Extracurricular Activities and the College Application

College admissions officers first look at test scores, grades, and the rigor of courses students take in high school. However, what are also important in the admissions process are a student’s extracurricular activities. Students are a representative of the college they attend, and it goes without saying colleges care about the character of the people they admit to their school. Extracurricular activities are a good indicator of what a student does during his or her time spent outside of school. In other words, what a student is doing over summer vacation and on the weekends, gives admission officers a good idea of what kind of individual they are considering admitting to their college.

No doubt about it, volunteerism is very important; however, admissions officers are looking for real hands-on involvement. There is a difference between the student that volunteers once to collect money for a charity and the student who spends every Saturday helping clean up city parks. The student that dedicates more time is the one that is most likely to receive an acceptance letter.

Most colleges aren’t terribly picky about how you spend your time outside of the classroom as long as it is apparent you are doing something meaningful. While they won’t be able to notice that you spend four hours a day on your smartphone, they will notice if there is a lack of activities on your application. As long as you can make evident to the admissions officers that you have accomplished something meaningful, that you are committed, have initiative, and demonstrate leadership skills, you are on the right track.

When admissions officers evaluate extracurricular activities, evidence of leadership and dedication are taken into consideration during the admissions process. Leadership is a word that comes up frequently during the admissions process and it very well might be what separates a student who is granted admission from those that end up waitlisted. Leadership can take many forms including designing costumes for the school play, creating and maintaining a group’s website, and organizing a fundraiser for the school’s library, The more selective a university or college is the more judiciously a student’s leadership role is assessed.

Your freshman year of high school is the perfect time to explore multiple activities as you continue to discover what you are good at and what motivates you. By sophomore year your list of activities should be trimmed down and your focus should be on the three to four projects that you are generally interested in and enjoy. Remember, if you do not find it exciting and gratifying you are less likely to stick with the activity. By the time your junior year rolls around, you should have established the activities you feel the most passionate about and should attempt to become an officer, leader, or president. Now is the time to go beyond being just a member. During your senior year visiting various colleges and the college application process will begin to take up a lot of free time, so now more than ever it is important to be certain that your extracurricular activities are ones that are meaningful and fulfilling. Students should try and stay involved in their extracurricular during their summer vacations. Colleges are always interested to see any indication that students have done something more than play video games during their break from school.

When choosing activities, your talents, skills, and academic interests can come together to make sense of who you are and who you want to be. Try to participate in activities that are related to and support your future major. You may not know what you want to do with your life when you are 17, but if you have a good idea of what you want to focus on when you eventually attend college, begin pursuing these fields sooner rather than later both inside and outside of the classroom. If you are thinking about majoring in journalism become a staff member of your school’s newspaper. A lawyer? Join your school’s debate team. Whatever your interest, find an activity that supports it. If your school does not offer programs or activities to support your passion for the trumpet, see if you can found a music club.

But before you decide to sign up for all of the activities your school and community offers, remember that quality outweighs quantity every time. Put simply, an overlong list of activities is not noteworthy in the eyes of the admissions officer. Dedication to your chosen extracurricular activities shows the value of your involvement. While Student A may attend nearly every club her school has to offer, Student B only joins two but is more involved, organizing outings for the environmental club and being the vice president of the school’s drama club. The level of involvement is more important to the admissions office than breadth. Use the time spent on extracurricular activities wisely by trying things that interest you and then choosing the ones that are the most meaningful to focus on.

Extracurricular activities are one key way students can exhibit their individuality and showcase their passions, and perhaps most importantly, in the admissions process, appear more interesting and potentially superior to the other applicants.


Michael W.

UCLA Instructor / SAT ACT Expert

400+ hours
if (isMyPost) { }