How to Build Leadership Skills in High School?

First, what does it mean to be a leader? A common misconception is that leaders are always extroverted, loud, and direct. While this is certainly one type of leader, leadership styles are much more nuanced than that. In fact, there are as many types of leaders as there are types of people in this world. Being a successful leader means locating the issues in your community (this could be in your family, at your school, in your neighborhood, city, or country) and applying creative methods to solve that problem.

Another way to look at leadership skills is to think of the skills you already have (coding, sewing, reading etc.) and figure out where or how you can apply them to causes you care about. For example, say you love to draw, and you are interested in supporting a homeless shelter in your neighborhood. Well, you could illustrate a poster or postcard related to the cause of that shelter, then sell them, and all the proceeds could go to the shelter. You just conducted a full-blown fundraiser! Or say you are an avid coder and gamer and you are interested in supporting a restaurant in your town that is struggling due to the effects of COVID-19. You could offer to revamp their website (or create their website if they don’t already have one), which could boost their sales and/or give them a platform for delivery.

Both of these projects are wonderful examples of leadership extracurriculars because they demonstrate initiative and creative thinking. To be a leader means to be a problem solver – whatever that means to you and your community!

Developing Leadership in High School with Anjali Bhatia | Crimson Experts Interview Series Ep. 1

Examples of Leadership Activities for High School Students

Let’s look at more examples. Here is a list of leadership activities that Crimson’s successful college admits have pursued. Hopefully, this list will give you a jumping-off point when considering what leadership activities you would like to pursue.

1. Developing an App

Crimson student Miles created an app called FoodForThought, where restaurants and cafes across Auckland could post the leftover food from the day on the platform at a discount, allowing cost-conscious consumers to purchase high-quality food and beverages that would have been otherwise thrown away at the end of the day. Miles coded the entire project by himself and, with the help of his Crimson ECL Mentor, secured further funding for his company from an NZ-based angel investor.

Why is this a good leadership activity?

Miles noticed a problem in his community – food waste – and found a way to solve it using his skills (coding and app development). Additionally, Miles created this project outside a pre-established institution (his school or another volunteer organization). This tells admissions officers that Miles is not only able to solve problems in his community, but he is also a self-starter: someone who can develop projects from scratch. This project would therefore stand out on a college application.

2. Art and Health

Crimson student Annie created Art for Therapy, a project designed to improve the patient environment in therapy clinics. Often, people that go to therapy feel isolated by the sterile, hospital-like environment and the lack of inviting decor. Annie aimed to make patients more comfortable by donating student art to local clinics to improve attitudes and receptivity to therapy and recovery rates.

Why is this a good leadership activity?

This project is unique, another quality that admissions officers look for in extracurricular activities. Annie clearly cares about health care and found a way to improve inpatients’ experiences without being a qualified nurse or doctor: she provided them with art! This project shows that Annie is an innovative thinker, persistent, and empathetic, all of which are great qualities to showcase on a college application.

3. Inclusive Journalism

Crimson student Adhithi is passionate about all-inclusive journalism. So, she and students from seven countries (that she met through Crimson Community) began working together to develop a news website that serves as an outlet to inform and highlight the impact of domestic disasters on an international scale. This website was dedicated to international and domestic politics. The target of this website was primarily students, but once the website started developing a solid reader base, Adhithi and her teammates worked to expand their writing by publishing their work in local newspapers.

Why is this a good leadership activity?

This project is particularly strong due to its impact. Adhithi took advantage of the international community here at Crimson and expanded this project’s impact across continents. We can also see that Adhithi zeroed in on a problem in her community and sought a way to solve it. This project demonstrates Adhithi’s skills as an organized, driven, hard-working leader and illustrates her specific passion for inclusive journalism.

4. Athletics and Social Work

Crimson student Yuo is an enthusiastic tennis player who wants to solve a problem in his community. He saw that many perfectly usable tennis balls were discarded after games because they were not the standard needed for professional players, yet they were great for use by beginners. Yuo, therefore, started a project where he connected tennis clubs in his town with disadvantaged youth programs to help younger students learn the sport.

Why is this a good leadership activity?

Once again, we have a great example of a student noticing a specific issue in their community and finding a way to be a part of the solution. This activity is strong because we see that Yuo was able to build upon another one of his extracurriculars: tennis. When writing out your list of extracurricular activities in your application, a good rule of thumb is that the more connections between your activities, the better. Not all your activities need to be related, but when 4-6 of them have something in common, it can help readers better understand who you are as a student and person.

5. Indigenous Awareness and Education

Crimson student Janela started a project to raise the consciousness of indigeneity in high schoolers called iSPARK. In early high school, Janela noticed that her textbooks barely included any material on indigenous history. She was shocked by this erasure, and it motivated her to fill in this gap in education by hosting a webinar series that provides a platform for indigenous people and scholars to share their experiences with high schoolers worldwide. In its final stages, iSPARK included over two hundred students around the US, two nonprofits, and school clubs who collaborated on collaborative projects to become allies with indigenous communities and initiate institutional reform.

Why is this a good leadership activity?

This project demonstrates an ability to think critically; Janela has noticed a country-wide issue, and rather than be discouraged by its size, she has decided to channel her energy into correcting it, even if just in one small way. This is evidence of a persistent leader who can see beyond the here and now and conceptualize a brighter future. Additionally, we can see that this project has gained in size and impact over time, which is a quality that application readers look for.

Final Thoughts

Remember to start small and scale up, be honest and pursue what you are actually passionate about, and keep uniqueness, impact, problem-solving, and community in mind

If you would like more support building your leadership profile, enquiry with one of Crimson’s excellent Extracurricular Mentors below!

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