How to Get Leadership Experience in High School

Colleges emphasize that they accept applicants with strong leadership abilities, but how do you demonstrate you know how to take initiative?

Many colleges boast about shaping the minds of the world’s next great leaders. Consequently, many admissions offices claim that leadership experience and abilities are qualifications they seek in an ideal applicant.

Without guidance to develop into a leader, it's almost as if colleges believe that prospective students simply have leadership in their DNA. Brochures, counselors, even commercials tell you this, but nobody ever really explains what “leadership” is.

So, what does leadership look like? Are there types of leadership that are better than others? And the ultimate question is: How, exactly, do I become a leader?

Follow your passion.

Often, students think leadership is about holding the top position in an organization or being a highly visible, multi-award winning student. But leadership emerges in varied ways.

If you are searching for leadership opportunities, first figure out what you are passionate about. There is no right or wrong answer here. If you love basketball, that is awesome. If your passion is robotics, that is just as compelling. And if your passion is cooking, you may turn out to be everyone’s closest friend very soon. But seriously, it is hard to lead in settings or with people you do not love. Once you figure out what you find truly rewarding or the field you desperately want to learn more about, find a club, organization, team, or opportunity where you can explore this passion.

Demonstrate commitment.

One misconception many students have is that you have to be the president of an organization to show leadership. But leadership is as much about consistency as it is about position. Being vice president of an organization you have only joined a few months ago demonstrates less leadership than being a consistent, long-term club member who has served on committees or even held smaller roles.

Noodle's guide to community service for busy high school students will help you find time in your packed schedule to make that volunteer commitment.

Opportunities to lead are everywhere.

When considering leadership opportunities, don’t limit yourself only to activities that you’ve been engaged with for a long time. For example, if you are an athlete, you can seek out intramural athletic clubs and sports teams, but you can also look into community religious or civic organizations, such as the NAACP, Key Club, 4-H, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts. If you know members of Greek organizations with alumni chapters, they often have youth groups and auxiliaries that you can join.

Also, seek out organizations that may be active in your local community but may not be nationally known. If you have a job, you can lead there by heading up a project or managing a team.

There may be instances when you can’t find a group or organization that is a good fit for you. If that’s the case, start your own! What better way to show leadership than to establish an organization that speaks to your interests, while creating an opportunity for others to tap into theirs? The first key to being a leader is to engage. So, find your passion, follow it, and fall in.

Take initiative.

Once you become involved, be active, be committed, and be creative. Demonstrating leadership means initiating solutions. Propose a program, design a service project, or develop a fundraiser. Being part of and executing a major planning process is a great way to show leadership. Anything you take the lead in — organizing your prom, coordinating a car wash fundraiser, or speaking about your educational experiences to elementary school students — offer opportunities for you to develop and exhibit these skills. Initiative and execution are what distinguish a person from the crowd.

If you are having trouble identifying ways to get involved, talk to a mentor, a teacher or guidance counselor, a family member, or a member of your faith community to see if they can point you in promising directions. Even if you are not aware of it yourself, there are opportunities for you to step in and use your skills and passion to make an organization better.

If you commit to your passion, and find a way to put that interest into practice, you will surely pave your way to becoming a leader.

Use Noodle to find the right college for you — you can display different universities that would be a good match based on your level of involvement in high school.

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