Importance of Extracurricular Activities for Admissions to Ivy Leagues

Ivy Leagues
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Ivy Leagues refers to a group of eight elite universities in the USA. These include Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania. Admissions to these universities are extremely competitive with admission rates of only 2 to 8 per cent. Apart from excellent grades and SAT scores, students require strong extracurricular activities to differentiate their applications.
Extracurricular activities help students become well-rounded individuals. The students learn how to handle responsibilities, explore their interests outside the classroom and better manage their time. For admission officers who review thousands of applications, strong extracurriculars help in identifying passionate, committed, and hardworking students.

Some of the popular activities that students can pursue to hone their applications to the Ivy Leagues and other highly selective universities are mentioned below.

Co-curricular Activities / Research Papers

One of the most important questions for any university application is, ‘What is your favourite subject and what have you done to learn that subject in and out of the classroom?’. Depending on the subject and the choice of major, it is helpful to participate in related events like coding competitions, courses and research papers.

A research paper is an academic writing that analyses, evaluates, or interprets a topic with empirical evidence and data. Students usually write research papers on their favourite subject under the guidance of a professor or a mentor. A research paper goes beyond what is taught in the textbooks and demonstrates that the student is passionate about their favourite subject and is willing to dig deeper. A good research paper provides insight into a student’s thought process and approaches to problems.

Leadership Experience

Holding a position of responsibility shows that your peers and teachers respect you and trust your decision-making skills. Some positions that high school students can aim for are Head Boy / Girl, Prefects, Members of the Student Council, House Captains etc. Leadership demonstrates a student’s ability to take initiative, lead their peers, serve as a role model, or even create something new.

Cultural Events / Music / Dance / Debates

Cultural activities are important as they give students a chance to develop important life skills such as creativity, confidence, self-discipline, effective communication, and the ability to work in teams. Some examples of cultural events are dances, concerts etc. At a high level, these activities instil confidence in one’s skills and foster a sense of cooperation with others.

Some students may have a talent for writing, debating, music or playing an instrument. We sometimes see an aspiring engineer, who has already published a novel. Or a future business major who is a trained dancer and participates in national-level events. It is always impressive if students have cultivated their passion over several years and achieved recognition at a national or international level.


Sports help students learn valuable life skills such as teamwork, leadership, accountability, patience, and self-confidence and prepare them to face life challenges. Students that have a national rank in golf, swimming, track and field, squash, tennis etc. may also be eligible for sports scholarships at Ivy leagues and some other highly selective universities. They should contact the respective universities and share their profile with the university representatives during their junior year.

Most students do not play a sport at a national level. However, it is still meaningful if they have regularly played for their school team. This helps the academic officers understand the student’s efforts, dedication, passion, and commitment to their sport.


Internships are professional learning experiences that allow students to apply the concepts they have learned in class to a real-world situation. Internships help students understand different career options and gain new skills. This shows the admission officers the student’s dedication and commitment to learning new things. Students acquire knowledge and work experience which helps prepare them for the future.

Volunteering and Community Service

One crucial question for Ivy League and other highly selective university applications is, ‘What have you done to make your school or community a better place?’. While the exact language may differ, in some form students need to answer this question.

Community service is a way to contribute to one’s school, community, or society. Some examples of this are volunteering for NGOs, tutoring children for free, beach cleaning drives, conducting donation camps etc. This teaches empathy, how to adapt to different situations, and cooperation. Generally, these activities don’t achieve results overnight, but over several months or a few years, students can create a significant positive impact.
Extracurricular activities help improve the student’s chances of getting into highly selective universities. More importantly, they learn valuable life skills and grow into responsible citizens. Students should identify the activities that align with their goals, passions and values and work on those along with their academics.


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