What Extracurriculars Do Ivy League Schools Like Harvard Want?


Harvard University
Interested in attending Harvard or an Ivy League? Fear not about your extracurriculars!

We recently stumbled upon a series the New York Times did with the Harvard University Dean of Admissions in 2009. You can read the full interview here, but there were a few paragraphs that stood out to us that we wanted to share with y’all.


When students ask about how to get into Harvard or a similar Ivy-League school, they’re undoubtedly told to excel academically but also to make sure to be “well-rounded” and to “stand out” with extracurriculars and leadership abilities. With so many admissions committee members and school counselors advising students to be well-rounded, the term seems to have lost some meaning. In describing his thoughts on well-roundedness and extracurriculars, Dean Fitzsimmons notes:

The term “extracurricular activities” covers an enormous amount of ground. We are interested in whatever a student does: in addition to school extracurricular activities and athletics, students can tell us of significant community, employment, or family commitments. There are many who spend a great deal of time helping to run their household, preparing meals and caring for siblings or making money with a part-time job to help the household meet expenses.

Then later, he elaborates that:

Extracurricular activities need not be exotic — most are not — and substance is far more important. A student who has made the most of opportunities day-to-day during secondary school is much more likely to do so during college and beyond. This applies to academic life as well as extracurricular activities.

For those of you who aspire to attend the Harvard, Stanford, MIT, or any similarly high-ranking school, fear not about your extracurriculars! I know there is pressure to be “different” and “unique,” and to set yourself apart through extracurriculars and leadership experiences, but as Dean Fitzsimmons said, most extracurriculars they see are rather blase and par for the course. It might be intimidating to learn that few extracurriculars can pique the interests of an Ivy League admissions counselor, but your reaction should be the exact opposite. You need not be in exotic clubs or have accomplished one-of-a-kind feats. Rather, you need only make the most of your experience in the every-day extracurriculars of the world. As long as you pour your soul into your swim team or into Key Club, and as long as you come out of these extracurriculars a better person, you will be able to stand out through strength of character. These Ivy League schools don’t want the person who’s changed the world — they simply want someone who made a positive contribution to it.

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