Schedules have changed drastically for high school students. What was once an afternoon filled with sports practices and volunteering is now a blank slate. And what’s worse? We cannot predict when things will begin to return to normal.

The key to an eye-catching application is participating in various experiences which provide quality depth to a student’s development throughout high school. This means that while your grades and test scores are crucial, what you choose to do in your free time also matters a lot in your admissions decision. While having a flawless transcript is stellar, don’t forget about your extracurriculars!

For this reason, students are stressing a great deal these days as many extracurricular activities have been halted indefinitely. High school students are at a loss: They won’t let me volunteer at the nursing home due to COVID restrictions. What am I supposed to do now? Will colleges look down on my application if all of my activities are cancelled? Does it look bad if I did nothing but school work during the pandemic?

Well for starters, realize that the battle against COVID is an opportunity to tap into your creativity and help your community. While it may be tempting to binge-watch your favorite Netflix show during all of the free time you have gained, you must use your free time wisely (that is, if you aim to shine in the college application pool). Instead of stressing, begin asking yourself more constructive questions: How can I help my community during COVID in a safe way? Can I start a program virtually or convert my current activity to an online format? Who is the most in need during this time?

Countless students have demonstrated ways to aid the community in safe, contact-less ways. Some have organized local grocery-store-runs for the elderly while others have coordinated food drives for local churches. Using Google, you can find many nearby food drives which you can donate to or help collect for. In the same way, you can’t go wrong with calling up a local nursing home or animal shelter to see how you could help during this time.

Maybe you feel uncomfortable going out into the world with the COVID-19 threat— that is understandable. However, there is just as much opportunity to help your neighbors virtually as there is physically. Many high schoolers have begun virtual tutoring programs through Zoom and Google Meet to help students struggling with the remote style of education. Others are special guest “readers” for local pre-schools while some live stream musical performances for residents at the local nursing home. One could argue that the opportunity to help has become even greater during COVID-19!

The bottom line is: you will not be punished during the application review process if your extracurricular resume took a hit during the pandemic. That being said, colleges will surely be impressed if you can demonstrate how you rose above such obstacles and used your time constructively by impacting the community. If one thing is for certain, it is this: there is always someone who could use some help around the corner—you just need to look. Blog Contributors: Melanie Talesnick, Alison Grill, Laura Charos