The Ultimate Guide for Choosing Extracurriculars for College Admissions

October 19, 2022
By AdmissionSight

The Ultimate Guide for Choosing Extracurriculars for College Admissions

Depending on how far along the college application journey you already are, chances are good that you know quite a lot about extracurricular activities and how important they can be to a student’s chances of getting into some of the most prestigious and competitive schools in the country. The truth is that while a student’s academics, test scores, personal essays, and letters of recommendation are all incredibly important to a student’s ability to get into the schools that they applied to, extracurriculars are right up there in terms of importance, and impact as well. Still, you might be curious about how extracurriculars improve your application to college.

Consider the fact that the ways in which high school student spends their time outside of the classroom are going to tell admissions officers at various schools all over the country a whole lot about who that student is, what their passions and interests are, what kinds of goals they have, and how they might end up spending their time during their undergraduate years as well!

On top of that, extracurriculars can do a lot of work when it comes to telling admissions officers what kind of person a student is. Are they a leader? Do they take risks? What kinds of careers might they end up pursuing after college?

It might seem like a lot of responsibility to put on the activities that students take part in outside of the classroom, but the truth is that admissions officers use any and all of the information that is provided to them during the admissions period to make major decisions about applicants and their applications.

Young woman taking notes in a notebook.

At AdmissionSight, we know just how important a student’s extracurriculars can be. The way in which they spend their time outside of the classroom and the achievements that they enjoy as part of those groups, clubs, teams and more can end up being some of the most impressive things on their application resume. And when we know what it takes to get students into some of the most prestigious and selective schools in the country, you’re going to have to believe us! After all, 75.0 percent of the students that we have worked with have ended up getting into either an Ivy League school like Harvard, Princeton or Yale, or a top 10 school that is not in the Ivies such as Stanford, MIT or UChicago.

Whether you plan on applying to those types of schools, small liberal arts schools or big state schools, you can bet that your extracurricular activities are going to play a really important role!

So, if you are finding yourself asking questions like: why are extracurricular activities Important in college admissions, and how many extracurricular activities should you do, then you have definitely come to the right place.

Keep reading along on what we hope will be an informational and helpful blogpost to break down how extracurriculars improve your application to colleges and universities.

How Important Are Extracurricular Activities?

Before we get into other information regarding extracurriculars, such as what kinds to pursue and how to make sure that you are making the most out of the experience, we wanted to quickly break down what about extracurriculars is so important.

After all, if you are going to spend a lot of time pursuing your extracurriculars and trying to earn personal achievements doing them, you might as well know what you have to gain! So let’s get into it.

So start off, we want you to know that based on a recent study from California State University, Sacramento, there is a positive correlation between involvement in extracurricular activities and a student’s grade point average, test scores and overall educational ambition. While it is important to mention that this recent study did specifically deal with undergraduate students, it is also worthwhile mentioning that the same insights can be applied to high schools and college applications. The general belief is that students who get involved in activities and within their community outside of the classroom are going to make for better students and better cultural additions to the college campus overall.

Moreover, your involvement in extracurriculars in high school can offer you major competitive advantage when you are applying to colleges. There are a number of reasons why, but the primary benefits include:

  • They can help students strengthen their mind and make them more confident and successful in the classroom
  • Extracurriculars can help students build professional hard and soft skills that are typically not taught or learned within a classroom environment
  • They can help expand a student’s social circle and network while also introducing students to like minded peers who share similar interests
  • Extracurricular involvement teaches students how to effectively and productively manage their time and different responsibilities
  • Finally, having a resume that has a diverse list of activities in which a student committed to at a high and consistent level will show admissions officers at colleges and universities that you are the kind of student who knows what your interests are and knows how to seek out opportunities in which to further expand your knowledge and experience

Of course, there are many other benefits to taking part in extracurriculars, but when it comes to how extracurriculars improve your application, these are some of the key components that college admissions officers keep in mind.

What Kinds of Extracurricular Activities Should You Pursue?

This is a question that we are asked by so many of our students, that we knew we had to cover it here. You can pursue different types of extracurricular activities based on what interests you. The strongest applications include a blend of the following activities.

Students lounging around the school grounds and talking about how extracurriculars improve your application

Before we continue, we want to make it clear that while it is important to keep in mind how extracurriculars improve your application, it is most important to remember that you should only be pursuing out-of-classroom activities that naturally interest and excite you. We would never recommend that a student take part in any kind of extracurricular simply because they think it will look good on a college application.

With that out of the way, here are some of the main things to look for in any extracurricular that you are interested in pursuing. There are three basic types of extracurriculars, which you will see below:

  • Academic related activities: The first time of extracurricular that a lot of students get involved in actually has to do with their top academic interests. Related activities include Quiz Bowl, debate, Model United Nations, Math Olympiad, mock trial and many more. These are seen as really attractive activities for students to take part in as they demonstrate a student’s lifelong commitment to learning beyond just their time in the classroom. On top of that, some of these competition-based programs give students the chance to earn state, regional or even national recognition and awards.
  • Community involvement: Another really common form of extracurricular that we see students taking part in revolves around getting involved in their great community at home. Whether you live in a small town or a big city, there are always ample opportunities to volunteer your time, get involved and give back. Possible groups include Habitat for Humanity, Room in the Inn, food banks, and family shelters. Admissions officers love seeing students who give back to their community and the less fortunate.
  • Personal pursuits: Another highly valuable type of extracurricular activity is just your involvement in something that you are interested in or passionate about. This can be anything from joining a sports team to school or community theater, coding competitions, geotagging, creative writing and truly anything in between. These are the kinds of extracurriculars that can really help you make clear on your application how unique of a person you are and help your application really jump off the page.
  • One really important thing to note here is that, unlike the other two types of extracurricular activities, it might be harder to find an established group or club dedicated to your personal pursuits, depending on how popular or rare they happen to be. If you cannot find an established group within your school or community, we would highly recommend that you consider trying to start one of your own and getting friends and classmates involved. Not only will this give you a greater chance to really explore and enjoy your interests, but on top of that, the simple act of taking the initiative to create a group or club on your own is incredibly impressive in the eyes of admissions officers.

How Many Extracurricular Activities Should You Do?

While figuring out what kinds of extracurriculars you should do during your high school years, it is also really important to think about how many extracurriculars you plan on taking part in. Back in the day, there was a belief that students should take part in as many extracurriculars – that covered as wide a range of topics – as possible. The reason why this was seen as preferred is because admissions officers were looking for students who were able to excel in many different activities while also maintaining top academic records.

Now, the overall sentiment regarding extracurriculars and how high school students should spend their time has changed dramatically. These days, admissions officers would much rather see that students deeply pursue their specific interests and commit to related groups, clubs and teams over time rather than trying a few extracurriculars one year and then finding a whole new slate of activities in the next.

High school students talking abouthow extracurriculars improve your application.

Above all, top schools like Harvard, Stanford and Columbia are looking for students who earn and take on leadership roles within their chosen communities. So, while you should always feel that you have the freedom to change your primary focuses based on how your interests and future goals change over time, it is also wise to keep in mind that joining certain groups, clubs or teams as a freshman and sticking with them through your senior year can be a major asset to you when it comes to how extracurriculars improve your application. If you need further guidance on how you should look at extracurriculars, you should make sure that your activities are ticking the following boxes when it comes to how extracurriculars improve your application:

  • Longevity: You stick with one type of activity rather than joining a new activity every week and quitting one every other week.
  • Passion: You care about your extracurricular activities and aren’t doing them just to get into a university.
  • Leadership: You have taken the initiative to become a leader within your activities and community.

When it comes to extracurriculars and getting into colleges and how many extracurricular activities you should do, it is definitely more about quality than it is about quantity.

With all that out of the way, we want to finish up this portion of the blog by making it clear that these days, the ideal number of extracurricular activities that students take part in during the school year in high school typically range from four to seven.

Remember, students should also be taking full advantage of their summer months to explore their interests as well. Getting involved in summer programs can be a great way to expand your experience while also not having to sacrifice the extracurricular activities that you are committing to during the school year.

How to manage your time?

Now that you know quite a lot of what kinds of extracurricular activities there are as well as how many the typical student who is looking to apply to a top school should have on their college resume, you might be asking yourself how in the world you are going to juggle all of these fun and exciting opportunities while also making sure that you are staying on top of your academics.

The truth is that the ability for students to manage their time and responsibilities well is one of the many reasons why extracurricular activities are so important, as we previously mentioned. Admissions officers know that undergraduate students (especially in their first two years at schools) are going to most likely be on their own for the first time in their lives, the majority of students will be living on campus in student housing.

Young woman smiling in the school halls.

One of the primary jobs of admissions officers is to not only accept students that have impressive resumes, but also accept students who they believe will not only survive, but thrive within their school’s culture of academics and campus involvement. A student who is able to prove that they already have mastered time management is going to help themselves a lot in terms of convincing admissions officers at even the most competitive schools that they have what it takes to succeed there.

If you are worried about how you will manage your time while balancing high school responsibilities and your extracurricular responsibilities, consider some of these helpful time management tips:

  • Discover where you are wasting time and eliminate it
  • Get organized by using a calendar, day planner, and checklists
  • Focus on one task at a time, after completing it move on to the next
  • Prioritize your goals and daily tasks, complete the most essential first
  • Establish routines and try to stick to them

How Extracurriculars Improve Your Application?

To wrap up we wanted to break down. We wanted to once again go over an important, but often overlooked aspect of pursuing extracurriculars for students and how extracurriculars improve your application. That is the general guidance that we offer all of the students that AdmissionSight students to truly follow what they are naturally excited about and interested in. We know that we have already gone off this, but it is so important that we wanted to wrap up here as well.

Female student hanging out in the school grounds.

High school students should never take part in an extracurricular activity simply because they think admissions officers at top schools want to see that on students’ resumes. The truth is that there is no hierarchy in terms of how extracurriculars are considered in the eyes of admissions officers. Instead, they look for what the students put in and what they got out of the experiences. To make sure that you are getting the most out of them, pursue things that you want to do regardless of how it helps in your pursuit of getting into colleges.

Let AdmissionSight Help You Choose Your Extracurriculars

While many people think of admissions consultants as hired swords that come in and help students boost their applications at the last minute, the truth is that we work with many of our students for many years during their high school education. For those students, we absolutely help guide and consult them in terms of what extracurriculars they should pursue both during the school year and the summer months. If you want to learn more about how we help students achieve their high school goals and get into some of the most competitive schools in the world, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.


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