What Counts as “Leadership Experience” on College Apps?

Undoubtedly you’ve seen a section on a college application (or a job application, for that matter) that asks about your leadership experience. Leadership is one of those key elements that college admissions officers look for in their applicants along with qualities like—responsibility, time management, dedication, and hard work. “Leadership” is a buzzword that will catch the eye of anyone looking through your applications.

So why is it so important, and how do you get leadership experience anyway? We answer both those questions and more below.

Why is leadership experience so important?

Colleges aim to not only educate their students and hand them a diploma but guide them to become leaders in their various fields. Those who have already displayed leadership qualities are showcasing exactly what colleges are looking for in the next generation.

Students who are leaders in high school are not only motivated and passionate, but they’re also dependable, they take initiative, and they’re not afraid to try something new. They’ve also demonstrated they can lead their co-workers and/or peers, solve problems, and work well with others. And leaders show higher emotional intelligence!

All of these skills are extremely helpful in both education and the career field. They can make the difference in grades, getting hired, and promotions. Keep in mind though – leadership doesn’t always have to mean “outgoing.” You can absolutely be an introvert and still be a leader!

How Can You Get Leadership Experience?

You don’t necessarily have to be the student class president in order to claim experience. Many students actually have leadership experience already, even if they don’t know it. Some experiences may be clear cut as “leadership,” but others may require a bit of thinking outside the box.

So here are some opportunities that can help you get leadership experience, some of which you may have already accomplished. Remember though: you’re definitely not restricted to these examples! These are just springboards – you likely have your own experiences that don’t fit neatly into these boxes.

1. At School

School work, clubs, sports, and organizations definitely lead to plenty of opportunities for leadership experience. Whether you led a major class project in science or you participated on the student council, you definitely demonstrated the abilities of a leader.

A few other experiences that qualify include:

  • Section leader in marching band
  • Tutoring
  • Mentoring
  • Club leader
  • Spearheading a school campaign
  • Working on the high school yearbook staff
  • Working on the school newspaper
  • Sport team captain
  • National Honor Society project

2. At Work

Do you like to take charge at work? You may have a few experiences that qualify as leadership! These examples will help you brainstorm:

  • Camp counselor over the summer
  • Babysitting
  • Training your peers and other employees
  • Work in management

3. In Your Community

Community and volunteer work already looks amazing on college applications – add in a bit of leadership experience and you’re ahead of the game!

  • Organize a fundraiser
  • Display community activism
  • Get more involved in community service
  • Train other volunteers
  • Plan a volunteering event, organize it, or help on the day of the event

4. In your Free Time

Of course, things in your free time may also qualify as experience in leadership – even if you’re having fun at the same time!

  • Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts/Eagle Scout
  • Be a leader as a Dungeon Master or the player in Dungeons & Dragons
  • Regularly lead groups of people in video games
  • Organize a club, fandom, or other passion outside of school
  • Sell online or locally and showcase your entrepreneur skills

Hopefully this list can get the ball rolling and remind you of any similar experiences you’ve had or things you’ve participated in that would qualify! If you’re struggling, brainstorm with family, friends, or teachers – you likely have had some experiences that fit under leadership that you’re simply not thinking of.

What If You Don’t Have Any Leadership Experience?

If you’re brainstorming, talking with your guidance counselor, and you’re coming to the conclusion that you don’t have any leadership experience, it’s okay. While it would definitely help your application to have some, it is not necessarily the end of the world if you don’t. There are other qualities you likely have that can make your application shine!

However, if you realize this problem before your college applications process, it’s important to try to figure out ways of gaining leadership experience as soon as possible! Sign up for volunteer work, join a club, or put your passions to good use. You may have just enough time to get some experience under your belt!

Leadership is exemplified in a multitude of ways—not all of them flashy or coming with an official title. If you’ve ever been a leader of an event or held some sort of delegating position, write it down! Go over your school and community involvement over the years; you’re likely to have a few examples that will count that maybe you didn’t consider as leadership experience before. You can also have a conversation with your school counselor about what sort of things would be good to highlight on your college application.

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