While stellar grades and test scores are undoubtedly important in the college admissions process, on their own they are not enough to secure admission to top colleges. At elite universities in the US in particular, admissions officers want to know who you are as a person. What are your interests and passions and, more importantly, how have you pursued them? Your extracurricular activities, internships and volunteer work are all important building blocks in putting together an application that will ultimately set you apart from the other candidates.

But the onset of COVID-19 has created an unforeseen challenge here. Given the prevalence of lockdowns and social distancing measures around the world, it is more than likely that your extra-curricular activities or plans for a summer internship have been cancelled.

What should I do now?

First of all, don’t panic! Remember that we are all facing this unprecedented situation together. The pandemic has disrupted everyone’s way of life, including the person who will be reading your application. Colleges get that your applications may not look the way you had planned.
They also understand that you or your family may have been personally affected by the pandemic and the resulting economic fallout. If that is the case, then you should definitely not feel pressured into continuing as normal.

However, if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to think about extracurricular activities during this period, read on. There are a number of ways in which you can still strengthen your application profile despite being confined to your home. Just because track and field practices are no longer taking place or your debate tournament got cancelled, does not mean that your application needs to be bland and one-dimensional!

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Virtualise your plans: Working from home is a new reality for many offices today, and it looks like a trend that is here to stay. If you had an internship or job planned, there may be a way for you to still pursue it remotely. It is worth checking in with your prospective employer if there is an opportunity for you to work from home. Even better, you could proactively suggest ways to help out. For example, the local library where you planned to volunteer may have had to close due to the virus. But perhaps you could offer to help update its online database or expand its social media presence by starting an online story time?
  • Start a new project: While this may sound daunting, it does not have to be, especially if you link it to things that you are already involved with. For example, if you are a talented musician, it could be as simple as setting up a YouTube channel to showcase some of your work. Or, if you have been trying your hand at photography, think about creating a digital portfolio. This is a great way to take that high school hobby to the next level, but it also shows that you are a self-starter. And who knows, you may even end up continuing this project through college!
  • Connect with your community: Colleges are looking for ways in which you have made an impact on your community. Living amidst a real-life health crisis, not to mention the birth of a new civil rights movement, means that the need for volunteers and good samaritans is greater than ever. You can start by researching the existing initiatives in your neighborhood, whether it is a local NGO, helpline, coronavirus relief fund, or food bank. Once you have narrowed down the cause that you would like to support, ask yourself where you can really make a difference. If you enjoy organizing things, you may want to think about planning a virtual fundraising event. Or, if you are more of a people person, you may want to support those self-isolating by teaching a class online or grocery shopping for them?
  • Learn a new skill or take an online class: This is advice that most of us have come across during the lockdown. It is, however, a great way to use your time constructively and show that you have taken that ‘extra step’ in your chosen field of interest. It may be a new programming software, a graphic design software or even a new language – with the abundance of online learning platforms, the choice is endless! If you need some inspiration, here is a useful list of over 450 college courses that you can check out.
  • Read! It sounds obvious, but we often undervalue the benefits of good old books. Being well-read can give your application more credibility, as it conveys that you are intellectually curious and engaged with your chosen subject and the world around you. More importantly, it is a great way to start gearing up for the rigorous demands of college-level reading. If you are unsure about where to start, a lot of colleges in the US and UK publish summer reading lists. For starters, check out the 2019 summer reading list from UC-Berkeley and the 2020 summer reading list from Bryn Mawr College.

This is a great time to take stock of what you have already done and think about how to fill any gaps in your application. But whatever you choose to do, make sure that your activities truly align with your interests and passions, and that you pick a few things and do them well, rather than stretching yourself too thin. Colleges are interested in who you are, so don’t focus unduly about who they want you to be. If that means starting a podcast about bird watching from your balcony or teaching yourself to flamenco dance via YouTube – so be it!

The college application process can be overwhelming and may seem especially uncertain this year. If you find yourself wondering about how this is going to affect your admission to your dream college, get in touch.

We will continue to share more ideas on how to improve your application, so be sure to watch this space for more updates!