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Are Extracurricular Activities Important for College?

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Are Extracurricular Activities Important for College?

High school students often find themselves overwhelmed by the many factors that go into their college applications — GPA, course load, SAT/ACT scores, AP and SAT II scores, honors and awards, and so on. In the face of all of these weighty, largely academic considerations, many students wonder whether or not extracurricular activities affect college admissions decisions all that much. So are extracurricular activities important for college admissions? Do extracurricular activities help college applications at all?

The answer is resoundingly yes … but it’s a little bit more complicated than that. In this article, we’ll discuss exactly how important extracurricular activities are compared to other elements of your application and why not all extracurricular activities on a college application are made equal in the eyes of admissions officers.

How much do extracurricular activities affect college admissions decisions?

In terms of importance to admissions officers, extracurriculars are solidly middle of the pack. Let’s look at what falls above and below.

What matters more than extracurricular activities on a college application?

While colleges vary in how much weight is given to different aspects of the college application, most schools value two things the most: your transcript and your SAT or ACT scores.

Transcripts consist of your GPA and course load from your freshman to your senior year. Your GPA confirms that you performed well in your classes, while your course load confirms that you had to work for your GPA. Additionally, a rigorous course schedule demonstrates a commitment to challenging yourself academically (something colleges like to see). Colleges also look at how your GPA and course rigor evolves over your four years of high school — an upward trend in both the difficulty of your classes and your performance in them is generally looked at favorably.

SAT or ACT scores, on the other hand, are pretty straightforward. Colleges look at your total score out of 1600 for the SAT or 36 for the ACT in addition to your section scores to determine your readiness for college. Reading section scores, for instance, are highly correlated with freshman retention rate (the probability that a student will continue to attend college beyond their freshman year). These scores are an easy way to compare a lot of prospective students quickly and stack them up relative to each other, as well as to previously admitted students, based on percentile.

What matters less than extracurricular activities on a college application?

While to most admissions committees, transcript and test scores matter more than extracurriculars for college applications, extracurricular activities tend to be more heavily weighted than most other elements of your application. This includes application essays, letters of recommendation, interviews, and other pieces of your application required by individual schools. If you think about it, this order of importance makes sense: essays, recommendation letters, interviews, etc. are typically completed in senior year, whereas extracurricular activities tend to span multiple years and represent a much greater time commitment from students. Which leads to our next question ...

What makes a good extracurricular for college applications?

Extracurricular activities are important for college applications not because of what they tell admissions committees about how you use your spare time, but because of what they demonstrate about you as a person. While there are a variety of attributes that extracurriculars can show off, there are three traits in particular that you want to shine through.

1) Passion

Many students have heard that they need to be “well-rounded”, but this is actually pretty misleading — most colleges prefer a student who demonstrates personal interest and dedication in one or two areas. Take this example: a student trying to stuff their application with extracurriculars is a member of 5 clubs that meet once a month and has done a different sport every year since he started high school. A different student at the same school has been a member of the school robotics club since junior high, meets with them twice a week officially (and regularly unofficially), and has placed with his team at a variety of regional and national competitions. While the first student is more “well-rounded”, they appear flighty and not particularly engaged in anything they’re involved with. The second student, on the other hand, shows the effort and consistency that comes from a personal passion. Passionate students engage more actively with their college classes and activities on campus and bring a unique skill set and perspective to the school, making their school better in the process. As a result, admissions officers look for long-term, high-effort commitments in which you’ve demonstrated success through honors and awards in extracurricular activities on a college application.

2) Leadership skills

Take this example: A student writes on her college application that she is a member of the young entrepreneurs club at her high school. She explains that she led a group of four students in creating several successful marketing strategies for a new fashion accessory sold to students at her school. When a college admissions officer sees this information on her application, they will note the successful leadership role she took in this project. A student who takes on the responsibility of being a leader in a group is seen as an appealing applicant for admittance to a college — if a student seeks out leadership in high school, they are likely to do the same in college (in the classroom, on campus, in the community, etc.) and in their future lives. Students with strong leadership capabilities improve their school while they attend and reflect positively on their school after they graduate, which is why leadership skills are important to highlight in extracurriculars for college applications.

3) Community-mindedness

A prospective student who participates in community activities will likely get the attention of a college admissions officer. A student who joins a group that fixes up the homes of local senior citizens or plans regular events to clean up litter along a local road may be doing something they are personally interested in, but they’re also working for the betterment of a community. College admissions officers like to see students who take initiative to organize or participate in activities that benefit their own communities. As with leadership, community-mindedness is a trait that often translates to positive action within the college community — once again, desirable from an admissions perspective. Similarly, colleges want to be represented by students who show a responsibility and a concern for the welfare of others.

Ideal extracurriculars for college applications will combine all three traits into one: a personal passion which you have used to lead others in benefitting your community. For instance, a student who has played the drums for several years (both inside and outside of school) leads her school jazz band in putting together and teaching a free percussion summer camp at the local YMCA every summer. This shows college admissions committees a lot about who the student is and what value she is likely to bring to the school.

So are extracurricular activities important for college admissions?

Yes! Extracurricular activities affect college admissions decisions by helping an admissions officer get a better picture of a prospective student’s character. Just be sure to consider extracurriculars’ importance relative to other parts of your application, as well as the importance of highlighting good extracurricular activities.

That’s part of the reason why we offer a college application evaluation to students — high school students can fill out this application evaluation to see whether it would benefit them to have a couple more or different extracurriculars for college applications. Additionally, our professional college admissions consultant can evaluate all of a student’s qualifications, including their SAT or ACT score, to see if they are adequate for acceptance into college. If a student does need to boost their SAT or ACT score, we have excellent SAT and ACT prep courses online at Veritas Prep that can help a student to achieve that goal! Our experts have the knowledge and expertise to help students craft an impressive college application, so if you aren’t certain about the value of your extracurricular activities on a college application, contact us for a free college consultation today.

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