As many universities go test-optional, the way that selective universities choose students has become increasingly qualitative. Leadership has become an ever-important metric for evaluating an applicant’s candidacy for admission.
Leadership is often viewed by students as something reserved for adults, but positively taking charge of an activity, a group, or even a project is a step very few teens take. Admissions officers are looking for students who take the initiative to work on new projects, or band people together and learn new skills.
Note that your application should include a good mix of leadership activities, research, extracurricular activities, and a strong passion for the subject you’re applying for!
In this blog, we present different ways that students in high school can develop leadership skills both inside and outside of the classroom.
If you are interested in showcasing leadership through university-level research, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for high school students. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Here are 10 different leadership activities for high school students to get involved in!
1. Run for Student Government / Class Council
Also referred to as student government or governing council, high school class councils are front-facing, amazing ways to become involved as a leader within your school environment. Planning activities and managing budgets are some of the many responsibilities that come with being an officer…plus it can be a lot of fun! It is also an impressive commitment to demonstrate in your college application.
Personally, my time as treasurer for my class council, and my later role as Class President taught me a great deal about the type of leader I am and how I operate in the face of pressure. Managing a large team to plan school-wide events like Homecoming and graduation were impressive components to my applications and ultimately played a significant role in getting me to Princeton. Even the experience of running for elected office demonstrates a commitment to leadership and a passion for serving your local community.
2. Join the board of a student organization
Most schools offer a wide variety of extracurricular clubs for their students to get involved in. They can be service-oriented, related to hobbies, or academic in nature. Whether it's your school’s National Honor Society or Rocketry Club, finding an organization that you are interested in and joining their executive board is one of the simplest and most effective ways to enhance your leadership skills in high school. Or, if there isn’t one you are particularly interested in, start your own club!
3. Start a Club
If there is a subject area or hobby that you are particularly fond of, start a student organization for it at your school! Taking the initiative to start a club and encouraging other students to join is a sure way to stand out on your college applications. Typically, the Activities Office of your school should be a helpful guide towards navigating the process of beginning a club. Involving a teacher of yours as an advisor is simultaneously a great way to exhibit leadership externally to faculty at school who could serve as recommenders for applications and scholarships. Potential examples for clubs to start include “Girls Who Code,” a chapter of an Honor Society, or Key Club. Alternatively, if there is a club that has long been inactive at your school, restarting it is another great idea!
4. Get a job or an internship
Many high school students take on jobs after school or on weekends, and these are excellent ways to demonstrate an ability for leadership! Acquiring a job that requires responsibility and strategic commitment is especially impressive and can teach you a lot about yourself and your career priorities. You can consider internships that allow you to work on a personal project under expert mentorship, or offer you the position of an assistant to a research project. These demonstrate initiative, skill, and professional maturity - skills admissions officers are looking for. Taking up babysitting jobs once and a while or a weekly shift at your local library are valuable ways to create an impact on your community in a novel way. Internships for high school students are offered across the country, and across multiple subjects and fields. It is a good idea to read up about the opportunities available for each subject, and then shortlist opportunities that you’d like to apply for! To assist you, we’ve written a few great blogs on internships that you can check out -
5. Serve as a volunteer
Community service has increasingly become a very important metric by which colleges evaluate applicants. Beyond being personally fulfilling, volunteering is so important for practicing commitment, problem-solving, and for learning more about your community - all skills critical to being a good leader. Volunteering can come in a myriad of forms, both unstructured and structured, to adapt to your schedule and individual needs as a student. Popular forms of volunteering for high school students occur at hospitals, museums, animal shelters, and parks, among others.
If you are interested in volunteering opportunities, you can look at our blog here!
6. Join a sports team
Joining an athletic team in high school can do wonders for your physical health and for your development as a leader. Students who are athletes in high school are regarded to demonstrate important qualities such as teamwork, initiative and exercising a goal-based mentality. Most high schools offer sports teams via their athletics department, or you can get involved in a rec team outside of school extracurricularly! This is an especially noteworthy form of demonstrating leadership if the team performs well at competitions or perhaps if the sport is a more unique one. Not only participating as a member for a team at your school, but assuming a role of leadership within the team is a way to demonstrate leadership skills outside of the classroom.
7. Pursue a Passion Project
As a break from the academic pressures of school, pursuing a passion project is a great way to gain leadership experience in your high school years. During my sophomore year, for example, I began a podcast that I used to share my experiences with identity and culture. Had it not been for the podcast, I wouldn’t have discovered my passion for public speaking and for podcasting as a whole! The great thing about passion projects is that they truly can be anything– it’s a great way to stand out in your college application! Some other examples can include an art project, a fashion show, or writing a book!
8. Participate in Competitions
Involvement in competitions is a fun and exciting way to make friends and showcase your skills as a leader. They help cultivate one’s ability to communicate and strategize with a team, as well as grow skills in problem-solving. Competitions range widely in both subject and in scale, with many existing on a local, national, and even international level. See what competition teams exist at your high school and if there is one that doesn’t, you can start it! Popular ones include Olympiads for different subjects, FBA, and HOSA. Other programs that we have covered include National Student Leadership Conference, Boys State & Boys Nation, and Girls State & Girls Nation!
9. Start a small business or join business programs
Love jewelry making? Seem to always be crocheting in your free time? Transforming your ideas into a small business is a great way to take your passions one step further. You don’t need a business degree or a fancy title to get started! Online platforms like Etsy and Redbubble offer ways for individual entrepreneurs to market their products to a wide audience at a low cost (or for free!) Owning a business, however small, demonstrates to colleges that you possess: responsibility, creativity, and flexibility in the face of change. Additionally, you can participate in leadership/business programs and internships such as Bank of America Student Leaders, Ladder Internships, or Brown University’s Leadership Institute, and competitions such as The Blue Ocean Competition, Diamond Challenge, or Genius Olympiad.
10. Get involved with research
Participating in a research project in high school is a great opportunity for many reasons. You can find opportunities for research virtually or through connections with local universities in your area. Research comes in a variety of forms, from qualitative to quantitative, there’s something for everyone! Whether you’re passionate about biology or the social sciences, research demonstrates discipline, self-driven initiative, and commitment– all of which are important attributes in a rising young professional. Many universities offer research programs for high school students which you can apply for. Research programs such as Lumiere Research Scholar and Veritas AI offer flexible, mentored, and fully remote research programs. Here’s a little more information -
Founded by Harvard and Oxford researchers, Lumiere offers its own structured research programs in which ambitious high school students work 1-1 with top PhDs and develop an independent research paper.
Student researchers have had the opportunity to work on customized research projects across STEM, social sciences, AI and business. Lumiere’s growing network of mentors currently has over 700, carefully selected PhDs from top universities. You can find the application form here.
Also check out the Lumiere Research inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.
Veritas AI has a range of AI programs for ambitious high school students, starting from close-group, collaborative learning to customized project pathways with 1:1 mentorship.
The programs have been designed and run by Harvard graduate students & alumni.
In the AI Fellowship, you will create a novel AI project independently with the support of a mentor over 12-15 weeks. Examples of past projects can be found here.
Additionally, here are a few blogs that can guide you on your research journey as a high school student!
Aisha is a student at Princeton University, studying Anthropology and Global Health. On campus, she is involved with student groups centered around health equity and cultural affinity. In her free time, she enjoys podcasting, learning languages, and trying new recipes.
Image Source: Veritas AI logo