Extracurricular activities and involvement outside the classroom are essential components of the college application process. Colleges want students who are talented academically, but they also want students who will participate in the life of the college on multiple levels, be good roommates, and get involved in activities on campus. Extracurricular involvement is one way that you can demonstrate to admissions offices the kind of person you might be in college. As you prepare to begin the 2014-2015 school year and are wondering what activities to pursue, here are answers to some common questions about extracurricular involvement.
What “counts” as extracurricular involvement? Extracurricular involvement is any activity not immediately related to a high school course or class assignment. This can include school clubs, athletics (varsity or not), outdoor activities, summer programs, community service, work experience, family responsibilities, internships, religious activity, political involvement, music, theater, art, debate and academic competitions, and a host of other things. There are really no limits to what can be considered extracurricular involvement. It is up to each student to find and pursue the activities s/he is most interested in.
What activities are best? Some students wonder if certain types of involvement are better than others, or if colleges require certain types of activities. Colleges do not have preferences for specific types of activities. Instead, they would like to see commitment and increasing depth of involvement over time, no matter what you’re involved in. Instead of trying to choose activities because you think that’s what colleges want to see, choose activities of personal interest to you. If you enjoy your activities, you’ll be more likely to stick with them and show the level of commitment and consistency that colleges really want. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Model UN, community service, or a job at the mall, more important than the activity itself is your level of commitment to it.
How many activities do I need? There is space to list up to 10 activities on the Common Application, but you don’t need to fill up all 10 spaces. It’s better to have a shorter list of activities with more in-depth, long-term participation, than a long list of activities with less meaningful participation. However, in general, you should aim to have at least a few substantial “core” activities, and a couple of additional activities.
Remember, extracurricular involvement holds importance beyond strengthening your college applications; it also helps you develop as an individual. Participating in activities outside the classroom can give you self-awareness, maturity, time management skills, and leadership skills. If you pursue extracurricular activities motivated more by your interests than what you think colleges might want, your genuine enjoyment and excitement will show in your college applications, giving colleges a better understanding of who you are and how you might fit into their community.