The Extras Can Add Up

Mar 9, 2016

by Eric Butterman ASME.org

Few things can be more stressful than trying to get into the college of your dreams. For the engineering school on that wish list, you know it’s best to do everything you can to stack the odds in your favor. Anything extra is a positive. And that often means: Extracurriculars.

So which activities should you consider doing?

One thing Kathleen Joyce, assistant dean for Student Recruitmentat the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Syracuse University recommends is aligning yourself with good national organizations, competitions, and clubs.

“Getting involved in engineering clubs and organizations helps a student not only to have the experience for their application but it helps educate them about what engineering is and helps them determine if it is the right fit for them,” she says. “There are big national organizations like FIRST Robotics and Project Lead the Way in which students can become involved. Also, many high schools have engineering or technology clubs.”

The FIRST LEGO League competition. Image: FIRST

Joyce and Chris Wiles, directors of recruitment and retention at the University of Kansas School of Engineering, both encourage your own tinkering as well. Wiles gives an example. “I remember we came across a student through the press who created a 3D printed prosthesis for a fellow high school student,” he says. “He ended up being accepted to our engineering school.”

Of course, even a part-time job, something many high schoolers rely on for pocket money, can be a leg up. “It can work when you make it the right part-time job,” Wiles says. “Say, working at an automotive shop. That can actually be a huge advantage for someone in mechanical engineering. Or, if you live near a university, don’t think you couldn’t maybe get a job doing research for them while in high school. Succeeding in that lab; most students won’t have that on their resume and it will help make you stand out.” Joyce says a part-job shows “that they are developing time-management skills, a work ethic, and a certain a level of responsibility, maturity, and discipline. The process of knowing how to work and how to accomplish a given task is great preparation for engineering.”

Finally, seemingly non-related interests aren’t automatically seen as lacking focus to Joyce and Wiles, but can actually show the positives of being multidimensional. “Getting involved in activities at school and in their community helps students build their leadership and communication skills,” she says. “Activities like sports and the performing arts, even though they aren’t related to engineering, help students build additional skills, such as teamwork and creativity, which are advantageous in our programs.”

For arts, Wiles even recalls evidence that might help your cause further. “There have been studies that show those who perform music have a knack for engineering,” he says. “You get the right decision-maker who believes in this and it’s one more thing on your side.”

Eric Butterman is an independent writer.

Getting involved in activities at school and in their community helps students build their leadership and communication skills

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