Colleges don’t just admit students—they admit people. What you do outside the classroom can have a huge impact on your college applications, so in addition to grades, course rigor, test scores, and college essays, it’s important to consider your extracurricular activities.
“Be Well-Rounded” and Other Lies about Extracurricular Activities
There’s a lot of misinformation and misguided advice about extracurricular activities. Let’s break down some of the most common myths you’ll see:
MYTH: Participate in a variety of activities to show you’re well-rounded.
The advice to present yourself as well-rounded sounds like good advice on the surface. After all, shouldn’t you want to present yourself as a Renaissance man, a person of diverse interests and talents who will fit right in on nearly any college campus?
The problem with this approach is that it’s shallow. Colleges aren’t looking for someone who would fit in anywhere—they’re looking for someone who fits into their specific campus culture. You don’t want to be the well-rounded student whose application looks just like all the other well-rounded students’—you want to be a person with clearly developed interests.
Don’t approach your extracurricular activities as if you have a checklist of “impressive” clubs to join. Find things you truly enjoy and are interested in pursuing…and then pursue those things. Colleges would much rather see that you go after the things you want than that you forced yourself to participate in a set of activities just to get into college.
MYTH: The more extracurricular activities you have, the better.
It’s not about the quantity—it’s about the quality!
It’s easy to see where this advice came from. The typical college application offers eight to ten spaces for extracurricular activities. Over time, many parents, counselors, and students decided that eight to ten activities is the “right” number to strive for.
For most students, eight to ten extracurricular activities is just too many. It’s far better to be very good at a few things than it is to be mediocre at a lot of things, both in terms of college admission and lifetime success.
Colleges recognize this. For example, MIT revised its application to include only four spaces for extracurricular activities—and they’re thinking about cutting it down to just three.
MYTH: Certain activities are naturally more impressive than others.
What makes an extracurricular activity impressive is what you do with it. The debate team is not inherently more impressive than the philosophy club—most admissions officers would prefer an applicant who devoted himself to the growth and development of his school’s fledgling philosophy club than a mediocre debater who only competed a few times a year and rarely attended practice.
Don’t approach your extracurricular decisions through the lens of “what colleges find impressive.” Approach your decisions based on what you really want to do.
How to Choose the Right Extracurricular Activities
First things first: get rid of the notion that there is a “right” extracurricular activity. Your activities should demonstrate your interests, passions, and personality, not an imaginary list of things an “ideal” student should do.
With that in mind, here’s our guide to choosing the right extracurricular activities for you:
Explore your options.
Ideally, you’ll use freshman year to dabble. If there’s a time when you really should be involved in a dozen extracurricular activities, this is it. Try things on, see what fits, and get rid of what doesn’t.
Think outside the box.
Don’t feel limited by the offerings at your school.
Interested in theater but your school doesn’t have a drama club? Look for a community theater company to join. Interested in creative writing but your school doesn’t publish a literary magazine? Look for other publications to submit your writing to, publish your writing online, or—better yet—start a school literary magazine.
Get creative. Extracurricular activities include a lot more than the clubs you find at your school.
Narrow down your extracurriculars.
By the time you finish sophomore year, you should have had enough time to pinpoint two or three interests that you really want to pursue. Consider your schedule and how demanding your classes are, and choose the activities that best suit both your interests and your availability.
Once you’ve decided what extracurricular activities you’ll continue to pursue, throw yourself into them. Work hard, make an impact, and—when possible—seek out leadership positions to maximize that impact.
This step sounds like a weird one, but hear us out: When you apply to college, you’ll need to write about each of your extracurricular activities and your contributions. It can be hard to remember the contributions you’re most proud of when you’re looking back over the last four years with an application sitting in front of you. Whenever you make a meaningful contribution—a suggestion that was taken up that changed the way things were done, a solution to a particular problem, a particularly successful event—write it down. You’ll have a jump start on your application (and you might just get some great essay ideas).
Ideas for Unique Extracurricular Activities
Sometimes extracurricular activities are a do-it-yourself project. If you have an interest you want to pursue, think of a way to turn it into an extracurricular activity. Here are some examples:
- Start a business: Let’s say you like knitting or woodworking or graphic design. Open an online shop and sell your goods. Let’s say you love cooking. See if you can get a few catering gigs from family friends or community groups. Let’s say you love web design. Try to pick up some freelance gigs. Let’s say you have a lawnmower, some free time in the summer, and an empty wallet. Hire some friends and start your own landscaping business.
- Start a club: If you share an interest with other students and there isn’t already a campus organization dedicated to it, start your own club. Not only do you get to pursue your interest with like-minded peers, but you also get the perk of calling yourself the “founder” on your application.
- Use technology: The Internet is a powerful tool—you can create your own community using blogs, YouTube, or Instagram. If you’re knowledgeable and passionate about a particular area, share it. Create a website, write a blog, create a YouTube channel, curate an Instagram page. Make sure your particular interest contributes something meaningful to the online community. Colleges may not be too impressed by a YouTube channel exclusively dedicated to makeup tips, but they might be impressed by one dedicated to body positivity or health and wellness.
If you’d like help figuring out which extracurricular activities may be a good fit for your high school career, C2 Education offers a free high school planning session for new students. Be sure to contact your local C2 Education center today!