make your college application lovelier and your future brighter than winning a local office despite your young age!
Travel and Missionaries
First things first: just because you visited another city, state or country doesn’t mean right away that you should add it to your EA list in the hope of increasing your chances of gaining admission into an Ivy League.
When deciding whether or not travel counts as an extracurricular, consider the purposes for which it was done.
Did you travel with your family in order to check out the expanse of the Grand Canyon, bask in the fun and excitement at the Walt Disney World Resort or marvel at the splendor of the Las Vegas strip at night? Then it’s a much better idea to leave it out of your extracurricular activity list.
On the other hand, if the purpose was to change the world, then it should definitely be at the top.
Building homes for the homeless, establishing an orphanage or animal shelter, teaching underprivileged students how to read, helping to feed malnourished kids, being a citizen diplomat, acquiring global competencies — these are just some of the things that can make travel a worthy addition to your EA list rather than your social media account.
You should also consider traveling as an extracurricular if it’s necessary in order to be able to participate in a competition, which is something that we will talk about in a few — so keep reading!
The Ivy Leagues and other selective institutions are interested in welcoming students who are actively engaged in their communities — high school communities, local communities, organizational communities, etc. After all, community engagement is usually the start of active citizenship and responsible leadership.
What’s so nice about community service is that you can engage in it on- and off-campus.
No matter if you much rather prefer to be of service to your fellow students or fellowmen in your neighborhood, you can acquire and hone various skills such as leadership, teamwork, communication, planning, problem-solving, time-management and network-building — all while touching lives.
Community service not only enhances your EA list and overall college application — it can also improve your self-esteem and mental health, which can come in very handy most especially during the hectic college application season.
Many colleges and universities, including the most prestigious in the land such as the Ivy Leagues, consider work experience as one of the various non-academic admissions factors.
To know that this is true, all you have to do is access the Common Data Set (CDS) for your top-choice school and head to section C7 where different academic and non-academic admissions factors for first-time, first-year students are enumerated together with the relative importance of each.
Some institutions consider work experience “very important”, while others consider it “important”. Some may give it relative importance of “considered” only, which is the case for all the Ivy League schools, but, nonetheless, can still have an impact on the admissions decisions.
But just because you have previous work experience doesn’t mean right away that adding it to your list of extracurriculars can make your application to an Ivy League worthy of an offer to enroll.
However, it’s a completely different matter if the reason for having a job is to get a real-world experience of the major you would like to declare in college or the future career you are envisioning — it should definitely count as an extracurricular. Work experience can also develop skills that can make you college-ready, such as:
- Interpersonal skills
- Organization skills
The college application process, if you think about it, is just one big contest. The contestants are college-bound high schoolers. The judges are college admissions officers. The prizes are acceptance letters.
Generally speaking, the more selective the college or university, the harder it is to win the grand prize.
It’s no secret that the Ivy Leagues are on the hunt for some of the smartest and most passionate kids. And nothing can showcase your expertise in a subject matter or talent in a particular field more than presenting college admissions officers a shiny medal or a massive trophy from a contest about the matter.
Some competitions are held campus-wide, with the contestants from various classes or sections who are brilliant in the same field or area — spelling, essay writing, math, science, history, etc. — vying for first place.
But then there are also competitions where the contestants come from various high schools, either in the same region or from different cities or states. Winning an award from a national or global competition about a challenging subject matter or domain can definitely help make your EA list a total winner in the eyes of the Ivy Leagues.
In some instances, however, being a participant alone may also give you extra points in the admissions process.
Just Before You Join Extracurricular Activities
Don’t just join any EA that you run into while exploring your high school campus and its offerings — if the goal is to one day earn a degree from an Ivy League school, opt for extracurriculars that can help increase your chances of gaining admission into at least one of the eight most prestigious institutions in the US and all over the planet, too.
Above, we talked about some extracurriculars that are guaranteed to wow the Ivies.
Go for at least two of them — four EAs is considered ideal by the Ivy Leagues and many other elite colleges and universities in the land. But then again, quality tramples quantity. Make sure that you pick extracurricular activities that will let you develop your most valuable skills and pursue your passions, and your application will take care of you.
However, having the most amazing extracurricular list is useless if your GPA, test score and other academic markers are less than stellar. Being a top-performer inside and outside the classroom matters to the country’s top schools.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.