Extracurricular Activities and College Admissions

How valuable are extracurricular activities in the eyes of college admissions officers? Learn how to maximize the impact of your activities on your applications.

August 16, 2017

Extracurricular activities are a great way to demonstrate dedication to something other than school work.

What do college admissions boards look for in a prospective student? It surely can’t just be good grades or amazing references.

If college was only for people with a 4.0 GPA, who took multiple AP classes and had high standardized test scores, then it wouldn’t be a very interesting place.

While volunteering for a weekend to clean up a local park may prove your community spirit, being involved with the same organization for years will be a stronger illustration of your civic mindedness.

College exists to educate all sorts of people: from the super geniuses to those dedicated to subjects outside of the classroom. Extracurricular activities can showcase your unique talents and help make you stand out from the rest.

What Admissions Boards Look for in Extracurricular Activities

It’s no coincidence that a good portion of most four-year college applications inquire about a student’s activities outside the classroom. Colleges want to know that you have a passion and are able to devote your efforts to something.

But does that mean that you should join every club your school has to offer?


Admissions boards are likely to see past a shallow involvement if your resume is jam-packed with more than a few activities.

However, college admissions boards are likely to be impressed if you demonstrate that you have a deep involvement with a sports team since you were a kid, that you spent time after school making sets for the school’s production of Guys and Dolls, or that you volunteered at the local hospital every weekend for a year, just to name a few.

Louis L. Norbeck, a school counselor in Annapolis, Maryland, tells the College Board that with increasingly competitive admissions, extracurricular activities can be a key part of a student’s applications. While grades and standardized test scores are the core of the application, what a student does on her own time can demonstrate another side of the individual that numbers alone won’t show.

What Is An Impressive Extracurricular Activity?

Your extracurricular activities should be a reflection of yourself. They are a way to showcase your best traits, whether it’s team work, the ability to stick with your commitments or your personal talents.

While all of your extra enterprises are important in their own way, there are still levels of impressiveness.

Yes, playing basketball since you were in diapers is amazing, but being on the school team that made it to nationals will probably look better on an application.

Volunteering for a weekend clean up of a neighborhood can prove your community spirit, while being involved with the same organization for years – and organizing clean-up activities - will be a stronger illustration of your civic mindedness.

Extracurricular Activities and College Admissions: Tips and Tactics

  • Almost any activity - including journalism, drama, charity, sports photography, art, yearbook, and others – will register with admissions boards. But it’s the level of your commitment and contribution that will make you truly impressive.
  • Colleges want you to be different than everyone else. They want you to show the individuality that makes you special.
  • Don’t sweat not being a nationally renowned artist, sports star, or politician while still in high school. As long as you can show dedication to something other than schoolwork, you’re likely to be well-served by your extracurriculars.

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

The NCAA Clearinghouse for Athletes and Performers
Sports and College Admissions
Student Government and College Admission
Music and Drama: How They Fit Into College Applications

See All High School Academics and Activities Articles


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