Guage my extracurricular involvements

Hey Crimson Education!
My name is Jason and I study outside of the United States, possessing neither a US visa nor a US passport. I live in a bustling city with a population of >8 million.

I am aspiring for the top colleges in the United States mainly, MIT, Stanford, Columbia, Princeton and Caltech. Because I am in severe need of financial aid to continue my education, these colleges seem most appropriate as they are very highly ranked and offer a good financial aid package.

Being from outside the United States, I am highly unaware of the “strength” of one’s application. I’ve heard that stellar grades are appreciated, if not required and that you need to be a strong student to get admitted.

I was wondering if you, as a professional admissions counselor, could help gauge my application (here, limited to the scope of extracurriculars and grades).

My overall grades through Freshman and Sophomore year have been As and A+s (in the country where I’m from, we refer to them as percentages. In this case, I’ve had an average percental range between 85-90% although I did get a 94.8% at the end of my sophomore year). I didn’t start of my junior year on a high-grade note, but I’m working very hard to boost my grades up during the year.

My extracurriculars that I have planned for this year and the next:

  1. School Basketball team - mid-range shooter and ball-handler in 11th grade and captain of the team in the 12th grade

  2. School’s Science and Tech Fest - junior event head in 11th grade and head of the organizing committee in the 12th grade

  3. School Choir - one of the lead singers (both 11th and 12th grade)

  4. As I’m interested in Computer Science, I have taught myself the programming languages Python and C++ (Java’s taught in school). I’ve participated in numerous well-established hackathons in the city.

  5. Interested in Science, I’ve won numerous medals (school level only) in the English, Math and Cyber Olympiads.

  6. Inspired by MIT and Harvard’s interest in providing accessible education through eDX, I’ve spent my free time taking courses on the platform and furthering my knowledge on Science, Tech and the world around us

  7. I’ve also started a band in school, where we perform gigs at other school’s fests and at our own school

I know that the top schools might seem such a far-reach for me, but kindly do suggest what I should do to help strengthen the extracurriculars particularly responsible for my potential acceptance at these top schools


Hey Jason,

Great to hear about your awesome achievements in high school thus far! Keep up the great work. You are definitely on the right track, with strong grades and ECs that are high level.

As for your extracurricular activities, it’s now time for you to start elevating achievements and impact. In terms of achievements, we would love to see awards and recognition beyond the school level, particularly in STEM - coding competitions, math competitions, etc. In terms of impact, it’s unclear of the scale of your involvement, but consider multiplying the number of people you involve and can affect by recruiting more people in your groups and reaching a wider audience with the events that you organize.

Two more pieces of the puzzle to consider are testing (need scores that are above the 75%ile of schools in order to be competitive as an international applicant) and your financial need. Keep in mind the differences between need blind (i.e. MIT) and need aware schools (Stanford, Columbia) when considering where to apply, as your “severe” need of aid will definitely affect your chances.