How to Show Leadership Experience When Applying to College + Examples

Leadership experience for college
May 7, 2024
5 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 3/8/24

Are you looking to take your leadership skills to the next level? Keep reading for some leadership examples for students.

Pursuing leadership roles may feel overwhelming, but it's crucial for college applications. Despite the fact that only about 10% of people are natural leaders, and another 20% show potential, taking on leadership positions shows colleges your initiative and teamwork skills, giving you an edge in the admissions process.

In this article, we'll explore different aspects of leadership, including where to find opportunities in high school, why it matters for college applications, and examples of leadership experiences students can pursue. Keep reading for practical tips and advice on developing your leadership skills and making a positive impact in school and beyond.

What Is Leadership?

Leadership can be defined as the art of influencing and guiding individuals or groups toward a common goal or vision. Simply put, it means using different behaviors, skills, and qualities to inspire and motivate others to achieve goals in the best possible way.

Leadership at its core goes beyond simply giving orders; it's about working together, lifting each other up, and creating a positive atmosphere on campus. Leadership is all about making the most of the college experience not only for personal growth but also for contributing to the betterment of the campus community.

Where to Find Leadership Opportunities While in High School?

Leadership opportunities in high school can be found in extracurricular activities, community service projects, academic clubs, part-time jobs, school events, peer mentorship programs, summer programs, and more. Let’s take a closer look. 

  • Extracurricular Activities: Join clubs, teams, or organizations where you can take on leadership roles. This could include student government, clubs related to your interests or hobbies, or volunteer organizations.
  • Community Service: Get involved in community service projects or initiatives where you can take the lead in organizing events, coordinating volunteers, or spearheading fundraising efforts.
  • Academic Clubs and Competitions: Participate in academic clubs or competitions where you can demonstrate leadership skills through organizing study groups, leading discussions, or mentoring younger students.
  • Part-Time Jobs or Internships: Look for part-time jobs or internships where you can take on responsibilities and demonstrate leadership qualities in a professional setting. This could include roles in retail, hospitality, or internships in fields related to your interests.
  • School Events and Projects: Volunteer to lead or participate in organizing school events, such as fundraisers, talent shows, or community outreach programs. Taking the initiative to plan and execute such events showcases leadership abilities.
  • Peer Mentorship Programs: Get involved in peer mentorship programs where you can support and guide younger students academically, socially, or emotionally. This demonstrates your ability to positively influence and support others.
  • Summer Programs or Camps: Attend summer programs or camps that offer leadership development opportunities, such as leadership workshops, team-building activities, or community service projects.
  • Personal Projects or Initiatives: Take the initiative to start your own passion projects or initiatives, whether it's organizing a community clean-up day, starting a tutoring program, or launching a fundraising campaign for a cause you care about.

When considering what counts as leadership experience, remember that it's not just about holding formal positions of authority. Informal leadership experiences, where you guide others, initiate change, or make a difference, are equally valuable. 

Reflect on your experiences and consider questions like whether you worked with others to guide them in a productive direction, if your involvement made a difference, and if you were influential in the outcome. These reflections will help you identify and articulate your leadership experiences effectively.

How Important Is Leadership Experience for College Application?

Colleges place a high value on leadership because it indicates a student's potential for success and reflects positively on the institution. Here's a closer look at why leadership is important in college admissions:

  • Indicator of Success: Demonstrating leadership suggests that others have recognized your skills and have placed their confidence in you. This indicator of success makes colleges more likely to believe in your potential to contribute positively to their community.
  • Reflects Well on the Institution: Colleges want graduates who will reflect well on their institution for years to come. Students with strong leadership experience are more likely to excel academically, contribute to campus life, and achieve success beyond graduation, enhancing the reputation of the college.
  • Desired Qualities: The qualities that facilitate leadership—such as dependability, initiative, efficiency, management, problem-solving, and teamwork—are highly sought after by colleges. These skills are not only valuable for academic success but also for making meaningful contributions to the campus community.

As for how colleges evaluate extracurricular activities, they often categorize them into tiers to quickly assess their quality and depth:

  • Tier 1: These are the most impactful activities, demonstrating exceptional achievement and leadership. Examples include national recognition in athletics or winning prestigious national competitions.
  • Tier 2: Activities in this tier also show great achievement and leadership but are more common than Tier 1. Examples include state-level recognition in athletics or holding leadership positions in well-known clubs.
  • Tier 3: These activities demonstrate interests but don't carry the same weight as Tiers 1 and 2. Examples include playing varsity sports or holding minor leadership positions in established clubs.
  • Tier 4: Activities in this tier are the least distinguished and influential, such as participating in clubs or sports without holding significant leadership roles.

Ideally, students should aim for one or two Tier 1–2 activities that showcase their leadership skills and work ethic, supplemented by a few Tier 3–4 activities. Quality over quantity is key, so focus on activities where you have dedicated extensive time and effort.

Overall, demonstrating strong leadership experience and involvement in impactful extracurricular activities can significantly enhance your college application and increase your chances of admission to top-tier institutions.

15 Examples of Leadership Experience for Students

Here are 15 examples of leadership experience that students can pursue:

  • STEM Competitions: Participating in STEM competitions provides students with chances to lead, collaborate, and innovate on projects.
  • National Honor Society & National Merit Scholars: These organizations combine academic excellence with leadership and community engagement.
  • Jobs and Internships: Working or interning exposes students to real-world responsibilities and opportunities to demonstrate leadership and initiative.
  • Community Engagement: Involvement in community organizations allows students to address important issues and demonstrate their commitment to making a positive impact.
  • Cultural and Language-Oriented Organizations: Involvement in cultural organizations broadens perspectives and demonstrates a willingness to step outside one's comfort zone.
  • Visual and Performing Arts: Students can lead creative projects in the arts, whether through directing, curating, or choreographing.
  • Volunteer Work: Getting involved in volunteering allows students to make a difference in their communities while developing leadership and empathy.
  • Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts: These organizations offer diverse leadership opportunities in outdoor activities, community service, and skill-building.
  • Student Government: Serving in student government requires skills in public speaking, platform development, and motivating others to achieve common goals.
  • Speech, Debate, and Mock Trial: These activities develop public speaking, critical thinking, and teamwork skills essential for leadership roles.
  • Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA): Participating in FBLA provides opportunities to learn about business, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills through competitions and projects.
  • FIRST Robotics: Robotics teams offer opportunities for students to work together on projects and competitions, applying STEM skills in a collaborative environment.
  • National STEM Honors Society: This organization offers enrichment activities, competitions, and leadership opportunities for students interested in STEM fields.
  • Student Publications: Joining school newspapers, yearbooks, or literary magazines provides avenues for students to lead projects and express themselves creatively.
  • Sports: Team captains and managers take on leadership roles by building morale, developing strategies, and organizing logistics both on and off the field.

These examples demonstrate the various ways high school students can learn leadership skills and make a positive impact in their communities.


Looking for leadership examples for students? Here's a helpful FAQ section to guide you through various scenarios and provide insights into showcasing leadership experiences effectively.

1. How Can Students Develop Leadership Skills?

Students can develop leadership skills by getting involved in extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports teams, or community service projects. These experiences provide opportunities to take on responsibilities, work with others, and make decisions, all of which are essential for leadership development.

2. How Can Students Overcome Challenges When Taking on Leadership Roles?

Students can overcome challenges when taking on leadership roles by seeking support from mentors, building strong communication skills, and staying resilient in the face of obstacles. Additionally, setting realistic goals, seeking feedback, and learning from failures can help students navigate challenges effectively.

3. What to Write in College Application if I Don’t Have Any Leadership Experience?

If you haven't had leadership roles, focus on other strengths like club involvement, academic achievements, or volunteer work. Show how these experiences shaped you and mention times you showed teamwork, initiative, or problem-solving, even without a formal leadership title.

Final Thoughts

As you think about leadership and its role in college applications, remember to explore different ways to grow and help your community. Leadership isn't just about titles; it's about skills like teamwork and problem-solving. 

So, consider these leadership examples for students and get involved. Explore different activities, volunteer, and follow your interests to develop those skills. And remember, learning and growing as a leader is a journey that never stops. Each experience helps you become the best version of yourself.

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