Ask Test Masters – Extracurricular Activities & National Merit

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Ask Test Masters is a free service offered by the experts at Test Masters. Sally recently asked us what factors (aside from scores) influence the final decisions when it comes to qualifying for National Merit and what the types of extracurricular activities are best to win one of the coveted National Merit Scholarships. Sally wrote,

“What determines the final decisions for National Merit besides scores? What types of extracurricular activities?”

Dear Sally,

Outside of the mandatory qualifications to advance, extracurricular activities play a huge role in determining who wins a National Merit Scholarship (not as much as grades, but a significant role nonetheless).

For extracurricular activities, the most important rule to keep in mind is quality over quantity. It is much better in the eyes of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (and college admission officers!) to be deeply involved, and recognized for your deep involvement, in two or three clubs, organizations, or charities than to be spread out over a half dozen lesser commitments. Not to be too on the nose about it, but “Quality” in this context means obtaining a leadership position and being able to quantify your successes as a leader; for example, being Captain of your high school’s Math Club and helping them win 3rd place at a state or national competition, or being Secretary of your high school’s Et Cetera Charity Foundation and raising X amount of dollars at Y function. Also, being recognized or awarded for your accomplishments (by your school, the local news, or any other legitimate agency) is a BIG plus too.

There’s no magic formula when it comes to picking the right extracurricular, but there are some dos and don’ts. Remember that, ideally, your activities should indicate a wide range of interests; beware of coming off as one-dimensional. This does not mean it’s not okay to have one main focus and other more peripheral activities; just remember to engage in those peripheral activities! Certainly, the extracurricular you choose to participate in should be interesting and rewarding to you, but try to branch out when you can (who knows, you just might enjoy the new experiences). For example, if you are an athlete, try to compete academically (academic decathlon, debate, quiz team); or, if you are president of the Science Club, think of signing up for a school play.

Hope this answered your question! Let us know if you have any specific questions about your current extracurricular activities; we’re more than happy to help!

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