Many colleges and universities consider an applicant’s extracurricular activities when making admissions decisions. What activities count? What are colleges looking for?
Colleges are looking for quality participation over quantity. Students can see this reflected on applications which ask students to list how many years they have participated in a particular activity and the hours per week and weeks per year spent. It is better for a student to consistently dedicate time to a select number of activities than to join dozens of groups and spend little time with any.
Summer is a great time to update your list of extracurricular activities and consider how you will spend your free time over the next year. Here are common categories for extracurricular participation.
School Clubs and Sports
The most commonly listed extracurricular activities are school based clubs and sports. The organizations can vary from school to school, but colleges are familiar with National Honor Society, soccer, debate, newspaper, French club, math team, baseball, cheerleading, theater, spirit club, and other school-based organizations. While many of these activities are generally recognized, students should take time to explain their participation. Do not assume colleges will be familiar with every group or organization.
Non-School Based Groups
Many students participate in organized programs not affiliated with their high schools. Some of the most common include Boy and Girl Scouts, club sports teams, and religious youth groups. Colleges are interested in knowing about all extracurricular activities, not just those that are school-based, so students participating in these types of groups should list them on applications.
Students often participate in community service as part of their other clubs or organizations, but others may seek out separate volunteer opportunities. There is no required amount of community service for college admission, but students should list any outside service they have completed. Sometimes community service allows students an opportunity to work for a cause they believe in, to further leadership opportunities, or to develop social or academic skills while helping others.
Colleges want to know how students spend their time outside of school and often work is part of it. Jobs may include occasional babysitting, summer employment, or even unpaid internships. Colleges understand that work is one way in which applicants gain experience, demonstrate leadership, and develop talents. Colleges are not looking for big-name jobs or prestigious work experience. They want to know what a student has done, so students should not hesitate to list work at the local fast-food restaurant or a summer bagging groceries; all work counts.
All Other Experiences
A majority of extracurricular activities fall into the three categories above, but colleges are interested in learning about any activities that help develop a students talents, interests, and strengths. Some students pursue other experiences that are not part of an organized group and are not volunteer experiences; if these activities are influential and significant, colleges want to know about them. The student who spent all summer restoring and rebuilding a classic car should mention it. So should the avid reader, triathlete, wood working enthusiast, robotics or computer builder, or any other active hobbyist.
Colleges and universities are interested in learning how students spend their time when not in class. They are looking to see what activities have shaped a student’s experience, so there are no right or wrong answers. (You read that correctly—there is NO “right” activity to impress colleges.)
Ideally students will participate in extracurricular activities that showcase their talents, interests, and abilities. Colleges understand that not all learning takes place in the classroom and sports, clubs, volunteer opportunities, employment, and hobbies provide additional opportunities for students to develop academic, social, and leadership skills.
Spend time this summer pursuing your passion. Follow your interests. And don’t forget to keep notes of what you achieved.