In this article, CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert Becky Weinstein will walk you through the “extracurricular hook” - developing your extracurriculars into a hook for college admissions. For more guidance on planning your extracurriculars and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.
You’re in high school. You probably have a decent sense of the activities you enjoy and want to commit your time to. So, is this article for you? Absolutely.
For many years, a myth has pervaded the admissions world that well-roundedness is the best way to get into top colleges: simply be good at as many things as possible in order to stand out as an applicant. This may lead high school students to sign up for as many clubs, sports, and charities as their schedule can hold, or perhaps even more than their schedule allows, causing them to give less time to each activity.
At top colleges, the well-roundedness strategy will not—or will rarely, as nothing is impossible—work. Bring to the stage: the extracurricular hook. An extracurricular hook is your differentiator. If the rest of your activities look like blips in the graph, the hook is a spike towering above the rest.
The hook is specific to your passions. It is the interest or the activity or the skill that rises above all the rest for you and that you give more of your time to—whether across a single activity or several activities all relating to the same theme—than anything else.
Why is the extracurricular hook important?
Colleges want to stitch together a class of students who are passionate, driven—who are among the best at what they do. They like students who have a sense for where their life is going. They appreciate students with focus and intellectual vitality. A hook demonstrates all of these qualities.
It is therefore likely that between two applicants with comparable test scores and grades, colleges choose the applicant who spends all her time pursuing a passion for music over the student who plays an instrument while also pursuing seven other unrelated activities.
How To Identify Your Hook
If you’re a junior in high school or younger, you may be thinking to yourself: well, I already have my extracurriculars, so it’s probably too late to develop a hook. It’s not! In fact, this is a great time to assess your current activities. Do you see any themes across them? What are you most passionate about? Look for the intersection in the answer to these two questions in order to start identifying what your hook is.
And if your extracurriculars don’t have any themes, that’s okay! Take this as an opportunity to reassess: are you truly enjoying and dedicating significant time to all of your activities? It is not too late to mold your extracurricular list.
Think about where your passion lies. Do you have any activities that allow you to pursue this passion? Consider pulling away from the activities that don’t align with your passion, while joining or starting additional efforts that do align with your passion. This is how a hook is made.
Let’s look at an example to help you identify your own hook.
Below is a list of a student’s extracurricular engagements:
- Writes for the school newspaper
- Tennis club
- Won a poetry contest
- Key Club
- Girl Scouts
There’s a few different clubs on this list, but one thing that grabs my attention is the recurrence of writing. This student writes for the newspaper and won a poetry contest. That’s the beginning of a hook. Does that mean this student should drop the other engagements? Not necessarily! The only time you should consider dropping extracurriculars is if:
- You give little time to them
- They are only there because you think it’s what colleges want to see
- You don’t enjoy them
- They are getting in the way of you pursuing your passion (hook)
Look for the themes in your own activity list. If there are none, think about what you want your hook to be.
How To Strengthen Your Hook
Now you’ve identified your extracurricular hook; to be a top applicant, you need to strengthen it. This is where you take your theme—whatever makes you unique—and show that you’re the best at it. This could come in a lot of different forms, and again, it’s important to stay true to yourself and what you’re interested in.
If you have a couple of different themes—perhaps you’re passionate about writing and biology—then you might consider a project that merges these themes so that they exist as one in the admissions officer’s eyes.
For example, maybe you start a blog on the perils of plastic in the ocean. This is a strong approach for two reasons: one, where the admissions officer might previously have worried about a lack of focus between two topics, they now see you as all the more unique because you exist at the intersection of the two. Second, this example shows a student taking the initiative, beyond classes and clubs, to start their own project.
Or, returning to the list of activities above, the student’s theme was writing. But with only ⅖ activities on the list dedicated to writing, it’s not quite a hook yet. This student might consider paths that show taking more initiative around their passion. For example, trying to get work published, starting a creative writing magazine at school, or any number of other undertakings that make her hook that much stronger.
As you can see, strengthening your hook really just means taking it to the next level. Don’t make your admissions officer search for your hook—when they’re done reading your application, they should say: Wow! This student is really passionate about ____.
Junior year is a busy time—in addition to class, extracurricular activities, and testing, you’ve got the college applications cycle looming ahead of you. Working with an experienced mentor such as one of CollegeAdvisor.com’s Admissions Experts can help you develop your extracurricular hook, build a strategy that keeps you grounded, and craft your essays so that your college applications stand out.
Got another question about developing your extracurricular hook? Check out CollegeAdvisor.com’s guide to Showcasing Extracurricular Activities In Your College Applications.
This informational essay on the extracurricular hook was written by Becky Weinstein, Stanford University ‘22. If you want to get help with your college applications from Becky or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.