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Take Your Activities to the Next Level: Show Initiative!
By Alison Cooper Chisolm and Anna Ivey,
Authors of How to Prepare a Standout College Application: Expert Advice that Takes You from LMO* (*Like Many Others) to Admit

What are admissions officers looking for when it comes to activities? They are looking for evidence of the "Core Four" -- passion, talent, initiative and impact. That's why we encourage you to always look for opportunities that would allow you to show admissions officers that you've got the Core Four.

For many students, how to show "initiative" is a bit of a stumper. They just don't have many ideas beyond the obvious -- "Start something, like a club or a non-profit." While there is no doubt that "starting something" does show initiative, there are LOTS of other options beyond that for showing initiative. And frankly, many times these other options are not only better for you, they are really more positive uses of your time. Does the world REALLY need a "Fans of Survivor" club or another "Pennies for My Personal Cause" campaign? Probably not.

So what are your other options? Here are seven ways of showing initiative that should generate several possibilities for you!

1. Assign yourself.

People with initiative are "self-starters." They don't wait to be assigned something. They assign themselves. What assignment could you give yourself that relates to one of your activities? For example, if you are a creative writer, you could assign yourself the task of participating in the "Write a novel in a month" project. (Find out more at

2. Organize something.

People with initiative make things happen; they don't just participate in something that others made happen. What could you make happen with regard to one of your activities? For example, you could organize extra practices for your sports team if you feel like they would be beneficial.

3. Do it yourself.

People with initiative are DIY types; they don't wait for others to do the work for them. They ESPECIALLY don't count on Mom or Dad to do it for them. They do it for themselves. What have you always left to Mom or Dad to line up? This year line it up for yourself. For example, don't tell your Mom you'd love to go to a computer camp or travel abroad this summer and expect her to find the programs, get you enrolled, pack your bags, etc. Do some research and come up with the camp you'd like to attend or the travel adventure you'd like to take and then ask your parents for permission and funding. And then do the rest of what it takes to get you to the camp or off on your foreign journey.

4. Add something.

People with initiative make the things they are involved with better by adding something only they can bring. What do you have to add? How can you make it better? For example, if you are a great cartoonist and on the school newspaper, but the newspaper doesn't include cartoons, here's your chance. Volunteer to do a cartoon for each issue of the paper.

5. Ask for something.

People with initiative ask for what they want. What do you want and who can you ask for it. For example, if you want a summer internship at a research lab, ask your science teacher for ideas about where you might get one or ask your Mom or Dad if there is a family friend who works in a research lab who you could approach about summer internship possibilities.

6. Do what needs to be done.

People with initiative do what needs to be done without being told to do it. Think about your various activities. What needs to be done that isn't getting done? For example, you notice that no one ever updates the Facebook page for the church youth group and so lots of people don't know about upcoming events. Volunteer yourself as the "Facebook" updater and makes sure all the events get posted.

7. Go above and beyond.

People with initiative go above and beyond. They don't just do what's required or what's asked of them. What's the extra effort you could make that would be meaningful? For example, you've been working with a younger student through a peer tutoring program to fulfill your community service hours. Halfway through the term, you've got your required hours, but the student still needs help and seems to like working with you. Give some more of your time and get this student through the term.

© 2013 Alison Cooper Chisolm and Anna Ivey, authors of How to Prepare a Standout College Application: Expert Advice that Takes You from LMO* (*Like Many Others) to Admit

Authors Bios
Alison Cooper Chisolm
heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey College Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in the book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley, August 2013), and follow them on Twitter @IveyCollege and Facebook.