Extracurricular Activities and Their Significance

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Various sport equipment laid in a straight manner on the grass.

Extracurricular Activities and Their Significance

Extracurricular activities are important because they help differentiate a candidate outside of just test scores and grades. On an application, you are just a raw number to the admissions committee.

The extracurriculars begin to shed some light on your experiences and intellectual interests, and the personal statements really dive deep into your personality and the individual whom the admissions officers believe you can become when you graduate.

There are many different EC’s that attract universities:

  1. Speech and Debate
  2. Future Business Leaders of America
  3. Science Olympiad
  4. Orchestra
  5. Varsity Sports
  6. Amnesty International
  7. Model United Nations
  8. Philosophy
  9. Roman Mythology
  10. DECA

That’s just a simple list of examples. The list goes on and on. How you pursue those activities and reflect those in the application is key.

At AdmissionSight, we believe there isn’t necessarily a “most impressive extracurricular activity ever” type of statement. There is a scale of high impact or low impact in terms of EC’s, but again that scale can quickly change depending on what you write in your application.

One may think being a lifeguard in a swimming pool is a low impact compared to doing scientific research, but if you write a highly compelling personal statement of your experience as a lifeguard, then the script is quickly switched.

So it really depends on how you present yourself in your application and how you want to emphasize your experiences. Much of this also depends on what type of applicant you are and your gender, race and demographics.

This is another question of, “If you do A or B, will it help?” In theory, everything helps – some more so than others, some with a greater degree of an impact than others. Attending the Summer Science Program or the Telluride Association Summer Program, for example, are a much higher impact than a simple language immersion trip.

But it really depends on what the story and narrative of your application are – and how your extracurricular experiences bolster that.

A language immersion trip can very well just be a tangential activity in the application or the focal point. It depends on who the candidate is, his/her background, and what story he/she wants to share with the admission committee. It’s hard to say without knowing the student’s profile.

When it comes to college admissions, however, we’d choose a top 15 student with solid EC’s than a top 5 with zero EC’s any day of out the week. The EC’s are extremely important when it comes to college admissions. Even more important is how you reflect your involvement in the application.

After all, you are only 12 pieces of paper when it comes to the admissions process. You can spend hours on an EC but if you don’t know how to reflect that on paper, then it’s meaningless.

Leadership positions are quite important when it comes to Ivy League admissions. We encourage all of our students and applicants to get leadership positions, if possible.

Whether you’re the President/Co-founder/Chairman of your club, it will increase your chances of getting in as it demonstrates both focus, passion, and leadership. But too many may hurt your chances and come off as a red flag – striking a balance is key.

The top extracurricular profiles of high school college applicants are those who have done something with a tremendous social impact to benefit their communities. For example, check out Trisha Prabhu, who created ReThink, an technology application that prevents cyberbullying that raised over $100K from Mark Cuban.

Or check out this other student Utkarsh Tandon who created an app to diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s disease based on essential hand tremors: Cupertino High senior named semifinalist in national math, science competition – Cupertino Today

Both students were accepted to Harvard and Stanford, respectively.

These are excellent ways to make an impact in your community that also have a strong social cause behind your actions. And these could absolutely make rich essay topics in the personal statement to deliver a compelling level of introspection and maturity in the candidate.

Getting leadership positions in extracurricular activities that have a strong, meaningful social impact are often great attributes in a college application. For example, President of Model United Nations, Amnesty International, American Red Cross, or UNICEF would be excellent ways to demonstrate leadership through a cause that gives back to your community in some meaningful way.

Clubs like ASB or Student Body Government are also highly looked upon in a college application because they are more difficult to ascertain and require votes and approval from the student body. Other clubs like Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) or DECA are also helpful, but it’s important to demonstrate the social impact that you make through those clubs.

Finding something meaningful to accomplish in those clubs, whether it’s raising money for prisoners of conscience in China, would be noteworthy in a college application. Figuring out the elements that will drive home your profile and candidacy is the trick.

And there’s more than just extracurricular activities, especially on the academic side.  To be an academic superstar, we’d you need to place in the top 5–10 in the country in a particular field, whether in the USA Math Olympiad, Physics Olympiad, etc, get straight A’s, perfect SAT/SAT Subject Tests, and maybe round it out with some Intel or Siemens top 10 finishers. Most academic superstars have IMO (International Olympiad) status in that particular subject.

What college admissions officers look for in extracurriculars

While you now are fully aware of how important leadership is when it comes to making your extracurriculars as impressive as possible in the eyes of college admissions officers, there are many other considerations to make, and characteristics college admissions officers look for.

In order to break them down as best as possible, we have simply divided them by the kinds of activities that tend to look the best.

Throughout this entire breakdown, keep in mind that the most important thing no matter what kind of extracurricular a high school student pursues is that the student is naturally interested in and passionate about the activity itself. No student should simply seek out extracurriculars solely because they think those activities will look best on a college application.

Colleges and universities are looking for students who pursue their passions outside of class, so that’s exactly what extracurriculars should be!


One great form of extracurriculars for high school students in internships within a field that they are interested in. A primary reason why this can be such a great option is that it proves to colleges that a high school student has already gained some valuable professional experience in their chosen field.

For example, a student who is interested in pursuing a degree and/or career in a STEM subject is going to show that they are ready for a rigorous college curriculum if they have spent time working at a lab as an intern.

A man explaining to the woman what's on the laptop screen.

Of course, the specific work that a student does during an internship should include the particulars about what they actually did and what their responsibilities were in relation to the internship.

Moreover, these activities will be able to prove a student’s dedication to their chosen field and provide evidence that they have crucial hands-on experience at the professional level.

One final reason why internships as extracurriculars for high school can be so impressive is also that they are often quite difficult for high schoolers to obtain.

Don’t be discouraged if the companies you reach out to don’t accept high school interns, but it will be a great look if you are able to secure one.

Athletic participation

Don’t be confused, colleges still love to see that a high schooler was able to excel in individual or team sports. Even if you are not destined to become a college athlete, undergraduate programs love to see that students have spent time playing organized sports because it proves that they have a strong sense of commitment and that they are willing to work extremely hard to achieve personal and team goals.

Playing in team sports proves to colleges that students are more than able to work productively in a team. On the other hand, individual sports prove to schools that a student is able to take on massive amounts of responsibility and pressure and still thrive.

Athletes getting ready to run for the 100-meter dash.

For either, athletic participation typically demands a lot of practice and forces students to develop incredible time-management skills as they have to balance hours of practice per week, their other activities, and their studies as well. It also shows that you have the discipline necessary to achieve your goals across many different disciplines.

Finally, if you are able to achieve captain status on any of your teams, you should make sure to note that on your application, as this achievement is quite impressive and also obviously displays how you are seen as a natural leader by your coaches and peers.

Job experience

While some students may think that getting a job in high school is only going to lead to short-term benefits in the forms of having some money in your bank account as a teenager, there are in fact many more reasons why high school students should consider getting a job as a valuable potential extracurricular activity.

Having a part-time job shows college admissions officers that a high school student is responsible enough to acquire and hold down a job for a long period of time.

Having a job also shows that high schoolers have already started to form important habits necessary to succeed in the real world, such as time management, working with peers, and keeping superiors satisfied.

Job applicants seated outside a room patiently waiting for their turn to be interviewed.

While you certainly don’t want to spend all of your time when you are not studying or blowing off steam on the job – and certainly want to get involved in other extracurriculars more directly involved in your education – having a part-time or seasonal job can be a great thing to invest time and energy in.

Creative pursuits

There is no doubt that finding extracurriculars that are connected in some way to a student’s chosen field are very important, but there is also no doubt that colleges love to see students who portray a lot of variance and diversity when it comes to what they are interested in.

Colleges love to send letters of acceptance to students that they see as well-rounded individuals. A great way for high schoolers to prove that they are well-rounded is for them to get involved in some kind of creative pursuit that they are interested in.

A person holding a paint brush dipped in paint against an easel.

This can mean taking part in a painting or photography club, this could mean submitting original work to writing and art competitions, or this could mean getting involved in the theater program at your school.

While also proving that a student is well-rounded, it can also show that a student is dedicated, talented, and multi-faceted.

Political activism

Another great way for students to prove that they have a lot of interesting and impressive interests out of school is to get involved in political activism. Whether it is volunteering for a major political party or getting involved in a local campaign, high school students who find a way to get politically involved are going to be able to prove quite a lot to college admissions officers.

Perhaps most importantly, getting involved in a political program or becoming a young activist will prove that a high school student knows that the world is much bigger than just their little bubble in high school. It shows a major amount of maturity as well as a commitment to trying to make the world a better place.

One thing that college admissions officers definitely look for is students who are going to positively contribute to the college community. Obviously, a student who is involved in politics is going to be a good bet to do just that.

Technological skills

Colleges and universities love knowing that the students they admit to their school are going to go on to do great things in the world. One great way for a high schooler to prove that their eyes are set on the future is to get involved in extracurricular activities related to technology.

A student assembling the parts of the drone.

Whether it’s taking part in an engineering club in school or learning how to code while out of school, this will prove to colleges that students are aware that technology rules the future and they want to be at the forefront of it.

Travel and programs abroad

Finally, students can prove their worldliness and culture by getting involved in programs that send them to new and unique parts of the world.

Remember, these trips abroad should not just be fun vacations with family or friends. Ideally, a trip abroad will be paired with some kind of student education or volunteer program that allows the student to learn about the part of the world they are living in, the people who live there, and the culture that makes that place unique.

Ideally, these programs abroad will be intimately connected to a student’s natural academic passions and interests.

At AdmissionSight, we train our students for these competitions, whether it comes down to humanities competitions, the math and science olympiads,  or the Intel Science and Engineering Fair. We cover all grounds to help our students succeed.

To be an extracurricular superstar, however, is something that is more difficult to quantify.

Maybe you led an NGO that raised $1,000,000 for some vaccines that cured many people in Africa or had some exemplary excellence in playing the violin (Juilliard-caliber). Whatever you do, be sure it is something that demonstrates your passion in a particular area.

Getting awards in that field also helps signal to admissions officers you’ve reached a level of mastery in that field, although that isn’t the whole story, either.

There are kids who have many awards and come off as too “pre-packaged” when it comes to admissions, and that could hurt their chances as well if they aren’t able to reflect their genuine curiosity and excitement for learning through their application. Typically, we see that these kids are very and excessively focused on competitions to a point where it could actually backfire.

In a class of 1600 at any of the top schools, for example, 200 might be athletes, 200 are academic superstars, and the other 1200 are people who have well-rounded academically and extracurricular-wise and demonstrated excellence across the board. Not geniuses or prodigies, per se, but strong students overall who put together an outstanding application to get accepted.

There’s a lot of extracurriculars you can do, and it’s really not about what specific ones you do as much as the areas or fields that you ultimately target to demonstrate your well-roundedness.

These could literally span from anything from Girls Who Code to Model United Nations to Amnesty International. The list could go on and on. Book an initial consultation with us today to evaluate your case and what we could do to help.



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