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High School Student Leadership: How to Stand Out in Your College Applications

Proven leadership ability is a big deal in college admissions. Hundreds of thousands of students have excellent grades and test scores, but what often sets an applicant apart-and secures an acceptance letter-is his or her outstanding involvement in school clubs, athletics, or community organizations.

With a year or two before the college application process gets going, sophomores still have the chance to work their way up in a club or team, earning the experience and respect that will guarantee them a leadership role in junior or senior year.

The value of leadership positions
Boost college applications
A significant leadership role or two can make the difference between a decent application and a stellar one. The National Honor Society characterizes student leaders as resourceful, good problem solvers, promoters of school activities, idea-contributors, dependable, and persons who exemplify positive attitudes about life-in other words, model candidates for higher learning!

Build self-esteem
Hard work, accomplishment, and recognition are vital factors in positive self-image. By taking on positions of responsibility at school and in their communities, students will feel genuinely good about themselves-which is just as important as looking impressive to admissions officers.

Invest in the future
Being a leader can benefit a student not only in high school and college, but in their professional life. A 2004 study at the University of California Santa Barbara found that people with leadership roles in high school are more likely to hold managerial positions as adults, earning higher incomes than those in non-leadership roles.

Areas of leadership

  • Academic teams (math team, debate club, etc.)
  • Arts (theater, band, choir, glee club, dance, etc.)
  • Athletic teams
  • Community service/volunteering
  • Employment (afterschool jobs, internships, etc.)
  • Peer tutoring/advising
  • Political organizations (model U.N., alliance of students of color, international relations club, etc.)
  • Publications (school newspaper, literary magazine, yearbook, etc.)
  • Student government

How to become a leader
An article at eCampusTours.com offers several suggestions for taking on leadership roles at your high school. Here are the highlights:

Know your strengths
Follow your passions; explore what you love; capitalize on what you can already do well. Are you a people person? Consider running for student government. Do you write poetry on the weekends? Apply for a staff job on the literary magazine.

Gain experience
Be willing to pay your dues. Before you can be editor-in-chief of the paper, you'll have to work as a reporter or a proofreader. As a sophomore, you still have plenty of time to do the footwork before taking on leadership roles in junior or senior year.

Work well with others
Good managers have strong interpersonal skills. Be able to listen to other people, ask questions, establish trust, and create a sense of teamwork.

Be optimistic
Maintain focus and a positive attitude, especially in the face of difficulty. Grace under pressure is a key leadership trait. If your team has just lost a crucial game, don't throw in the towel; encourage your teammates to practice even harder for the next one.

Take action
Leaders are ready to walk the walk-they don't just talk the talk. Set concrete goals and follow the steps necessary to achieve them. Anyone can have a great idea, but not everyone can make that vision a reality.

And remember:
Actions are more important than titles.
Even if you aren't the captain of the varsity lacrosse team, you could be its leading scorer. You may not be the paper's editor-in-chief, but you can write award-winning articles. Your commitment and achievement in a given activity are far more important than your title. If you've made an exceptional contribution to a team or club, ask the coach or faculty advisor to write you a recommendation letter-that way your involvement will be sure to shine on your college applications.

Resist the urge to pad your resume.
Don't join a club or team merely to fluff up your extracurricular profile. It's important to choose activities that genuinely interest you-otherwise, you risk boring yourself and making a feeble contribution to the organization. College admissions committees can usually tell when an applicant has padded his or her resume with flimsy additions. Instead of a laundry list of activities, admissions officers would rather see meaningful and sustained participation in a few areas. Long-term involvement and responsibility in one or two organizations will strengthen your application, whereas being an onlooker in ten groups may not help you much.

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