Extracurricular Activities for High School Students

Why Extracurricular Activities?

What is Leadership?

Activities and Programs

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 6 siblings while your parents work 5 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.

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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!

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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.

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Community Service and Volunteering

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 (3 to 4 years) in 3 to 5 extracurricular activities. Development of leadership skills in your extracurricular activities is essential.

Volunteer Matching Services

Search for volunteer opportunities or 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.

Year-Round Opportunities

Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Program
Organization: Jane Goodall Institute
Date: Continuous
Location: Nationwide
Interest area: Community, Environment, Animals
Age restriction: None
Details: Identify and complete a service campaign to effect positive changes for people, animals, and the environment within your community.

Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter
Organization: Habitat for Humanity
Date: Continuous
Location: Nationwide
Interest area: Community, Homeless & Housing
Age restriction: High school students
Details: Start a campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity at your high school to help building, fundraising, advocating, and educating.

Community Programs
Organization: Student Conservation Association
Date: Continuous
Location: Selected cities nationwide
Interest area: Environment
Age restriction: High school students
Details: Join one of the Community Programs across the nation to help with conservation efforts in your community.

Learning Ally
Organization: Learning Ally
Date: Continuous
Location: Nationwide
Interest area: Education & Literacy
Age restriction: 16+
Details: Help produce audiobooks for students with learning differences.

Best Buddies High Schools
Organization: Best Buddies California
Date: Continuous
Location: California
Interest area: Children & Youth, Disabled
Age restriction: High school students
Details: Best Buddies High Schools pairs high school students and students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in one-to-one friendships .

Collegiate Challenge
Organization: Habitat for Humanity
Date: Continuous
Location: Nationwide
Interest area: Community, Homeless & Housing
Age restriction: 16+
Details: Gather up 5 or more of your classmates and/or friends, grab a teacher or parent to supervise and be on your way to help build affordable housing!

Apprentice Ecologist Initiative
Organization: Nicodemus Wilderness Project
Date: Continuous
Location: Nationwide
Interest area: Environment
Age restriction: None
Details: Conduct your own environmental stewardship project and take lots of pictures. Write an essay about your project and upload it with your best picture to receive a Certificate of Achievement. Three scholarships totaling $1,750 will be awarded annually to the authors of the top Apprentice Ecologist essays.

The Huntington
Organization: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Date: Continuous
Location: San Marino, CA
Interest area: Education & Literacy, Environment, Children & Youth
Age restriction: 14+
Details: Choose from seven programs, from working with the public to working with children to working with plants. New volunteers can join the program in either April or October; applications are accepted year round.

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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.

ATDP (Academic Talent Development Program) – through UC Berkeley (serves students from grades K through 11)

C-STEM – through UC Davis (serves students from grades K through 14)

Cal-SOAP – available throughout California (serves high school and community college students)

COSMOS (The California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science) – available from several UC campuses (serves students from grades 9 through 11)

EAOP (Early Academic Outreach Program) – through all UC campuses (serves students from grades 9 through 12)

EGC (Educational Guidance Center) – it’s now Pre-College TRIO Programs, through UC Berkeley (serves middle school and high school students in the Bay Area)

Educational Talent Search – available at most UC and CSU campuses, search for “trio talent search” or “educational talent search” at a UC/CSU campus near you (serves elementary school, middle school, and/or high school students)

GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) – available throughout California (primarily serves middle school students)

MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) – available throughout California (serves elementary school, middle school, high school, community college, and 4-year college students)

Puente Program – open to all students (serves high school and community college students)

UC Scholars – through UC Merced (serves high school students in Central California)

UC-TIP (UC Transfer Initiatives Program; formerly ERA) – through UC Merced (serves high school students going to community college and current community college students in Central California)

UCLA VIP Scholars – through UCLA (serves high school students in the Los Angeles and Pasadena school districts)

UCSC SAGE (Students Acquiring “A-G” Expectations) – through UC Santa Cruz (I’m pretty sure this program no longer exists)

UCSF Internships – search “internship” on the UCSF website for available opportunities (most internships appear to be for high school students)

Upward Bound – available from all UC campuses; check with your high school (serves high school students)

Young Entrepreneurs at Haas – it’s now Boost, through UC Berkeley Haas School of Business (serves high school students)

Other educational preparation programs that may be available to you:

AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) – check with your high school

College Bound – check with your high school

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

Posse is 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: Abbey Road Programs, AFS-USA, School Year Abroad, and Youth For Understanding

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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.

Some resources and ideas to help you get started with your internship search:

Search Google for “high school internship [city and state or zip code]” for local internship opportunities. You can also try free services like internships.com and Looksharp.

College Board: How to Find an Internship You’ll Value (general information on how to find and apply to internships as well as links to internship search sites).

You can search for “internship” on the website of your congressperson or state assembly member (for California, visit the California State Assembly website and click on “Find My Representative”).

Find the California Superior Court near you and search “internship” on the website (internships are sometimes posted under Volunteer Opportunities).

Your local science center (science and technology museum) likely offers internships. Not sure if there is a science center near you? Search ASTC-member science centers and museums by location.

UCSF Science and Health Education Partnership offers 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 is 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 is 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 is in mid-February.

Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM) is 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 is in early March.

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Summer Programs

Most of the summer programs listed below are academic in nature. You can also find summer program opportunities at a UC or CSU campus by visiting the campus website and searching the term “high school summer program.”

Your local science center (science and technology museum) likely offers a myriad of summer programs. Not sure if there is a science center near you? Search ASTC-member science centers and museums by location.

The Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences department at Berkeley has a recommended List of Summer Science Programs for K-12 kids; these programs are run by a variety of agencies across the nation.

The Berkeley Summer Session offers Pre-Collegiate Program for middle school and high school students; there is no financial aid.

The UCLA Summer Sessions and Special Programs portal lists most of the high school summer programs available at UCLA. A limited number of full and partial scholarships are available to qualified California high school students for summer study at UCLA.

Stanford Science Outreach Programs for High School Students lists opportunities from self-initiated project (Space Weather Monitor Program) to residential programs (Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies).

Caltech Admissions Office maintains a list of summer programs that many of its admitted students have attended.

MIT Admissions Office maintains a list of rigorous STEM Summer Programs (at the MIT campus and elsewhere) for high school students.

The Summer Program Finder has an extensive directory of summer programs

FREE! MIT MITES Program (Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science) is a challenging 6 week summer program that prepares promising rising seniors for careers in engineering and science. If you are selected, all educational, housing, meals and activity costs are covered. You must, however, pay for your own transportation to and from MIT. Deadline is at the beginning of February.

Need-Based Scholarships AvailableUC Irvine Summer Premed Program is dedicated to fostering in high school students an interest in pursuing careers in medicine. The three programs (Premed Program; Research Program; Physician Shadowing) are open to high school students between 15 and 18 years of age, with a minimum GPA of 3.5. Deadline is in early February.

FREE! Texas Tech University Clark Scholars Program is an intensive seven week summer research program for highly qualified high school juniors and seniors. Gain hands-on practical research experience with outstanding and experienced faculty and receive a $750 stipend plus free room and board. Deadline is in early February.

FREE! Princeton University Summer Journalism Program brings high school students from low-income backgrounds every summer to Princeton’s campus for an intensive, 10-day seminar on journalism. The program’s goal is to diversify college and professional newsrooms by encouraging outstanding students from low-income backgrounds to pursue careers in journalism. All expenses, including students’ travel costs to and from Princeton, are paid for by the program. Deadline is in late February.

FREE! Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program is an eight-week program in which high school students from diverse backgrounds are invited to perform basic research with Stanford faculty, postdoctoral fellows, students and researchers on a medically-oriented project. All students participating in the program will receive a stipend. Deadline is in late February.

Need-Based Financial Assistance AvailableCOSMOS is 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 is in late February.

FREE! Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS) is an intensive yearlong academic program that serves rising sophomores through rising seniors from historically underrepresented backgrounds. Ninth graders attending high school in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties are eligible to apply. Deadline is at the end of February.

Need-Based Scholarships AvailableCalifornia State Summer School for the Arts is 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 is at the end of February.

FREE! UCLA Engineering offers High School Summer Research Program, an eight-week summer program where it encourages all of its high school participants to consider an engineering future. It does this by providing a hands-on learning program for the participant. Program participants work with a UCLA Engineering professor and graduate group (Program Mentors). Individual research or a group project will be assigned for the eight-week program. All laboratory work is assigned by program mentors. There is no out-of-pocket cost to any student participating in this program. Deadline is at the beginning of March.

FREE! Summer Math and Science Honors Academy is a 5-week, 3-year summer STEM enrichment program at the Berkeley, UCLA, or Stanford campus that provides access to rigorous coursework and access to mentors, role models, and support networks of students of color. SMASH scholars remain engaged during the school year through monthly STEM activities and workshops. Deadline is at the beginning of March.

Financial Aid and Scholarship AvailableStanford University Mathematics Camp brings mathematically talented and motivated high school students from across the U.S. and around the world to Stanford university for four weeks of serious mathematical pursuits. Deadline is in early March.

Need–Based Financial Assistance Available GRAMMY Camp is a live-in music industry camp where participants with varied interests learn how the music business works. Deadline is at the end of March.

FREE! CDC Museum Disease Detective Camp is an interdisciplinary educational program held at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The camp is open to upcoming 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 is at the beginning of April.

FREE! Inspiring Girls Expeditions is a unique 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 is at the end of April.

Need–Based Financial Assistance AvailableembARC is a four-week summer design intensive that explores architecture, urban design and sustainable city planning through three components: an Architecture + Urban Design Studio, a Sustainable City Planning Workshop, and a Design-Build project. Deadline is at the beginning of May.

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Other Ideas

Check out the 50 ways to spend your summer from the folks at CollegeWise for some last-minute summer activity ideas.

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