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Grades vs Extracurriculars

Published on February 2, 2023


Grades vs Extracurriculars

During a recent panel discussion with parents and mentors at the Harvard YLC Conference, Mumbai – a question that kept popping up constantly was – “Are grades more important than extracurricular activities for admissions in Ivy League schools?”

Grades or Extracurriculars? Which is more important?

Straight answer?


 Grades are important for you to cross the first line of vetting. Once you cross that, how do you set yourself apart from the thousands of other students who have similar high scores?

 That’s where your extra-curricular activities come into play.

Quoting verbatim from Harvard admissions page, “We seek to identify students who will be the best educators of one another and their professors—individuals who will inspire those around them during their college years and beyond.”

Another quote, “We look for students with intellectual curiosity, who have pursued and achieved academic excellence. We also look for students with strong personal and extracurricular accomplishments.” – Princeton Admissions

Okay great. We can safely say that extra-curricular activities are important, a potential decider. Now they can be literally anything under the sun, from skiing to pottery to stamp collecting.

How do you choose? 

Below we are listing a few activities that we believe (based on extensive research) will take your portfolio to the next level!

Community service or volunteer work

Colleges are interested in admitting students who are actively engaged with their communities. Whether it’s a school community, local community, or otherwise, a connection to the outside world and an understanding of something greater than oneself is a trait that invariably leads to better Ivy League candidates.

Model United Nations

If a student’s theme involves anything about history, diplomacy, international relations, or political science, Model UN can be a powerful addition to his or her application. Model UN is unique because it is an activity almost universally favored by admissions officers for the wide breadth of benefits it presents.

Sports leadership

 Sports are good extracurricular activities because they promote teamwork, dedication, and perseverance.  Therefore, students must be extremely discerning and honest about their ability and potential in a given sport before deciding to undertake the enormous time commitment.

Political activism
Ivy League colleges love to see active students, so activism is one of the most powerful extracurricular activities to include on an application. Political activism demonstrates a student’s engagement in the world around him or her, the dedication and initiative to take action in building a better world, and most importantly, a true interest in the betterment of society.

Starting a club

It is great if there is a theme applied to an application and the more specific that theme, the higher the chances of success. However, finding a very specific club may prove difficult. For example, a science club may exist, but a biological anthropology club most likely doesn’t. Art clubs may exist, but digital art may not. If a student and a few of their friends are interested in a subject, why not start a new club?

Research paper

One of the very best and most impressive ways to seal the deal on an Ivy League application is to include a research paper on a topic related to the student’s theme. A long, well-researched, well-cited paper is certainly worthy of regard, and is considered a big accomplishment for high school students. However, top colleges have recognized this trend.

A thing to be noted is that while top universities want to see that you are able to apply yourself in a variety of areas, they are more interested in a dedication to excellence than simply a long list. This usually means really excelling at just one or two activities even if you are a part of many more.

PS – Don’t forget those vital letters of recommendation. Colleges look at them for confirmation of activities undertaken!

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