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How Important Are Extra Curricular Activities
Towards Earning Institutional Scholarships?

Written by Lee Gonet

Unless a student has high ACT/SAT scores and a strong GPA, not very much.


First of all, what is an institutional scholarship? One that is awarded by the college itself rather than by outside benefactors, and colleges offer the largest awards.

College admissions officers receive thousands of applications each year, and their first step is to pare down the list. Even though everyone says scores should not reflect what a student can accomplish, most schools still rely on these tests and grades to simplify the admission decision. After all, national school rankings are based in part by their students’ ACT/SAT scores—the highest ranked schools have entering freshmen with high scores.

Once in the door, students who have applied for both merit-based and need-based scholarships and grants will have a hearing, but again grades are reviewed first. In fact, most large schools today don’t even have separate applications for the many awards they offer. Only after the financial aid office reviews the general application do student applications receive attention from individual departments. Only then do your child’s abilities receive an opportunity to shine.

If you think this practice is unfair, remember that grades and test scores do reflect self-discipline, necessary skill sets, critical thinking, and possible success in academic settings. Schools use scholarships not to help the needy, but to recruit desirable students. Students who will make the school look good. Students who will lead other students to do well. Students who will set a high standard of integrity on the campus. Students who may become famous alum and one day bring glory to the school.

If your children struggle academically in high school, they will surely be overwhelmed in college. Therefore if your children’s grades are suffering because of too many additional commitments, you must reevaluate their schedules and help them make wise decisions.


Once academic success and rising test scores are achieved, you can consider extra-curricular activities. These ventures fall into two categories: fun stress relief and developing talent. One can lead to the other, but the second category is the one that wins the bucks.


Fun Stress Relief

These are interests that your children love and enjoy. Endeavors in which they may excel, but don’t become anxious. In fact, these types of pursuits are often tension relievers because children can relax and don’t have to perform. Not for a grade. Not for approval. Not to win. Just to have fun. This process is important in our high-pressure society.

Activities may include sports, art, volunteering, writing, part-time jobs, clubs, travel, music, reading, church work, gymnastics, martial arts, cooking, swimming, theater… Obviously, the list is endless. These occupations should be ones your child enjoys, not ones that are forced. After all, the point is to de-stress not add to their difficulties!


Developing Talent

All of the above ventures can move into the scholarship-earning category depending on a few key points. No, one of the factors does not include taking the fun away. However, developing talent in a given area can be challenging and difficult at times. Colleges are looking for students who relish the opportunity to improve and apply themselves to the task. For many children, this process looks like work, and as a parent, you will have difficulty changing this perspective.

To award money, a college will consider quality over quantity of activities, depth of ability over uniqueness, and civic service over self-fulfillment. Many desirable skills which develop through personal growth are the same regardless of activity: leadership, service, recognition, self-confidence, comradery, time-management, responsibility, advancement, etc.

Being an excellent musician, ball player, dancer, student, or artist might get them into the school, but it’s not enough to earn financial rewards in the form of scholarships. Colleges want to know what they have done with their talent in the service of others and their communities.

Why? Because their choices demonstrate what type of student they will be on a college campus. Scholarship committees want to know if prospective students can handle the academic load AND play ball, join clubs, lead groups, or enter competitions.

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