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You won't impress an admissions committee by asking for a tour of the all–night study lounge. Yes, colleges want bright students. But even more, they want bright, well–rounded students.
Grades and test scores are very important, but so is what you choose to pursue outside of the classroom. Admissions officers are looking to create a class made up of students with diverse interests and backgrounds. They'll look closely at your extracurriculars to get a sense of who you are and what you're passionate about.
How much you do isn't as important as being committed to what you do. An application with scattered interest and involvement over four years looks flakey. A student that runs track and sings in the choir throughout four years of high school shows passion and commitment. Find out early on what sparks your interest and stick with it.
Demonstrate leadership. If you have the opportunity and drive to be the captain of a sports team, president of a club or editor of the school newspaper, seize the opportunity. Colleges like responsible leaders who earn the respect of their peers.
An after–school job shows maturity. Don't fret if an after-school job prevents you from participating in extracurriculars. If you have to work so that your family can make ends meet, be sure the colleges you apply to understand that. Helping to support a family is a serious responsibility that demonstrates character. And just as with extracurriculars, it's impressive if you retain a job for an extended period and rise to a position of responsibility.
Extracurriculars can be valuable experience. If you have a career or study interest that you can pursue outside the classroom, take advantage. Think you might be interested in medicine? Try volunteering at a local hospital. Are you destined to be a writer? Join your school's newspaper or literary magazine. These activities can help give you a strong foundation should you decide to pursue them further, academically or professionally.