What Extracurriculars Do I Need to Get into the Ivy Leagues?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A woman in the library writing on her notebook

What Extracurriculars Do I Need to Get into the Ivy Leagues?

Extracurriculars aren’t typically the first thing high schoolers think about when considering what it takes to get into the Ivy League. After all, the eight universities that comprise this prestigious group are known first and foremost for academic rigor and world-class educational opportunities. Thus, when envisioning the ideal Ivy League applicant, it’s common for students to place significant stress on academic performance in terms of GPAs, standardized test scores, the difficulty of a high school curriculum, and other related factors. However, many students still wonder “do extracurriculars matter for the Ivy League?

The answer is an unequivocal yes! Extracurricular activities play an incredibly important role in determining your eligibility for the Ivy League. Unfortunately, this factor gets overlooked frequently as students place outsized attention on their academic performance.

While academic factors are certainly one of the most – if not the most- important elements of your application, high schoolers can’t let other components fall by the wayside. After all, Ivy League admissions officers take multiple factors into account when determining who gets accepted and who doesn’t.

To claim a spot in an esteemed Ivy League school, you need a well-rounded application. Extracurriculars are a key part of that. Here, we’ll take a look at why extracurriculars matter along with some of the best extracurriculars to get into the Ivy League.

Why extracurricular activities matter to Ivy League universities?

As long as you get straight A’s in your high school courses and receive perfect scores on your SAT and ACT, you should have a pretty good chance of getting into an Ivy League school, right? Well, not quite. Stellar academic performance is an indispensable part of a successful application, but it’s by no means all you need.

The academic excellence of the Ivies has understandably yet, unfortunately, led many applicants to simply assume that excellent grades and high test scores are all that matter. In reality, extracurriculars are incredibly important…but why?

The primary reason is that Ivy League admissions officers take a holistic approach to their admissions processes. What does that mean exactly? Well, we’re glad you asked. It’s a fancy way of saying that colleges take a wide variety of factors into account when determining which applicants are qualified and a good match for their school.

As you might have guessed by now, extracurriculars are included in that comprehensive approach. You see, admissions officers don’t just care about what you’re doing in the classroom. They’re also interested in how you’re spending your time outside of school. That’s where extracurriculars come into play.

These activities give admissions officers insight into how students choose to spend their free time.

What are the best extracurricular activities for Ivy League schools?

Before we dive into some specific extracurriculars that can help increase your chances of getting into the Ivy League, it’s important to remember that none of these are explicitly necessary. In other words, none of the Ivies come out and say officially that certain extracurriculars are necessary.

However, after a decade of helping students overcome the odds and get into these world-class schools, we know what kind of extracurricular activities can help tilt the odds in your favor. Let’s explore a few:

Establish a Club or Nonprofit

Can’t find any extracurricular activities at your school or local community that you want to join? Start your own! Everyone has unique interests and hobbies. Try to find something you’re passionate about and start a club, program, or event. You might be surprised just how many fellow students share the same interests as you.

Young woman studying in a library.

The great part of this strategy is that you’re in charge of how things go. You get to build your very own extracurricular activity from the ground up. Throughout the whole process, you’re putting together what just might become the most impressive aspect of your application. Starting your own club shows initiative, leadership, and creativity – all skills that Ivy League admissions officers love to see.

Social Activism

Ivy League universities enjoy seeing students that are active and passionate about certain causes. We’re curious to understand the social impact of your activities. This sort of activism demonstrates an applicant’s proactiveness, commitment, and initiative. Taking action to your local community or even the world a better place is a tough characteristic to overlook on an application.

Don’t worry about making a big gesture. It’s more about the quality of the work you do and the passion you have than it is about the size of the impact you make. You could host fundraisers, organize rallies, support certain causes, start petitions, raise awareness, and more.

Not sure what social or political cause you want to champion? No problem! Just look around your local community and see what issues need addressing. Or simply speak with your friends or classmates to see what they’re involved in.


If you’re confident in the field you’ve chosen to pursue in college, you might want to consider participating in an internship while in high school. Although not generally thought of as an extracurricular activity, internships still technically fit the bills since they take place outside of school hours.

Finding a temporary, apprenticeship-style position in your desired field, can really show your commitment and passion. It also proves that you’re competent in the field. This dedication will show admissions officers that you’re confident in the field of study which you’re pursuing, making it more likely that they’ll see you as a good fit.

When compared to another, equally talented candidate who is unsure about what they want to study, someone who’s already pursued professional experience in the area will always take the cake.

Summer Programs

What do you have planned for the summer? Relaxing by the pool or lake with a cold drink? Hanging out with your friends and family? While those are all fantastic ways to spend the summer, you might want to consider attending a summer program. You can think of these events as prolonged after-school clubs.

They take place during the summer in a wide variety of fields and allow students to pursue their academic interests in greater depth. Participating in these summer programs will most certainly catch the attention of admissions officers, especially if the program is in line with your desired major. We’ve compiled a list of some excellent summer programs that can help improve your odds of getting admitted to the Ivies.

Volunteer Work

Volunteering is a commonly discussed subject among Ivy League applicants. Some people swear by it while others say that it’s not necessary for getting into the Ivies. So which is it? Well, it’s definitely not a prerequisite. However, it can certainly help you stand out from the crowd of applicants. You see, admissions officers aren’t just interested in admitting intellectually curious and academically strong students.

Group of students in the hallway smiling for the camera

They’re also invested in finding students who will have a positive impact on the school and its surrounding community. Volunteer work is perhaps the most wholesome and selfless way to demonstrate your willingness and eagerness to give back and contribute to whatever community you become a part of in the future.

Academic Competitions

Competitive extracurriculars can work wonders for your Ivy League application by demonstrating your academic prowess, your willingness to compete with fellow students, and your command of the subject material.

No matter what club, program, or subject you’re engaged with, there is an endless number of local, statewide, national, and even international competitions. Although winning or placing high will garner more attention for your application, even the willingness to participate will certainly catch the attention of admissions officers.


There’s a common misconception that sports aren’t considered important by Ivy League schools. While it’s true that these universities don’t tend to offer many – if any – scholarships based on sports performance, that doesn’t mean participating in a sport won’t reflect positively on your application.

Different sports items on the grass

Playing a sport can increase your chances of getting into the Ivies if it’s able to demonstrate some vital skills such as leadership, commitment, or an ability to work effectively with others. You’ll want to ensure you’re in a leadership position as being the captain of the soccer team will make you stand out more than simply being a player.

School Newspaper

Are you good with words? Do you enjoy taking photos? What about digital design? Are you passionate about stories? If any of these intrigue you, the school newspaper might be the perfect extracurricular for you. It’s very common for high schools of all sizes to have regular newspapers that are distributed to the student body, faculty, and sometimes even parents.

If you’re interested in pursuing fields such as journalism, writing, communications, public relations, or something similar, this is an excellent extracurricular activity. Even if you’re pursuing something seemingly unrelated, the organizational, leadership, and teamwork skills you develop while working at the school newspaper will help your application remain at the top of the pile.

Theater Program

Whether you enjoy singing, playing music, performing, directing, designing, or choreographing, your high school’s theater program might just be the best extracurricular activity for you. Similar to the school newspaper, participating in theater demonstrates a wide variety of skills including leadership, commitment, organization, group work, reliability, and much, much more.

a female student studying outside with her laptop on her lap

Given the specific nature of this extracurricular activity, it’s an excellent option for those wanting to pursue a related degree. Ivy League admissions officers will definitely want to see a theater-related activity for applicants to a theater-based program.

Tips For Choosing the Best Extracurriculars for the Ivies

Quality Over Quantity

A common strategy among students trying to bolster the extracurricular portion of their application is to sign up for as many activities, clubs, and programs as possible. The thought process is as follows: the more activities which I participate in, the more impressive my application. It’s a fair assessment yet one that can backfire.

Like with many things in college preparation, quality will always triumph over quantity. In other words, admissions officers at Ivy League schools are more interested in seeing you put a great deal of time and effort into one or two activities instead of spreading yourself thin among half a dozen or more.

It’s not so much about the extracurricular activities themselves. Instead, Ivy League schools are more interested in seeing the dedication you’ve demonstrated, the skills you’ve developed, and the accomplishments you’ve made in the process.

That’s why we highly recommend that students start out by participating in a handful of extracurriculars that sound interesting before narrowing down that list to just one or two activities. Committing fully to a single extracurricular for years will help you stand out much more than participating in multiple and not having much to show for it.

Follow Your Interests

Extracurriculars are intended to be enjoyable and satisfying, making them one of the more exciting portions of the college preparation process. Yes, you just heard exciting and college preparation in the same sentence! And that leads us to the next tip for choosing the best extracurriculars for the Ivy Leagues: choose something that truly interests you.

Don’t just pick an extracurricular for the sole reason of impressing Ivy League admissions officers. Finding an activity that actually excites and motivates you ensures you’ll remain engaged and successful, which will end up making for a more impressive application.

a student typing unto their laptop

But that doesn’t mean that every extracurricular activity will have the same impact on your college application. Ideally, you can find something that’s associated with your academic interest.

For example, if you want to pursue a degree in political science or international relations, you could participate in the debate team in high school. A bizarre food club might be more interesting to you, but it doesn’t have much merit at the collegiate level. It’s about finding the right balance between relevance and genuine interest.

Speak With a Professional

The vast majority of high school students have heard the concept of academic planning. In fact, most have even used this either on their own or with a high school counselor. However, not very many have heard of extracurricular planning.

As the name suggests, the concept is relatively the same. As mentioned before, the lack of stress that students tend to place on extracurriculars makes the concept of planning these activities seem rather trivial. However, now that you understand the importance of extracurricular activities to Ivy League admissions officers, you want to put your best foot forward in this area. That’s why some planning is necessary.

AdmissionSight is a leading provider of extracurricular planning solutions for applicants. Our team of college admission experts can help you determine the best clubs, programs, and events in which to participate to increase your chances of getting into the Ivy League.

We’ll work with you one-on-one to determine your personal and academic interests and suggest some possible extracurricular activities for you. We’ll support you through the process of narrowing down these possible options until finding something that matches what you’re looking for while still bolstering your chances of getting admitted to the school of your choice.

Drastically Increase Your Chances of Getting into the Ivy League

The Ivy League is notorious for being highly selective. With record-low admission rates, it’s easy for high schoolers to feel uncertain and even a little nervous about the prospects of applying to these highly prestigious universities. If you find yourself in this position, don’t worry!

You’re not alone. For over a decade, AdmissionSight has been helping students just like you improve their applications to drastically increase their chances of getting into Ivy League schools. We have a proven track record of success with over 75% of the students we work with getting into either an Ivy League school or a Top 10 university. How do we do it?

We’ve become experts in the college admissions process, especially those of esteemed universities such as those in the Ivy League. We know exactly what admissions officers are looking for and how students can boost their chances of getting accepted.

Our experienced team of admissions experts offers a wide variety of services ranging from academic planning and extracurricular planning to summer program selection and interview preparation and everything in between.

No matter where you’re hoping to go to college, we can help you achieve that goal. Feel free to contact us to learn more about what we offer and how you can benefit.




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