How important are high school extracurriculars when applying to college?

I don't know what I want to major in, so I don't know what activities I should do. Do some extracurriculars look better than others?


Stacey Ebert, Educator, Writer, Event Planner, Traveler

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Extracurriculars are extremely important to your high school development, college career and building blocks of life. As others mentioned, it's more important when applying to schools what you've done in those organizations rather than being in a greater number. Yes, if you were to match two exact GPAs and student applications and one stood out more in their extracurricular pursuits, it's more likely that person would have a greater chance of getting into the school.

Find some groups at your school that might interest you. (If there's nothing at school, look elsewhere in your community to get involved) Perhaps it's community service, an honor society, a theater group or a full class organization. Show up, voice your opinions, volunteer, help out, get involved in any way you can. If it's something you enjoy you might be able to find a leadership position or role in the organization and those are the things that stand out on an application. As an advisor and someone who interviewed many students for university, admissions know it's not the amount, but the time. Being a member of five organizations is different than holding a position in one. Showing up to various meetings or walks is different than planning Homecoming or the Junior Prom. Being a member of the honor society is different than holding an officer position for more than one year of any club or organization. The time spent on each project makes a huge different and yields a different result according to those reading thousands of similar applications. Perhaps there's one that you can devote a lot of time to and it might even completely change your high school experience for all four years.

Also, students who are involved in organizational leadership work with a variety of staff, faculty and peers throughout their high school career. You might get to know more people and develop significant relationships that help your development. As an advisor, I worked with many incredible student leaders. Watching them develop, learn, share and involved themselves in so much was wonderful to watch and made it exceptionally easy to write a glowing recommendation for them when the time came. There's a lot of informal education and learning that goes on in extracurricular clubs and it's not to be missed. Your involvement will not only make an impact on your application and resume at a later date, it will supply you with skills, bring out talents and enrich your high school career more than you could ever imagine. Get involved and enjoy your after school activities - those are many of the memories you'll have when your high school career is over.

Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author

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Extracurriculars can serve two purposes. They can make your experience in high school more fun (think Prom or Homecoming Committee), or they can balance a high school transcript and demonstrate qualities and even diverse or quirky interests not readily apparent in other parts of your candidacy. Of course, some kids pursue certain extracurriculars just for college resume building. Whatever your motivation, or the hybrid of serious and fun activities you present, it's important to understand what kind of role these extras play in admissions.

First off, not all extracurriculars are of equal value. Some are more impressive than others. Second, your investment in the activity and your position matters. Dabbling in a broad range of activities may be less impressive than say demonstrating you were captain or served in a leadership capacity in a focused, but smaller number of clubs. It's impossible to hand you a perfect formula here. Just know there are many ways to show you are involved, and there is no exact science to knowing who it will help, and whether it will offer a critical nudge in the right direction.

No matter the level of your involvement, many applicants overplay the role they believe their extracurriculars will have have in helping them win admission. It's important to remember that getting into college is driven significantly by grades and test scores. It's a numbers game, After that, your recommendations will matter most. Although many schools self-report they utilize a holistic admissions process, I've yet to find one that doesn't start with the GPA as the primary indicator of who will get in. That's because grades benchmark your potential to succeed academicallly. Admissions officers like to say they admit both the freshman class, and the graduating class at their school. Think of your extracurriculars as an enhancement or pushing the scale a bit. But don't count on them to override a sub par academic profile or to hugely swing the decision in your favor.

However, there are cases in which one's activities can be important in helping to create or correct a negative impression. This could keep you from being dinged at a college you otherwise might have won admission to. For example, are you someone so overly focused on grades and test scores, that you don't spend any substantive time on extracurriculars? This may communicate - however inadvertently - you're too inward focused. It's important you demonstrate an interest in the world around you to avoid coming off as one-dimensional. Or someone with unhealthy work/life balance. Getting involved in activities also demonstrates you know how to work well with others. In fact, It shows you have a life. All of the above are qualities admissions officers actively look for.

Your extracurriculars can also help you win admission if they reflect a well-lopsided talent and interest. For example, If you are applying as an engineering major, involvement in clubs like Robotics or Coding reflect your passion and academic focus. This is likely to be helpful.

Finally, your extracurriculars can advertise you for a much needed position in college - say marching band. You have no idea what a school will do to get a tuba player.

My advice is to pursue the things you truly enjoy, and consider investing serious time in at least one or activities to show depth.

Scarlet Michaelson, English and Writing Teacher

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Extracurriculars show you are a well-rounded individual with a variety of interests. They don't have to relate to your major at all! In fact, sometimes it's better if they have nothing to do with your major, because it shows you have depth and are not only a computer scientist or a chemist or a reader of literature. Find an activity you enjoy. It could be volunteering at a soup kitchen, singing in chorus, or cross-country running. The point is not to be extraordinary at it but to participate and perhaps be a leader in the community. Use extra-curricular activities as a chance to explore non-academic interests and connect with others who you may not have met otherwise. Have fun!

Anonymous, Biomedical Engineer who loves to teach and help others.

Yes, extracurricular activities help a lot with getting into colleges. They're not more important than grades and GPA, but between two students with the exact same GPA, the one with more extracurricular activities is more likely to get the spot. As far as I know, extracurricular activities can only help your chances of getting in. That being said, it would be wise to pick and choose what extracurricular activities you would like to become more involved in.

You might be wondering if there's a magical number of extracurricular activities to become involved in. In my opinion, it would be better to be more involved in fewer activities than simply being a "member" of more activities. I've never worked with college admissions, but I would be more impressed seeing someone as the president of a school club as opposed to someone who is simply a member of three clubs. In my opinion, your position and involvement in a club matters more than the number of clubs that you are in. This extends to outside of clubs as well. Being a leader in any extracurricular activity, whether it is a treasurer in a school club or team captain of a sports team, always looks good to colleges.

Like I said earlier, it doesn't hurt to be involved with any extracurricular activity, as long as you enjoy it and are passionate about it. No extracurricular activity can look bad on a college admissions resume. However, some activities will definitely be seen in a higher merit than others, especially with your major. Being in your school's chemistry club will look good, but not as good as being in the physics club if you are applying to college as a physics major. Thinking of doing computer science? Why not join your school's computer science club! And like I mentioned earlier, bonus points if you become a board member of that club. It's important to be involved with extracurricular activities, but it's also important to gauge which ones are of more value to you and how involved you are with that activity.

Best of luck to you with choosing extracurricular activities and best of luck with colleges!

Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

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Showing that you are well rounded student who can lead with integrity is highly regarded when applying to college. That being said, doing an activity simply to fluff your application is not a good idea. Participating fully in a few activities is better than dabbling in a bunch. Can the person in charge of your club write a letter vouching for your service? If so, great. If not, then the advisor doesn't know your name and service, which means you probably haven't given it your all. Choose things that YOU care about and this commitment will shine through in your applications.

David H. Nguyen, Education Consultant, College Lecturer, PhD

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This depends on how competitive the schools are. Schools that are ranked in the top 40 of US News & World Report expect that the strongest candidates will have more than just great grades and great test scores – especially the top 20 schools. One reason is because when most of the competitive applicants have nearly perfect scores, the school picks them based on what they did outside of school. Another reason is that extracurricular activities show that you have the potential to be a leader. Alumni who are leaders in society make their college or university look good.

Dr. Aaron Smith, Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Currently Program Director at Aviation Academy, Co-Author of Awakening Your STEM School

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Everybody is correct in stating the importance in extra curricular activities. I do wish to add a couple of things to consider as well. Often times, students forget to add this important element on their resumes which means experience. This could be the difference between a job and / or a scholarship.

I would also like to emphasize that extra curricular activities are not necessarily school related. It can range from serving on the Relay for Life team to completing a job shadowing experience.

Extra curricular activities also mean another reference for jobs or colleges. So don't forget to ask them as you are involved or finish up so that they have provide a letter of recommendation for you.

Amanda Morris, College Professor, Writer, Advisor, Writing Coach

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You've received terrific advice here, so I will be brief. It is perfectly acceptable that you don't yet know what you would like to major in once you get to college, but I bet you have lots of interests. Better to develop a passion. It's terrific to be interested in a lot of different things, but one of those probably already stands out for you. Perhaps think about your dream job - the one you would absolutely love to do. You probably have one. Maybe more than one. So go ahead and dream big. If you could do any career at all, what would you love to do? You might know someone who does this job, or maybe you've seen it on TV. Let's say you would love to be a Pharmacist, but you love writing and reading.

Now take what you know about that job and your passions and find extracurriculars that help you develop a skill set for your dream career. And you're thinking, pharmacy equals science and medicine, what can I do related to that in high school? Perhaps there is a medical club or a volunteer opportunity at a hospital. And as my colleagues here have encouraged, you need to be as well-rounded as possible, so if you love writing, become a reporter for the student newspaper (because pharmacists also have to know how to write).

If you start with the future and work backwards to your present, you might find that your decisions about extracurriculars become a bit easier because you've started with a focus. Best of luck and remember to have fun and dream big!

Amy McElroy, Law School Graduate, Writer, Editor, Parent of Child Interviewing for Colleges

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Yes, extracurricular activities are extremely important to your college application. They show depth beyond academics, including talents like public speaking, sports, performing arts, leadership capabilities, and other assets you could bring to the college. Don't worry about what your major will be.

Choose activities that interest you and that you can grow and excel in. Take an active role in these activities. As one admissions officer told me, schools aren't interested in how many dozens of sports, clubs, and activities you joined during high school, but instead, how invested were you in the ones you chose. Were you the president or captain at some point? Did you recruit new members for the group or expand the program into the community somehow? How dedicated were you to this activity?

Have fun with your activities during high school. Get truly involved in things that interest you, and perhaps your major will reveal itself to you through the activities you choose.

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