Refining your Focus, Part II

(This is Part II of a two-part post. For Part I, see Refining your Focus, Part I)

Along with cutting out excess activities, another easy way to narrow down your focus is to have a recurring thread throughout your application. Somehow, you want your EC’s, summer activities, jobs/internships, essays and even your recommendation to be related. Here are some examples of what a focused applicant would appear like in different subject areas:

The Activist/Politician

A politically active or charity minded student has many opportunities to show their interest, from joining the Young Democrats/Young Republicans club at their school, to founding an Amnesty International Club or Model United Nations club. Essay contests are also a good way to show focus; an activist could enter the National Peace Essay Contest, or, if they are already a member of AI, the Amnesty International High School Student Essay Contest. Outside of school, it is very easy to sign up as an intern at a politician’s campaign office, join a charity event through a community organization or church (although be wary of programs that must be paid for), or privately raise funds for a particular cause. The type of experiences that accompany such selfless activities will, without a doubt, make for a great essay topic.

The Artist/Writer

Many of the same contests that apply to artists also apply to writers, so I will condense these two focuses into one section. At the high school level, you can submit pieces of writing or art to your school’s literary journal or newspaper. As leadership is very important to most colleges, make sure to keep an eye on the coveted seat of editor-in-chief of your school’s newspaper. There are a plethora of national art and writing competitions, the most notable of which is the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards (which are administered annually by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers), but there are also many, many contests at the state and local level- look carefully for these. Even if some of these contests/awards are not exceedingly prestigious, they can still provide you with a sizable amount of scholarship money along with the honor of winning. To further express a creative interest, consider joining a book or art club, interning at newspapers or galleries, and even self-publishing your work. Many states and universities run writing and art programs during the summer, although, if you’re looking for something more competitive, check out TASP. Despite all of these contests and awards, there is one very concrete benefit to being of a creative mindset- you get to ace the application essay.

The Entrepreneur

Perhaps the best (and most educational) way for an entrepreneur to show their business savvy is to start a company of their own. This could be something relatively simple, like creating a lawn mowing business, or something that seems more advanced, such as creating and maintaining social media websites for various companies. This activity alone can show deep interest, mainly because it will take up a lot of time and show serious commitment. As far as other things go, DECA (a club focused on marketing, management, and entrepreneurship that hosts competitions) is an option for a club, and arranging a summer internship at a local company can also show initiative.

The Scientist

Science-focused students are at a great advantage in the college admissions process; the number of competitions and awards for science research projects is endless. From the very prestigious Siemens Competition to the Intel Science Talent Search (STS) to the (slightly less competitive) Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), these competitions provide an impressive way to show commitment and depth to a science research project. The top few winners of these competitions usually breeze their way into MIT, Caltech, etc., but be warned: this prestige is born of the reality of just how competitive these competitions are. Some students begin work on their projects as early as three years in advance, and utilize the assistance of PhD’s in researching their topics. If you do not have the time (or resources) to tackle one of these large projects, don’t fear! There are many other outlets for the aspiring scientist: the Science Olympiad, the Department of Energy’s Science Bowl, and the Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) all provide more accessible means of displaying a scientific focus. Finally (although it has become almost cliché) many universities and companies are open to high school interns looking to conduct research.


While this post only outlined the archetypes of four different “focused” students, bear in mind that any interest can fit into the mold. Just make sure that your main interest comes off strongly on your college application, and is revisited as many times as possible in your extra curricular activities, essays, work experience, SAT II’s, etc. Even within these programs and awards, there are varying degrees of importance, especially for gaining admission to schools like the Ivies, MIT, and Stanford. Some basic points to remember:

  1. Leadership positions in a club are always preferable to being a mere member
  2. Awards at the state or national level are more impressive than local awards
  3. Receiving awards and recognition for work (research projects, art, writing) is important to having it perceived as legitimate and worthwhile
  4. Some awards (such as Intel and Siemens) are worth more by themselves than five other activities put together

The reason for these two posts are to assure you, the worried student, that involvement in twenty different activities is completely unnecessary; focusing on one subject area is both easier and more enjoyable. Also, don’t forget that your options are not limited by any means; from summer programs to internships to contests, there are many outlets to express your interests. The only thing you need to do is search for them.

I hope that you have found this post helpful! Comments and questions are welcome.

(Photos by footloosietycliff, katrina tuliao, Admissions360, and Horia Varlan, respectively.)

This entry was posted in Admissions, Extracurricular Activities, Written by Brian and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Refining your Focus, Part II

  1. Pingback: Refining your Focus, Part I | Admissions360

  2. Pingback: “Rethinking Advanced Placement” in review | Admissions360

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