High school is an incredibly busy time for any student, but particularly so for students who fill their course schedule with the most rigorous classes available. With an already packed schedule, many students question whether spending their limited free time on sports, clubs, and out-of-school activities is worth it. While it is possible to spread yourself too thin, extracurriculars are as important to the college admission process as they are to your personal growth and enjoyment!
Why Extracurriculars Matter
Extracurriculars help you develop your hook:
When your college application is being reviewed, admissions officers are thinking “how can I succinctly describe this student?” Even with perfect grades and standardized test scores, you still need a way to stand out as an individual. Whether your hook is being an elite-student athlete who can contribute to a college’s team, a theater buff with a youtube channel dedicated to helping others put on productions, or a future politician who wants to keep other high schoolers informed about the government; extracurriculars give you an avenue to show that you put time and effort into your passions!
Extracurriculars show leadership, collaboration, and communication skills:
While holding an elected position in a club, being voted captain of a team, or having a big part in a play may be obvious indicators of your hard work and aptitude for an activity, involvement in extracurriculars also show that you can effectively communicate your own ideas and listen to others. College is a collaborative atmosphere, and being a member of extracurricular activities indicates that you will be able to thrive in a group environment.
The Common App allows you to list up to ten activities:
When you fill out the Activities section of the Common App, being able to list multiple meaningful activities will bolster your application. Every activity that you write about shows your colleges another facet of your interests and abilities. Extracurriculars show that you pursued your interests in a meaningful way with your fellow students.
Admission officers are looking to create a balanced student body:
Top universities could fill their freshman class multiple times over with students with perfect GPAs and standardized test scores, but they do not want to. Admissions officers are looking to create a diverse student body, one whose students, in addition to having academic strengths, will get involved in activities on campus. Involvement in extracurriculars signify that you will seek out clubs, teams, and opportunities that you’re passionate about once on campus.
Quality Over Quantity
Do not run out and join as many clubs/teams as possible!
Remember that you do not have to join every club you can in order to stand out! Stretching yourself too thin can negatively impact your grades, mental health, and even your involvement in each extracurricular, as you will not be able to fully devote your time to anything.
It’s important to demonstrate commitment, activity, and leadership
Being a member of ten clubs for one or two years each is not nearly as impressive as earning leadership positions in two clubs that you have been committed to for multiple years. Long term involvement in clubs will give you opportunities to organize events, develop specialized knowledge, gain leadership positions, and build friendships with your peers.
Summer activities, volunteer work, and jobs also count as activities
Not all of the activities you list on your Common App will be clubs! Whether you worked, volunteered regularly, or did research over a summer, there will be plenty of other opportunities to fill out the Activities section. Getting involved in too many clubs will mean that some of your other experiences have to be left out.
Do What You Love!
Focus on clubs and sports you actually enjoy:
Do NOT join a club or team just because you think it will look impressive! When you enjoy doing an activity, you will naturally get better at it and want to devote time to it. There are only so many hours in a day, and you can burn yourself out if it feels like you’re devoting every waking moment to activities you are only doing to impress colleges.
If your school or community does not have an opportunity that matches your passion, look to create your own club or join an outside organization:
Some students may not be inspired by the offerings at their school or in their community. If you do have a passion but no avenue to pursue it, you should look to reach out to your friends and create a club or look elsewhere for like-minded individuals!
Explore opportunities you’re curious about even if they do not already match your hook:
A common trap students fall into is thinking, “How will this activity look to colleges?” A student who wants to become a doctor may think they should limit their interests to those that align with their career goals. There is so much more to every person than their career, and colleges know that! If you are planning to go into law, there’s nothing wrong with joining a robotics club! A future math major who sings in an acapella group is fascinating to colleges, and exploring your interests is part of what being a student is all about!
The Bigger Picture
Extracurriculars matter, but they only tell one part of your story. Your application will also include your grades, test scores, volunteer work, work or internship experience, personal essay, awards/scholarships, and your recommendation letters. Use your extracurriculars as an opportunity to paint a broader picture through your application – become involved in extracurriculars that you are passionate about, and your genuine interest will shine through to colleges!