Extracurricular Activities for High School Students Interested in Engineering


Ananth Veluvali @ Stanford University

Extracurricular Activities for High School Students Interested in Engineering

Engineering is a rapidly growing field with promising career prospects and high earning potential. Many top kids are now choosing engineering as a topic of interest early on, starting their career preparation and distinguishing themselves as college applicants while still in high school.

If you want to be an engineer, you should understand that good grades and high test scores are no longer enough to get into a top engineering program. Top programs, such as MIT or Stanford, now have acceptance rates that are well into the single digits. To get in, you must truly distinguish yourself. But how are you going to accomplish that?

Our suggestion? Extracurricular depth. Extracurricular activities are a terrific method to demonstrate excellent skills in a subject, dedication to your interest, and leadership potential, all of which will be crucial in the application process. You can stand out to admissions committees and boost your chances of acceptance by carefully selecting extracurricular activities that highlight not only your academic abilities but also your personal traits.

The Four Extracurricular Activity Levels

When it comes to extracurricular activities, you may be tempted to sign up for as many as you can handle. This is not the best strategy. Admissions committees take into account not only what activities you participate in, but also the depth of your commitment and accomplishments in them. Because not all activities are given equal consideration, carefully constructing an extracurricular profile is very vital.

It is useful to categorize extracurricular activities into four levels. The lowest tier of involvement, referred known as tier four, contains activities in which your involvement is peripheral or otherwise not significant. This is comparable to being a member of your school's Environment Club or participating on a sports team as a non-captain. These are activities in which you participate on a regular basis but have no notable contributions or accomplishments and have not established a leadership role. While they are still useful in showcasing your commitment, an admissions committee will not give them much weight.

Tier three activities are more advanced and usually need some level of accomplishment or leadership. Maybe you were the secretary of the Spanish club or were chosen to play in the all-district band. Admissions committees take these types of activities into account a little more, but they are still not particularly impactful.

Tier two activities are more remarkable and represent the pinnacle of performance for the majority of students. This is comparable to being president of your student council or winning a regional science fair competition. These activities demonstrate a high level of leadership or achievement and are seen favorably by admissions committees.

Tier one activities are absolutely exceptional and one-of-a-kind. They are also relatively uncommon. Being a nationally rated athlete, a finalist in the ISEF science fair, or winning a national speaking competition are all examples of this. Because these achievements are so uncommon, admissions committees value them the most, and they have the greatest impact on your college application.

Extracurricular Activities for High School Students Interested in Engineering

If you want to pursue engineering, you should focus on extracurricular activities that demonstrate your academic aptitude in STEM subjects as well as creative problem-solving talents. If you want to study engineering, here are some clubs to look into:

  • 3D Printing Society

  • Programming Club

  • Rocketry Club

  • Robotics Club

  • Graphic Design Club

  • Rube Goldberg Club

If these clubs don’t exist, you can use that as an opportunity to start them at your school! Most colleges will view that initiative as a tier-two effort. Additionally, several national robotics competitions exist. These include:

VEX Robotics Competition

Teams of students design, build, and code robots to compete in a game in a competitive environment with state, regional, and national championships culminating in an annual global championship at the VEX Robotics Competition. Tournaments are held all year, with the global championship being in April. Participants receive experience in teamwork, leadership, and communication in addition to working on classroom STEM skills and knowledge.

The First Robotics Competition

The format of the First Robotics Competition is similar. It organizes competitions at all skill levels, both technical and non-technical. Students begin by competing locally in a team-based round robin format, then advance to regional, state, and ultimately national contests if successful. It’s a great opportunity to learn engineering skills, but also valuable collaboration and communication skills as well.

Other Engineering-Related Extracurricular Activities

Destination Imagination

Destination Imagination is a multi-month creative problem-solving competition in which teams focus on a single problem. Engineering, technical, scientific, fine arts, improvisational, service learning, and an early learning challenge are among the seven challenges available. Teams can qualify for regional, state, and national competitions.

The Future Problem Solving Program International

The Future Problem Solving Program International is a yearly conference aimed at "developing the critical and creative thinking abilities required to adapt to a changing society." It has competitive elements and attracts students from all around the world. Global Issues Problem Solving, Community Problem Solving, Scenario Writing, and Scenario Performance are the four competitive components available.

The scope of these events allows students to highlight their unique problem-solving abilities without requiring extensive technical knowledge. Each June, the winners of each category speak at the International Conference, and participants may expect to develop critical skills known as the four C's: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM)

Students compete for prizes in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (also known as iGEM) Competition by building genetically engineered systems out of standard biological pieces known as BioBricks. The winning high school level project in 2020 built a diagnostic tool that can more easily detect viral infections by using a modified version of rolling circle amplication. This method was then used to assess the quality of natural Chinese medications.

Students not only learn the skills and information required to work in the field of genetic engineering, but they also learn the iGEM values, which include, among other things, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, honesty, effort, and excellence.

Odyssey of the Mind

Odyssey of the Mind is a long-running creative problem-solving tournament that takes place at all levels, from classroom to global. Students can get involved as early as elementary school, and STEM skills will be integrated with performance, arts, and history.

Students in previous projects have turned Pandora's Box into a video game, created robotic pets, built original team-made vehicles, and even conducted detective work. It’s a great way to flex your creative juices and explore some exciting new projects!


Engineering programs are often among the hardest programs to get into at universities. High test scores and GPAs won't cut it: students also need a strong extracurricular profile.

By joining (or even starting) unique engineering-related clubs at your school, as well as participating in engineering-related competitions, hopefully you can show meaningful depth in this activity.



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