Extracurricular activities are a large part of every successful college application to a competitive school. And while the Common App has room for up to ten activities, it’s better to have deep involvement and leadership in one or two high school clubs. But how about starting a club? It never occurred to me when I was in high school. And only a couple students did it in the school I taught in for many years. In fact, when I was a student at Middlebury College, there were many interesting activities, but I don’t remember any new ones starting when I was there. There was a professor who tried to get a debate team going. Parents can be a big help. They can be advisors. Many clubs at many schools are led by non-faculty members. Parents can provide transportation or help with fundraisers. They can lend weight to the organization in getting school administration’s support.

Competitive Activities

Debate is an academic activity that surpasses most others in terms of intensity. At least at high levels of competition. And you can put in the effort to reach high levels of competition. Success in debate is a very good predictor of success in college and career. College admissions deans know that. Hillary Clinton, Janet Reno, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were high school debaters. So were Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley. LBJ was a debate coach. Presidents Nixon, Carter, and Bill Clinton all participated in the activity. Debaters are known for their research and critical thinking skills. They are likely to be effective writers. They are able to access information quickly. And they develop the poise and confidence that helps them in their college interviews. Join the debate team. Or start one. Of the 26,000 secondary schools in the United States, only about 2800 have debate programs that are part of the National Speech and Debate Association. Only 15 schools in Vermont are active, out of 129 high schools. So there’s a great opportunity to start a club. Other competitive activities include Speech, Model UN, Model Congress, Mock Trial, Scholars Bowl, Science Olympiad, and Odyssey of the Mind. All are available to Vermont schools.

Three Kinds of Clubs

The clubs you (or your high schooler) can start fall into three categories: academic, service, and hobby. The first two are impressive to college admissions people in particular. Debate belongs to the first category.  Other academic clubs could be an art club, a book club, a film club, or a photography club. Of course, these are also hobby clubs. Or interest clubs. But that’s okay. Colleges are interested in what you are interested in! Obvious ones are computer science, math, science, and foreign language clubs. But your school might not have one. It doesn’t have to be a competitive club. Some clubs you may not have considered: a Shakespeare club, a comedy or improv club, a future health professionals club, a literary magazine, outing club, or a model airplane club. Service-minded students should consider their school’s Key Club. Sponsored by Kiwanis International, Key Club has had famous members: Bill Clinton, Elvis Presley, Joe Namath, and Brad Pitt. Any number of charitable groups have high school chapters, such as Habit for Humanity and Amnesty International.

Check Out Other Schools

Look at what other schools offer. Here’s Mount Mansfield Union High School’s activity page. Here’s the one for Essex High School. Here’s the one for Harwood Union High School. Look up other schools. Is your school missing an interesting activity? Before starting a club, you might want to gauge student interest. It’s not fun to be in a club alone. Find someone willing to be an advisor. That person can be an advocate when you present your idea to your school administration.  It’s impressive to colleges if you start a club. It shows initiative. It shows a depth of interest. And it’s an opportunity to assume a leadership position.