How Important Are Extra-Curricular Activities for College Applications?

Published December 06, 2016 |
How Important Are Extra-Curricular Activities for College Applications?
It is never too early to start prepping for college by engaging in some extra-curricular activities that will help you to show a college admissions team who you are and what you believe in.

Every high school student in the country knows the word “extra-curricular” – it is a word that strikes fear into the heart of many. While extra-curricular activities may seem like a fun way to kill some time after school, for many students they are much more than that. They are a gold star on a college application – something that has real implications for the state of their future. But just how important are extra-curricular activities for your college application and are some better than others?

What Kind of Extra-Curricular Activities Are There?

When it comes to extra-curricular activities, the options are endless – but what really counts as an extra-curricular? Technically, it is an unpaid activity that doesn’t pertain to ordinary school classes. The activity itself may occur either in or out of school, though elective classes don’t count. For example, theater class is an elective because it takes place during school hours and it is an actual class – theater club is an extra-curricular if it takes place outside school hours and it isn’t technically a class. Volunteer work can also qualify as an extra-curricular activity. Here are some examples of extra-curricular activities you might consider joining:

  • Special interest clubs (clubs for like-minded students, often focused around a particular subject, activity, or interest)
  • School service clubs (clubs where students engage in projects to improve the school)
  • Scholarship clubs (clubs that exist primarily for prestige, though they may also offer scholarship awards)
  • Community volunteering clubs (clubs where students engage in projects to give back to the local community)

Other examples may include things like student government, school publications, music or theater programs, sports, internships, shadowing programs, and more. It is never too early to start getting involved with extra-curricular activities – some students start prepping for their college applications in grade school! Not only should you consider joining a few extra-curricular activities, but you should really go for it! Get involved by participating in club events or become a member of the club’s leadership board. In the next section, you’ll find out what colleges are really looking for in an application.

What Are Colleges Really Looking for in Applications?

One of the first things college admissions officers look at is test scores because they are an easy way to separate out students who don’t meet the school’s academic requirements. Next comes your transcript which includes a list of your classes and the grades you got in those classes. Third is extra-curriculars – how you spend your time outside of school. While extra-curricular activities may not be the first thing college admissions officers look at, they are definitely important. The activities you take part in help the admissions officer to get a picture of who you are, what you do, and what your values are. But what they really want to see is not that you are involved in as many activities as possible, but that you are committed to those activities you choose.

While you are certainly free to participate in whatever activities you like, if you want your extra-curriculars to have a positive influence on your college application, you need to be smart about choosing them. College admissions officers want to see students who are making a difference, whether it be by completing a specific project, giving back to the community, or participating in a competition or event. They also want to see students involved in activities where they can learn something new or develop a skill or talent – it doesn’t matter whether you are learning the Chinese language or learning how to develop a photo. Colleges also like to see students in leadership positions or gaining recognition for their work with the organization. If you can show the college admission team that you are committed to the activity and that your participation in it is worthwhile, it can be a benefit to your application.

Top Extra-Curricular Activities to Beef Up Your College Application

Though every extra-curricular activity has the potential to boost your application, there are three activities which college admissions officers like to see more than others. Don’t worry, they aren’t specific activities, per say, but specific types of activities – and the combination of all three is the most effective. The three extra-curricular activities that colleges like to see most are:

  • Academic activities
  • Community service activities
  • Personality activities

More than test scores and grades, colleges want to find students who are mature, who have a sense of purpose and direction with their life, and who have a strong sense of self. You aren’t expected to have your entire life put together by the time you graduate from high school, but colleges like to invest their time in students who will work hard and make an impact. They also like to see students who are “well-rounded” and adding these three types of activities to your list of extra-circulars can accomplish that. If you plan to become a doctor, it might seem like a good idea to load up your application with science-based activities and volunteer work, but colleges want to know who you are as a whole person – not just your academic or career-related aspirations.

Academic activities include things that are at least somewhat related to the subject you hope to study in college. For example, if you intend to pursue a degree and career in journalism, joining the school paper or the yearbook team could be a step in the right direction. Activities that relate to the subject you plan to study show college admissions teams that you really have an interest in your chosen field of study – that gives you a greater chance of success. They also want to see that a student is passionate and that he knows who he is and what he believes in. Performing acts of service for other people is a great way to develop skills like problem solving and critical thinking – it can also help to shape your worldview.

A community service activity involves volunteering your time to work toward a cause or to work with people in your community. You can do anything from helping to build homes to mentoring a younger student. This kind of activity shows a college that you are a born leader as well as a concerned and active citizen. Finally, a personal activity is something that shows who you are and what you are passionate about. It could be joining a local theater group, walking dogs at the local shelter, or going to space camp over the summer. If it shows that you have other non-academic interests and that you actively pursue them which makes you a well-rounded individual.

By now it should be clear to you that extra-curricular activities are certainly not the only thing that college admissions officers look for, but they can play a big role in helping colleges to really get a feel for who you are – to help you stand out from the crowd. Colleges want to enroll people, not just students, and they want to know that you are more than just an accumulation of test scores and grades. In the end it matters more that you do the things you love, but if it can boost your college application as well, all the better!


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