Why Extracurricular Activities?

While academic achievement is at the very top of the criteria the UCs consider, the majority of the UCs also pay close attention to applicant achievements outside of the classroom. Given how competitive the top UCs are, extracurricular activities are also a way for you to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Make sure you balance your school work with your extracurricular activities during the school year and plan ahead for summer activities but NEVER sacrifice your grades for extracurricular activities.

Extracurricular activities encompass anything you do outside of the school. As long as you have devoted time and excelled in what you do, it doesn’t matter if you are a cheerleader, a school club secretary, the student body president, the church choir lead, the youth orchestra flute section leader, the state yo-yo champion, a homeless shelter volunteer, a barista at the local coffee shop, or in charge of taking care of your six siblings while your parents work five different jobs. Competitive UCs generally like to see applicants with demonstrated leadership potential, and the best way to do this is by describing your academic and/or extracurricular achievements in your UC Application.

Back to Top

What is Leadership?

So what exactly is leadership? This is how the UCLA Alumni Scholarship Program defines it:

Individual Leadership Qualities

  • Shows initiative, takes charge, sets priorities.
  • Displays intelligence, good judgment, confidence and self-knowledge.
  • Accepts responsibilities willingly and eagerly.
  • Demonstrates courage, resolution, and steadiness.
  • Manages, decides, and sets priorities.
  • Exhibits perseverance, ingenuity, creativity, and dynamism in solving problems.
  • Seeks opportunities and surmounts obstacles, including challenging the status quo.

Group Leadership Qualities

  • Sets an example through commitment and action.
  • Works collaboratively with others.
  • Guides changes and improvements.
  • Makes plans, motivates, follows through and guides the participation of others so that all will benefit.
  • Delegates, trains and shares the responsibility and the credit.
  • Demonstrates selflessness and consideration of others.
  • Assesses potential in others.
  • Shows understanding of followers/constituents, and their needs.
  • Skilled in dealing with people, shows social perceptiveness.
  • Able to win and hold trust.
  • Exhibits adaptability and flexibility in approach.

You don’t need to achieve EVERY quality, but be sure to MENTION every quality you did achieve in your UC Application!

Back to Top

Activities and Programs

Below is a selection of activities and programs I have come across over the years. Broaden your search beyond the internet; check with your high school career center for local opportunities and browse the library reference section for guidebooks on summer programs and internship opportunities.

Ideally, you should pick two to three areas of interest (in case some don’t pan out, there are couple of backups) and make long-term commitments (three to four years) in three to five extracurricular activities. Development of leadership skills in your extracurricular activities is essential.

Back to Top

Community Service and Volunteering

You can search for volunteer opportunities using the vetted volunteer matching service providers below. Sign up to receive email notifications when volunteer opportunities in the areas you are interested in become available. Most of these are national listings with opportunities in every interest area you can imagine.

Return to Activities and Programs Menu / Back to Top

Educational Preparation Programs

You may have heard about “educational preparation programs” and the UC Application even has a section for them. So what are educational preparation programs?

Well, according to the UCs, educational preparation programs are “programs or activities that have enriched your academic experiences or helped you to prepare for college. Such programs may provide information, counseling, tutoring or other service or offer academic enrichment, research opportunities or special study opportunities, such as study abroad.”

Below is a list of the educational preparation programs that are available to high school students. Look for them at your school and do your best to participate in them.

UC Berkeley
  • ATDP (Academic Talent Development Program)
    Serves students from grades K through 11.
  • Boost (formerly Young Entrepreneurs at Haas)
    Offered through UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and serves high school students.
  • Pre-College TRIO Programs (formerly EGC (Educational Guidance Center))
    Serves middle school and high school students in the Bay Area.
UC Davis
  • C-STEM
    Serves students from grades K through 14.
  • UCLA VIP Scholars
    Likely discontinued.
UC Merced
  • UC Scholars
    Serves high school students in Central California.
  • UC-TIP (UC Transfer Initiatives Program; formerly ERA)
    Serves high school students going to community college and current community college students in Central California.
  • UCSF Internships
    Search “internship” on the UCSF website for available opportunities;  most internships are for high school students.
UC Santa Cruz
  • UCSC SAGE (Students Acquiring “A-G” Expectations)
    Likely discontinued.
All UCs
  • EAOP (Early Academic Outreach Program)
    Serves high school students.
  • Upward Bound
    Serves high school students.
Most UC and CSU campuses
  • Educational Talent Search
    Search for “trio talent search” or “educational talent search” at a campus near you. This program serves elementary school, middle school, and/or high school students.
Other Options Available Throughout California
  • Cal-SOAP
    Serves high school and community college students.
  • GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs)
    Primarily serves middle school students.
  • MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement)
    Serves elementary school, middle school, high school, community college, and 4-year college students.
Other Options Available Nation-Wide
  • AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination)
  • College Bound
  • Puente Program
    Serves high school and community college students.
  • Posse
    A comprehensive college access and youth leadership development program for public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes.
  • Study abroad
    There are a variety of study abroad and exchange programs available and many offer scholarships to cover at least part of the expenses. Here are couple of programs to help you get started:

  • Summer Search
    National leadership development program that helps low-income young people graduate high school, go to college, gain successful careers, and give back to society.

Return to Activities and Programs Menu / Back to Top


Most large companies will post internship opportunities on their company website. If you are interested in a particular profession, you may also consider calling businesses in your neighborhood and inquiring about internship opportunities.

Here are some resources and ideas to help you get started with your internship search:

  • Search online
    Search for “high school internship [city and state or zip code]” for local internship opportunities.
  • Internships.com
    Great free way to find internships by field, location and pay scale.
  • How to Find an Internship You’ll Value
    Article by College Board, provides general information on how to find and apply to internships as well as links to internship search sites
  • California State Assembly
    Website shares information on how to get an internship with your congressperson or state assembly member (for California, visit the California State Assembly website and click on “Find My Representative”).
  • California Superior Court
    posts internships under Volunteer Opportunities.
  • ASTC-member science centers and museums
    Museums all over the country offer internships. Not sure if there is a science center near you? Search science centers by location.
  • UCSF Science and Health Education Partnership
    Two research internship programs for high school students (limited to San Francisco public high school sophomores and juniors who are nominated by a science teacher at their schools). You can also search “high school internship” on the UCSF website to pull up other programs.
  • California Highway Patrol’s Explorer Program
    Designed for young men and women, 15 to 21 years of age, to develop skills and knowledge needed to serve the people of California through assisting the CHP both in office and out in the field.
  • RISE Summer Internship Program
    An intensive 7-week summer program for local Bay Area students (living within 25-mile radius of Stanford) interested in science, engineering, math, computer science, or psychology. Students spend 30 hours a week on the Stanford campus, working in an active research lab under the guidance of a mentor. Participants receive a stipend of $2,500. Deadline: mid-February.
  • Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM)
    An eight-week paid summer research program for economically disadvantaged students who are currently enrolled as a sophomore or junior at a high school in Alameda, Contra Costa, or San Francisco county. Participants receive a stipend of $2,000. Deadline: mid-March.

Return to Activities and Programs Menu / Back to Top

Summer Programs

Most of the summer programs listed below are academic in nature:

UC Berkeley
UC Davis
  • UC Davis Summer Programs
    Portal lists all the high school summer programs that are run by UC Davis. Scroll down to Programs for Youth.
UC Irvine
UC San Diego
UC Santa Barbara
UC Santa Cruz
  • Science Internship Program
    Summer-long (10 week) research internship program for high-school students in STEM fields. Campus faculty, graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers provide one-on-one mentoring to high school interns inserted into existing research projects. Need-Based Scholarship Available. Deadline: late March.
First-Tier Universities Outside the UC System
  • Caltech Admissions Office
    Updated list of summer programs that many of its admitted students have attended.
  • Stanford Science Outreach Programs for High School Students
    Updated list of opportunities from self-initiated learning (free online courses) and residential programs (Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies).
  • MIT Admissions Office
    Updated list of rigorous STEM Summer Programs both on and off the MIT campus for high school students.
  • Need-Based Financial Assistance Available
    • COSMOS
      A four-week residential program for talented and motivated students completing 8th through 12th grade. Students work side-by-side with outstanding university researchers and faculty exploring advanced topics that extend beyond the typical high school curriculum. COSMOS courses are hands-on and lab intensive emphasizing current research underway at the University of California. Deadline: early February.
    • California State Summer School for the Arts
      A rigorous pre-professional training program in the visual and performing arts, creative writing, animation, and film for talented artists of high school age. The School was created by the California Legislature, held its first session in 1987 and will conduct its 31st session in 2017. Its purpose is to provide a training ground for future artists who wish to pursue careers in the arts and entertainment industries in California. Deadline: end of February.
    • GRAMMY Camp
      A live-in music industry camp where participants with varied interests learn how the music business works. Deadline: end of March.
    • embARC
      A four-week summer design intensive that explores architecture, urban design and sustainable city planning through three components: Architecture + Urban Design Studio. Sustainable City Planning Workshop. Design-Build project. Deadline: end of April.
    Free Summer Learning Experiences
    • Inspiring Girls Expeditions
      Aunique mountaineering adventure and learning experience for young women that takes place in Alaska, Cascades, Canada, Icy Fjords, or Switzerland. Each year a team of 8-9 teenage girls and 3 instructors spend 12 days exploring and learning about glaciers and the alpine or marine environment. Deadline: late January.
    • CDC Museum Disease Detective Camp
      An interdisciplinary educational program held at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The camp is open to incoming high school juniors and seniors. Over the course of five days, campers are immersed in the diverse field of public health. Non-Atlanta residents may apply for the camp, but are responsible for providing their own accommodations and transportation. Deadline: early April.
    • Additional Summer Program Resources

      Return to Activities and Programs Menu / Back to Top

      Other Ideas

      Return to Activities and Programs Menu / Back to Top