Extracurricular activities are an enormous part of your college application; they’re the main tool that admissions counselors use to imagine your contributions to campus life and culture. They’re also enormous time commitments, so choose wisely. Below are a few tips to help you figure out which ones to choose…
1. Quality, Not Quantity
Take this advice from someone who is always spread too thin: it’s not worth it. It’s OK in your freshman year to be involved with a number of extracurricular activities, but as you progress through high school, find the extracurriculars that you value most and actively search for more meaningful ways to participate.
I didn’t have enough space on my Common Application to include all of the clubs and activities from my four years of high school. But frankly, I’d wager that only 2-3 of those extracurriculars — the handful that I deeply committed to during my senior year — mattered to admissions counselors.
2. Seek Leadership Positions
College admissions counselors look for initiative and influence in prospective students. This doesn’t mean that you need to be the president of every single group you’re in, but it does mean that you need to show personal growth and engagement in each activity. Be cognizant of tangible ways to display your individual achievement— possibly by running for club treasurer, representing your organization at community events, or submitting your extracurricular work for awards.
3. Dare To Be Different
Activities such as school sports, community service, debate, yearbook, and orchestra demonstrate well-rounded skill sets, but they aren’t especially unique. There’s nothing wrong with joining the clubs that your friends are in, but be aware that following the crowd in all of your activities will make standing out that much harder.
One of my most significant extracurriculars was an internship with my National Public Radio affiliate. Radio journalism opened my mind to a new spectrum of careers, introduced me to friends from distant neighborhoods, and distinguished my work experience dramatically from the rest of my peers.
If your dream extracurricular doesn’t exist, make it happen. This is another great way to demonstrate your leadership skills, in addition to your own powers of innovation. I really enjoyed theater in high school, but none of the local troupes were performing the types of plays that interested me. So I co-founded a teen-powered theater company dedicated to performing student-written work and sci-fi productions. It ended up being one of the most fun and rewarding decisions I’ve ever made.
5. Love What You Do, Do What You Love
Never ever, ever, ever join an extracurricular for the sake of your college application. Extracurriculars are an opportunity to enrich yourself with connections, experiences, and insights that you wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. A college acceptance is just one of the many, many benefits to engaging with your passions and your community.
Remember, extracurricular activities are an enormous part of your college application, so be sure to stay active and involved things you are most passionate about. Best of luck in preparing your applications!
Madeline Ewbank is an undergraduate at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Her current extracurriculars include producing feature-length student films, interning for the U.S. Department of State, and teaching ACT 36 courses. She is excited to help students achieve their college aspirations as a member of the Veritas Prep team.