Participation is great, and we encourage it throughout high school in areas of a student’s interest. To increase that engagement, we've developed a model that we call the i4 framework. Our i4 framework is simply a structured way for students to increase their engagement in areas of interest, by increasing involvement, taking more initiative, and measuring the impact.
For the purposes of highly selective admissions, we are most concerned with initiative and impact because these two areas tend to set students apart in the application process.
Demonstrating initiative often involves starting with an idea and then taking steps to make it a reality. Traditionally, we might think of initiative as founding a club or starting a new school program. And while those and other formal leadership roles certainly do the trick, we encourage students to think even bigger. The key is to turn ideas into actions, no matter the context, and create something that you can pursue further (e.g., present, teach, publish, etc). Here are a few examples of high-level student initiative we’ve seen in recent years:
Researching, writing, publishing, and promoting a book on a topic of specific interest
Developing a college-level course on a specific subject as an independent project and presenting research to the faculty at a local college
Starting a successful business
Showcasing photography on a blog and gaining thousands of followers
Creating a summer coding camp for underprivileged children
Landing a prestigious internship at a major cancer center
Launching a history travel vlog and gaining thousands of followers
Developing and organizing a brand new event, such as a fundraiser, in an area of interest
Writing and producing a play that is performed at school
To identify what impact your student is having, ask yourself: "What is different because of my student's involvement/ideas/questions?" Revisiting the examples of initiative, let's look at what their impact might be:
The book won a literary award, and the student was interviewed by journalists as a subject matter expert
The student’s research was published in an academic journal
The business expanded and the student hired several employees
The student’s photography won a national award and/or was featured in a national newspaper or magazine
The student expanded the camp to three additional neighborhoods by securing a grant and hiring student counselors
The student was the only high school student included on a research team that came up with a new discovery published in a national medical journal
The vlog caught the attention of a TV producer who hired the student for a new TV series
The event raised over $100,000 and became an annual signature program for the nonprofit
The play generated excellent reviews and was picked up by a regional theater company
While interest and involvement are necessary first steps, in order for your student to be considered at highly selective colleges, they'll need to take initiative and demonstrate impact. Of course, sometimes in the most important impact is the one the activity has on the student themselves—don't discount this, especially as it can become a stand-out essay topic.