Why Your Extracurricular Activities Matter (in College Admissions and in Life)

 

Like the name implies, extracurriculars are the things you do outside of your normal curriculum. In other words, an extracurricular is any organized group activity or hobby that is an extra to what you do in your studies.

In high school and college, you are on a path of self-discovery--finding out what your passions are, what you value, and what skills you want to continue to develop. Extracurricular activities provide the space for you to discover yourself in new ways, while building your skills to prepare you for the future.

Still, standing out on your college application doesn’t mean having a list of 20 activities on your resume. While you may be tempted to join every club and participate in as many volunteer events as your schedule permits, colleges truly value quality over quantity, and many take a holistic approach to selection.

What’s the “Holistic Approach” in Admissions?

Gone are the days where good grades and test scores spoke for themselves. College admissions take a holistic approach when looking at their applicant pool. SAT scores and AP tests are a small portion of the overall picture of you as a student. Think of it this way--as admissions committees are selecting students, they’re also building a community for the college campus.

SUNY Albany, for example, “evaluat[es] a student’s ability to contribute to a diverse educational environment.” By demonstrating your various interests outside of class, your extracurriculars speak to “what kind of person you are and how well you might do in a dynamic, multifaceted campus community.

 
Your extracurricular preparation speaks to what you’ve done beyond the classroom. How have you become a leader at your school and in your community?
— University of Michigan
 
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However, USC reminds applicants that “you should be aware, though, that accomplishments in extracurricular activities and leadership activities cannot make up for a poor academic record.”

How will extracurriculars help me?

Your extracurricular activities do a lot more than tell an admissions counselor your story. What you spend your time doing outside of class may help you:


1. Explore your interests

Whether you know what you want to study or not, experiencing different environments and meeting different students outside of the classroom will help you figure out what you are passionate about (and what you’re not passionate about!).

2. Improve your Academic performance

Studies have linked extracurricular involvement with strong academic performance. The time management skills required of being active outside of the classroom help you focus on your studies more intentionally.

3. Develop Transferable Skills

From communication skills to teamwork and collaboration, extracurricular activities will equip you with the skills that will later translate into future internships, jobs, and other opportunities in the future.

What kind of extracurriculars should I choose?

The type of activity you choose isn’t as important as the time and commitment you put into it. Rather than hopping from one club or sport to the next, try to stick to a few and be consistent with them in high school.

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Clubs/Organizations

From the Spanish club to the chess club, you can find a variety of different clubs that match your interests. Next time a friend invites you to one of their club meetings, make the effort to stop by. On the surface, you might think you’re not interested, but once you get to know your classmates, you might surprise yourself.

If your school doesn’t offer any clubs or organizations that you’re interested in, start your own club. (Bonus points! This will help you demonstrate your leadership skills and passion).

Every school is different when it comes to the process of starting your own club, but take a look at this list put together by InGenuis Prep to get you started.

Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to learn about yourself while helping others and making an impact on your community. From hospitals to community gardens to after school care, there are dozens of ways to get involved.

Sports

Sports demonstrate your commitment and your ability to work in a team. Whether intramural, JV, or varsity, being involved in sports throughout high school will show your dedication.

Jobs/Internships

Some students worry about their lack of extracurriculars on their application due to having a part-time job. However, having a part-time job shows your responsibility and maturity. As always, if your work schedule takes up too much time to allow you to get involved in activities, be sure to speak about these experiences in your college essay.

Longevity Over Variety

Overall, what college admissions committees want to see is evidence that you have passions beyond school and that you spend time pursuing them. You don’t need to be involved in 5 clubs to stand out. You need to show development throughout your high school career through increased responsibility and leadership roles.