Top USA Universities receive close to 100,000 applications each year, and they only accept about 3% of them. How do they choose? They look at your extracurricular activities to differentiate between the best applicants. Students who only focus on their studies are one dimensional, but those students who get good marks, play sports and love their cultural activities stand out and are much more likely to get in.
You do not need to invent the next billion dollar app or attend the Olympic Games to study in the USA. These universities are looking for well-rounded individuals who will one day become captains of industry and change the world for the better. The Stanford University Regional Admissions Officer for Africa, Femi Ogundele, describes these students as "Game Changers." Stanford and similar institutions look for students who are incredibly passionate about something (it literally can be anything), and they work every day to be great at it.
Say for example, that you are passionate about music. People who take extra lessons are great, but do you volunteer at your local theatre, do you write or direct your school plays, have you started your own non-profit? This sounds scary, right? Not so fast! You don't have to go running off to lawyers and register companies to start a non-profit. Simply chat with your school teachers and see if you can set up a programme where you give free lessons once a week to community kids. Teach these kids, and instil why you are so passionate about what you do. You should even consider joining the local orchestra and work your way up the ranks as you gain more experience.
It's important to understand that the USA education system is unique. Unlike most countries where academics are everything, in the USA you increase your chances of getting accepted by having many extracurricular activities, good marks and an incredible passion for something that you can demonstrate.
In conclusion, you don’t need to be Elon Musk to get in; but you do need to demonstrate that you have the potential to one day change the world. In all seriousness, be the best version of yourself that you can be and the rest will fall into place. Remember there is no secret formula to get into elite universities, but there is no harm in applying. Remember that you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.