What College Application Activities Can I Do During Quarantine?

Extracurriculars in Quarantine: A Resource for College Admissions

Additional resources added on June 1, 2020.

So, many of your favorite activities have come to a screeching halt, and it is not clear when it will be possible for you to participate in them again. But amid your disappointment, I encourage you to look for new ways to explore your interests, engage with your curiosity, learn more about yourself and what intrigues you, and find some opportunities within this truly unprecedented time.

Rethink Your Extracurricular Activities

But first, I want to share what college admissions people are saying to future college applicants about their extracurricular involvement. This is from Jeff Schiffman, Director of Admission at Tulane:

“We totally get it. There are no sports. There is no spring musical. There is no dance recital. Listen, if you include on your Common Application activities section a list of all the books you read for pleasure during your social distancing, I’ll love it. Get creative. Maybe you love to paint and you go Instagram Live a few times and teach people to paint? You could be the next Bob Ross. Or maybe you’re a soccer player and you do a live video teaching people how to dribble a soccer ball on your own? Teaching guitar lessons? Yes please. We will love seeing anything you did during this whacky time.”

I have read similar messages from other admissions professionals, and here is how I sum up what they are saying: We get that you can no longer do what you were doing and will not penalize you for that, but we are excited to see what you decide to do instead.

So now that you are somewhat adjusted to doing school from home, and have spent a good amount of time playing video games, scrolling through social media, and watching Netflix, it’s time to figure out what else you want to do!

I am offering a bunch of ideas and resources below, and I hope at least one of them sparks an idea or gets your wheels turning. Have fun exploring!

Ideas & Resources For College Admissions

Learn something New, or Strengthen an Existing Skill:

  • Take a course through Coursera, Udemy,  EdX, Harvard, MOOC, and  Great Courses. Or access the free resources of OpenCulture for ebooks and audiobooks, or all TEDTalks. The Facebook group, Amazing Educational Resources, assembled a comprehensive list of resources companies are offering for free during this crisis. If this seems like too much to sort through, Course Central has organized many of the best options and allows you to search for exactly what you want.
  • Learn to code: 22 Places to Learn to Code for Free in 2020
  • Work on your foreign language or learn a new one with Duolingo, Babbel, Pimsleur, or Rosetta Stone, and practice with real people in Language Bird Chirp Rooms.
  • Become a pro at Excel: Excel Tutorial
  • Learn to dance from a professional ballerina: Isabella Boylston
  • Pick a skill that is easy to develop at home: car maintenance, gardening, cooking, baking, woodcarving, knitting, etc. and there are tons of YouTube videos to learn every one of those and millions of others!
  • Learn how to be funny from Judd Apatow, or find out how to think like Vogue Editor Anna Wintour, or just about anything else from highly successful folks on Masterclass.
  • Learn about careers you are curious about with virtual job shadows. Can you interview professionals in a range of fields about their central tasks and day-to-day activities? With their permission, you could even record the conversations and find ways to share them with others.
  • Want a summer internship? Check out these remote internship opportunities or low commitment Micro-Internships
  • Research your family history through Ancestry.com or one of the many other sites devoted to this. Add your own online research through census records and old newspapers, interview family members, and pull it together into a book or video to share with the whole family. Who knows what you might learn!

Service and Helping Those in Need:

  • This could be as simple as getting a trash bag and cleaning up your neighborhood
  • Participate in new kinds of service, such as Invisible Hands, a free grocery delivery service for those most at-risk. This was started by two 20-year-olds. Is there something you could start?
  • Help Food Banks reach more people with some easy activities suggested by Feed America
  • Donate your used clothing to Thred Up, and they will make a donation to Feed America
  • If you have basic (or more) coding skills, do some home-based coding for nonprofits through organizations such as Code for Social Good, Benetech, or DonateCode
  • Teach an older person how to use FaceTime, Zoom or other apps that help people feel connected. Maybe mobilize your classmates to do the same, and see how many people you can help. Social Call is an existing organizing you can join for reaching out to the elderly
  • Edit, read a description or scan and proofread documents with the free app, BookShare, to help people with reading disabilities
  • If you are tech savvy, think about who you can help. For some teachers and other professionals with limited tech experience, moving their work online has been stressful and difficult, and they could benefit from your ideas and guidance
  • Do you have an eye for design, know how to use CANVA, and want to use it to help the environment? Help the Sierra Club as a student graphic design volunteer.
  • Help a small business: Be a volunteer analyst for a business or non-profit that cannot take on a summer intern, but could benefit from your internet research and critical thinking abilities to help with analysis and research. Or help them build a social media presence, or design a logo and marketing materials
  • Do you love social media? You can help both dogs and people as a social media volunteer for Good Dog Autism Companions
  • If you belong to a faith community, see if there are already efforts to help in the community that you can participate in
  • Contribute to a crowdsourced history
  • Teach something: Can you teach embroidery, how to shoot a free throw, ballet, how to change a tire, or string a guitar or a lacrosse stick? Instagram live or start your YouTube channel, and maybe become a bit of a star!
  • Like to sew, crochet or knit? How about making much-needed items for a children’s hospital?
  • Assist your neighbors with tasks that can be done outside safely, helping with yard work, dog walking, or small maintenance projects
  • Here’s an uplifting one you can do in a few minutes: Write positive notecards for kids to take home for the weekend attached to bags of food with Blessings in a Backpack
  • Build a community garden
  • Use your computer or smartphone to sift through critical information to help locate and expose human rights violations with Amnesty Decoders
  • Political volunteering: Despite the pandemic, our political process continues with a major election around the corner! Volunteer to increase voter turnout through Rock the Vote and Postcards to Voters, which you can write at home. Contact your local Democratic or Republican campaign offices about how to help, such as by stuffing mailers, calling voters or helping with social media “campaigns”
  • Do some remote science. This website has a searchable database of projects, including some you can do at home, like looking for images of sea lions in photos. Check out Zooniverse for additional projects
  • Make medical masks and face coverings with Masks Now
  • Tutor online:
  • Teach English to kids around the world on VIPkid
  • And here is an amazing list of ideas (with links) from Points of Light for volunteering from home
  • Volunteer Match offers a great search engine for finding even more

Create Something:

  • Love to take photos or shoot videos? How about becoming a photojournalist, driving around town and documenting how your community is responding to the pandemic. You could consolidate them into a website, video, series of blogs or social media posts, or even a book. 
  • Is writing more your thing? Keep a journal and self-publish a memoir of your experiences during this time. Perhaps interview neighbors or family members and write short stories about how people are coping, and submit them for publication in local news outlets or to writing contests. Submittable has a list of publications seeking new work, including some visual art. 
  • Write that novel, poetry collection, screenplay, or cookbook you have been imagining.
  • If you love custom shoe designs, and want to help win $50,000 for your school’s art program, recruit your design team to compete in next year’s  Vans Custom Culture.
  • If you are an artist, what kind of art can you make? Write songs to uplift people? Draw or paint to express what this time feels like for you? Make a simple web site or a dedicated Instagram account to share your art, or check Submittable for publications seeking work to showcase. Maybe you just have more time, and can finally practice the piano as much as you want to, or perfect those guitar licks you have been meaning to work on. 
  • Become an entrepreneur: Launch a business on Etsy, eBay, or Amazon selling something you make. Or try selling unused clothing, toys, or other things you want to get rid of on Mercari, Poshmark, or Depop. Maybe your business involves helping your neighbors by planting vegetable gardens, walking dogs, or small maintenance projects you can do outside while physical distancing. 
  • Interested in the more analytical side of business? Learn about the amazing and creative solutions some businesses are developing, and write some blog posts or do some financial analysis or projections.
  • Make (virtual) money, and learn about investing and the stock market in Wharton’s virtual portfolio management competition. Get your team together now for next fall.
  • If technology is your thing, can you help solve COVID-19 problems by 3-D printing medical masks or other equipment, or developing an app that tracks the spread of the virus or identifies people who have recovered? Maybe research and blog about how certain companies have adapted or struggled during the pandemic because of technology.
  • How about politics and influencing the conversation? Write an opinion piece on how different levels of government, from neighborhood councils to federal policy makers, are responding, and what you think they should have done differently. The OpEd Project offers tips on writing such pieces, and a long list of places to submit them. 
  • Into history? Consider researching and writing about how earlier societies responded to disease outbreaks. The word “quarantine” has biblical roots, so this has been happening for a long time!

Self Care:

Or, maybe this all sounds like too much right now, and it is a time to adopt some new self care practices. These are also experiences from which you can learn about yourself and probably feel better at the same time, and colleges will love hearing about these more personal adventures, too!

I hope one or more of these ideas clicked for you, or gave you another, even better idea for how to use this time productively to benefit your personal growth, support your exploration of your interests, and also continue to develop the profile you will share with colleges in your applications.

Please check back here often, as I will be adding resources as I find them!

Author Stephanie Meade

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