colleges verify student extracurriculars like sports, volunteering

Do Colleges Verify Extracurriculars?

The Impacts of the College Admissions Scandal

Holistic Admissions Balance Activities, Service, Leadership

Extracurricular activities, volunteering, and leadership are part of a concrete college Extracurricular activities, volunteering, and leadership are part of a solid college application – the part that comes after GPA, SAT and ACT scores, and class rank. Because of Covid-19, Varsity Blues, and a long-overdue change, out-of-school are no longer icing on the cake. What students do outside of the class, and what it says about a future college freshman’s potential, is getting more attention from admissions. This is a welcome change for students who have been conditioned to get super-human grades and standardized test scores.

Challenges Around Showing Proof of Extracurriculars

Student involvement in sports, fine arts, STEM activities, and volunteering is mostly self-reported. It’s up to the student reporting the activity to portray their involvement, achievement, and awards accurately. The college admissions scandal revealed just how far some will go to one-up the competition.

Life in the Post Varsity Blues and Test Optional Era

Several high-profile parents faced prison time for their role in Varsity Blues. Actress Lori Loughlin, designer Mossimo Giannulli, former Pimco executive Douglas Hodge, and other parents pled guilty and faced repercussions with their relationships and reputations. The monumental task of rebuilding the application process that higher education institutions face is greater.

The shocking scandal uncovered the toxically competitive college admissions process allowing parents to buy their children’s acceptance letters, almost undetected. Universities, colleges, college consultants, and guidance counselors have a new reality – where all student achievements require greater scrutiny. The good news? The scandal has already sparked change in some of the country’s most elite colleges and universities.

Colleges Are Auditing Admissions Practices

Higher education institutions want to attract successful students who will thrive academically and positively contribute to the campus community. Varsity Blues jolted many institutions into self-reflection mode. Here are a few encouraging developments: 

  • University of California: Just 3 months after news of the scandal broke, the University of California conducted an audit to scrutinize their admissions process to better identify applications with false information. The audit recommended stricter controls and more careful fact-checking about students’ participation in extracurriculars, especially in sports. 
  • University of Pennsylvania: This university is also trying to close any loopholes for students tempted to falsely report participation in extracurriculars. According to admissions officers, the school is considering implementing a process in which “selected applicants can be chosen for further vetting randomly or because of inconsistencies in a student’s application.”
  • Northwestern University: Like the other schools, Northwestern University is also committed to a zero-tolerance policy for submitting false information. If students do this, “it can result in a revocation of admission, or, if enrolled, the student can be expelled,” the university says.

How High School Students Can Prepare Today

Don’t make admissions officers guess whether your activities are for real. Admissions offices take grades and test scores seriously because schools, the College Board, and ACT have sophisticated tracking and reporting systems. Corroborate your athletic, fine arts, and STEM achievements, plus your community service by creating a digital footprint. Show colleges that your efforts accomplishments in extracurricular activities and community service programs are credible.

Use Digital Tracking and Verification Tools

Your high school may have a tool available like Portfolium to collect all of your records. Make the job of future college admissions officers easier by collecting proof in advance. Fill your portfolio with verified digital transcripts and letters of recommendation.

Context is important. Collect pictures and videos (you can post them to Instagram too!) of yourself participating in extracurriculars like sports, volunteer programs, the school newspaper, the debate team, and more. Include your team, competitors, coaches, and signs showing the event or location.

Get References

Make sure you have the contact information of your coach, activities advisor, or volunteer coordinator. This way, you can ask them for a recommendation letter for your college application. Plus, you can use them as a reference if a college follows up requesting further information about your participation in extracurriculars.  Collect recommendations throughout the years.  

Tell the Truth

Don’t overstate your achievements on your college application!  In the era of self-promoting it might be tempting to exaggerate so feel like you are keeping up with your peers.  But remember how that ended for the college admissions scandal. College admissions officers want to know the real you, and can often spot an overhyped version. Plus, if your application is flagged for an extra fact-check your admission will certainly be revoked on the spot. So, be truthful about your achievements and activities.

While the college admissions scandal rightly created outrage, it has also shined a light on much-needed change. Going forward, colleges are taking extra steps to verify information on student applications to make the process fairer.  Take note and make sure you’re ready to provide colleges with all the information they need so that you can get that acceptance letter.

VolunteerCrowd is a student volunteer service where students can find, track, and verify service projects to create a unique volunteer transcript and portfolio. Visit VolunteerCrowd or download the app.


Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.