How to Pick the Best Extracurricular Activities for College Applications

extracurricular activities graphic

Grades and test scores aren’t the only factors college admissions officers consider when flipping through your college application; they also take a look at what extracurricular activities you participated in during high school.

Your extracurricular activities can be a big asset to your application. But with vague guidelines and conflicting opinions about the “best” activities to participate in, what should you decide to get involved in during high school?

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Your Extracurricular Activities Motto: Quality Over Quantity

When it comes to high school extracurriculars, think quality over quantity. While it’s ok to get involved in multiple activities that you’re interested in, there’s no need to sign up for every club just to pack your high-school resume. Colleges look for interested, dedicated students who would be a positive addition to their student body. Your extracurricular activities should reflect your interests, not what you think the college admissions officers would be interested in. 

Your extracurricular activities should reflect your interests, not what you think the college admissions officers would be interested in. 

In an interview with the College Board, Jeff Brenzel, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Yale University advised high school students to “do things you truly enjoy in high school, rather than trying to out-guess an admissions committee. Because what you truly enjoy, you’re probably going to be good at, and you’re probably going to get better at.”

If you enjoy your extracurricular activities, you’re more likely to stay dedicated to them and improve in them! This opens up opportunities to show your grit and commitment, both valuable skills to bring to college. 

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How Important are Leadership Positions?

Colleges love student leaders. However, you don’t have to be class president for colleges to be impressed!

You can demonstrate leadership in almost any activity you join, through named positions like drum major or newspaper editor, but also by heading up a volunteer project for the honor society or staying after practice to help your teammates with their goal shots.  

Sticking with your activities also opens up opportunities for leadership positions that might not be available to casual members of your activity. For example, sticking with the marching band for the first two years of high school may lead to you applying for and earning a section leader position during your junior year!

What Kinds of Activities Count as “Extracurriculars?”

There are generally four categories of extracurriculars: school activities, work, community, and volunteering.

School activities are hosted by the school. These are usually clubs that meet on-campus or are sponsored by a teacher. Some examples are: 

  • Newspaper or yearbook
  • Student council and student government
  • Sports teams
  • Band, orchestra, and choir
  • School Theater programs
  • School-sponsored clubs, like robotics or Key Club

Work, like an after-school job or an internship, is also an extracurricular activity when it comes to college applications! Admissions officers understand that not all students have the time or means to be involved in traditional extracurricular activities. If you spend a significant number of hours each week working, then note that down as an extracurricular on your college application. You’ve probably learned valuable skills about service, timeliness, dedication, and excellence at your part-time job. Let them shine on your application!

Community activities take place in your community. Some examples are community theater, city sports teams, or public art groups.

Volunteering can also be a great activity to list on your applications – just make sure you’ve invested time in the activities you list. While kind, it’s not that impressive if you spend one Saturday junior year helping out the food pantry. Colleges would rather see a commitment to a cause. If you list volunteer work on your application, be sure it’s something you’ve participated in for at least a few months. Some examples are consistently tutoring kids after school or volunteering at the animal shelter once a month for a year. 

Learn to be a Dedicated Participant

Colleges look for dedicated, interested students who would bring their passion and drive to their university. Once you learn to invest in your interests, you’ll naturally grow, improve, and gain leadership experience. 

It’s ok if you have to try a few things before you find an activity you really love. Just don’t burden yourself with a dozen activities that you sort-of like at the expense of investing in one or two activities you love. 

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