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Top Extracurricular Activities for Ivy Leagues

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young female student with laptop and headphones studying at table in cafe

Many students wonder what kind of extracurricular activities will impress admissions officers at Ivy League schools. Often, they follow what others are doing and get involved in a bunch of activities, believing this will boost their chances in the highly selective admissions process. However, certain extracurriculars stand out more to Ivy League schools.

Extracurricular activities demonstrate a student’s ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance and engage productively outside of academics. Admissions committees at top universities seek well-rounded applicants who excel academically and are also actively involved in extracurricular activities like academic clubs, sports teams, and special interest groups.

In today’s competitive college admissions, having strong extracurricular activities can give students an advantage. But what are extracurricular activities? and how can students find them? This blog will explore the top extracurricular activities that Ivy League schools find impressive and provide guidance on how to choose the right opportunities.

Students Humanitarian Aid

Extracurricular Activities Examples

What are the different types of extracurricular activities? Where can students find them?

Internships

Internships are practical experiences in various fields and can significantly help a student’s resume.

Examples of Internships

  • Corporate Internships
  • Non-Profit Internships
  • Government Internships
  • Research Internships
  • Medical Internships
  • Legal Internships
  • Engineering Internships
  • IT Internships
  • Marketing Internships
  • Environmental Internships.

Where can I find internships? 

University career centers, company websites, professional networks like LinkedIn, internship-specific platforms, and industry-specific job boards. Local government and community organizations also offer internships in various fields.

Competitions

Competitions are a great way for students to challenge themselves and flaunt their talents.

Examples of Competitions

  • Writing Contests
  • Science Olympiads
  • Math Competitions
  • STEM Challenges
  • Debate Tournaments
  • Art Competitions
  • Music Competitions
  • Coding Hackathons
  • Environmental Science Fairs
  • Robotics Competitions.

Where can I find competitions to join? 

These are organized by educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and professional societies. Information on upcoming contests can be found through schools and universities, as well as online platforms and community bulletin boards.

Engineering students working together on a lab.

Arts and Creativity

Creative activities help students express themselves and develop artistic skills.

Examples of arts and creativity activities

  • Painting
  • Sculpture
  • Graphic Design
  • Creative Writing
  • Fashion Design
  • Film Making
  • Ceramics
  • Choir
  • Digital Art
  • Theater Production.

Where can I find arts and creative activities? 

Community centers, art schools, cultural organizations, schools, local libraries, community bulletin boards, and online platforms.

Science and Technology

STEM activities give hands-on learning and innovation opportunities.

Examples of STEM-related activities

  • Robotics
  • Computer Programming
  • Science Fairs
  • Astronomy Clubs
  • Environmental Science
  • Tech DIY Projects
  • Amateur Radio
  • Engineering Competitions
  • Cybersecurity Clubs
  • Biotech Clubs.

Where can I find STEM activities?

Schools, universities, local tech centers, maker spaces, community colleges, and online communities.

Community Service

Volunteering and community service teach students the importance of giving back and making a positive impact.

Examples of community service activities

  • Volunteering at Shelters
  • Organizing Charity Events
  • Environmental Cleanups
  • Reading to the Elderly
  • Community Gardening
  • Mentoring Programs
  • Food Banks
  • Health Campaigns
  • Community Art
  • Tutoring.

Where can I find community service programs? NGOs, community centers, religious institutions, schools, and local volunteer offices.

Sports

Physical activities help maintain fitness and develop teamwork and leadership skills.

Examples of sports activities

  • Team Sports
  • Individual Sports
  • Martial Arts
  • Yoga
  • Dance
  • Gymnastics
  • Swimming
  • Track and Field
  • Adventure Sports
  • Fitness Clubs

Where can I sign up for sports activities?

School teams, local sports clubs, community centers, and private clubs.

Two men fencing in a court.

Leadership and Entrepreneurship

Leadership and entrepreneurship activities help students develop management skills and business acumen.

Examples of business-related activities

  • Student Government
  • Debate Club
  • Entrepreneurs Club
  • Model UN
  • Junior Achievement
  • Youth Board
  • Leadership Workshops
  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Investment Clubs
  • School Newspaper.

Where can I find business-related extracurriculars?

Schools, youth organizations, business programs, and online educational platforms.

Academic Clubs

Academic clubs support intellectual growth and support a passion for specific subjects.

Examples of academic clubs

  • Math Club
  • Science Olympiad
  • Language Clubs
  • Chess Club
  • History Club
  • Literature Club
  • Philosophy Club
  • Geography Bee
  • Academic Decathlon
  • Coding Club.

Where can I find academic clubs/competitions? 

Educational settings, public libraries, community centers, and online communities.

Group of people huddled together.

Cultural Activities

Cultural activities expose students to diverse traditions and global perspectives.

Examples of Cultural Activities

  • Cultural Exchange
  • International Film Clubs
  • World Music
  • Cultural Cooking
  • Pen Pals
  • Language Learning
  • Cultural Dance
  • International Relations Club
  • Global Affairs Symposium
  • Ethnic Heritage Societies.

Where to find cultural activities? 

Cultural institutions, community centers, schools, language centers, and online platforms.

Culinary students at MIT dining hall

What are the Top Extracurricular Activities for Ivy League?

If you’re planning to apply to Ivy League schools, choose extracurricular activities that reflect your genuine passions and strengths. Contrary to what many students think, admissions officers are not looking for a long list of activities; but rather the depth and commitment in areas that truly interest you.

Here are some of the best types of extracurricular activities to consider:

Social Justice Activities

Do you want to make a difference in your community? If you are passionate about social issues, going in for activities that promote equity and justice can be very impactful. You can start a campaign to raise awareness about climate change or organize school-wide events such as educational seminars, tree-planting drives, and collaborations with local environmental organizations.

Here are other examples:

  • Collaborate with local community leaders to create educational programs for developing regions and successfully raise funds for the cause.
  • Campaign for government funding to improve healthcare access for underserved communities.
  • Organize educational trips and events to raise awareness, celebrate cultural heritage, and coordinate with large-scale community assemblies.
  • Partner with international NGOs to develop technological solutions for social issues and lead crowdfunding efforts to support the initiatives.
  • Deliver speeches to a large audience or facilitate a global day of activism.
  • Conduct outreach and educational seminars on human trafficking awareness

View of environmentalists sitting next to a banner about saving the earth.

Athletics and Arts

Activities that reflect curiosity and desire for self-improvement such as learning a new language, playing an instrument, or taking up a new sport show your willingness to step out of your comfort zone and continuously improve yourself.

Other ideas that might help:

  • Learn Japanese and pass the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) at an advanced level
  • Get elected as the team captain of your chosen sport
  • Be a part of a global network of dramatists and actors and work hard to get an opportunity to perform at international theatre festivals.
  • Play for a basketball team in a highly competitive league
  • Earn the spot of the team manager of a junior varsity basketball team, coordinate game schedules with other teams, manage the scorebook during games, and assist coaches with practice management.

Leadership

Taking the initiative to start new projects or solve problems creatively is a powerful way to stand out. For example, when faced with the closure of the school’s debate club due to budget cuts, a student might take the lead in crowdfunding to cover expenses and successfully revive the club. Organizing a neighborhood clean-up campaign to address local environmental concerns demonstrates your ability to identify a problem and take action. These activities show your proactive nature and entrepreneurial spirit.

Other examples include:

  • Lead inclusion campaigns with numerous organizations
  • Coordinate events across numerous countries
  • Present bilingual workshops
  • Start a tutoring program for underprivileged children in your neighborhood and create a curriculum to help improve literacy rates
  • Volunteer at a local shelter
  • Start  environmental clean-up efforts

Photo of happy young Arabian women students using laptop computer and holding books in park

Academic Clubs

Are you passionate about learning and eager to explore new subjects? Join academic clubs like the National Honor Society or take additional courses at a local college during the summer! Look for activities that go beyond the standard curriculum. Enroll in a summer program at a nearby university to study advanced biology, conduct lab research with other researchers, and present your collaborative findings at a local science fair.

Some other examples:

  • Lead a math club, organize weekly problem-solving sessions, invite guest speakers to share their expertise; and promote a love for math!
  • Compete in math competitions such as prestigious math olympiads and achieve high scores in national math challenges.
  • Be a Science Bowl captain! Organize practice sessions, help the team with national competitions, and deepen your understanding of environmental science topics.
  • Attend College Prep courses such as Behavioral Neuroscience and Social Psychology and present analytical papers on relevant topics.

Work Experience

Balancing a job with schoolwork shows responsibility and time management skills. Working as a part-time assistant at a local veterinary clinic gains practical experience in the field of animal care and shows your ability to manage your time effectively between work, school, and other commitments.

You can also:

  • Work in a small team at the government’s office to address constituent concerns and participate in numerous legislative sessions and briefings.
  • Join entrepreneurship programs and develop a new product for individuals with specific needs.
  • Be a research intern and research advanced technologies
  • Apply for internships at legal firms

A woman interviewing a man in an office.

Why are Extracurricular Activities in College Admissions Important?

Extracurricular activities help college admissions officers see the drive, leadership, passion, commitment, and time management of students. Who are they outside their academic achievements? What are their interests that they spend time on other than studying? What kind of person are they behind these straight As? What do they believe in in life?

College admissions officers evaluate applications holistically, considering grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, essays, and letters of recommendation. However, they want to admit students with a well-rounded background. While academic achievements are important, the role of extracurriculars is a huge deal to help distinguish a candidate among the roster of excellent others.

How to Choose the Right Extracurricular Activities?

Choosing the right extracurricular activities can be overwhelming with the variety of options available. To make an informed decision, it’s important to cover a variety of interests, whether they be creative, athletic, or academic. Authenticity is key when applying for college. Your involvement should be genuine and reflect your true interests and passions.

Tips for Choosing Extracurriculars

  • Authenticity. Choose activities that genuinely interest you and reflect your passions.
  • Quality Over Quantity. Focus on a few meaningful activities rather than spreading yourself too thin across many.
  • Personal Meaning. Select activities that are fun, interesting, and meaningful to you.

Beautiful african ethnicity student painting on the floor at the university classroom

Common Misconceptions About Extracurricular Activities

It can be challenging to understand how extracurricular activities are used in the college admissions process. Let’s debunk some common myths:

#1 – The More Activities, the Better?

A long list of activities is not as impressive as it may seem. Instead, aim to have several meaningful and engaging extracurriculars. Commitment over longer periods is more desirable than short-term activities.

#2 – Extracurricular Activities Are Not Important!

Extracurricular activities are a significant part of your application. They help give colleges a better picture of your overall profile and narrative.

#3 – Can Extracurriculars Make Up for Low Grades/Test Scores?

Extracurriculars cannot overshadow the academic parts of your application. To be competitive, your grades and test scores should be on par with the typical class averages. Extracurriculars should complement, not replace, academic achievements.

#4 – Do Colleges Prefer Certain Types of Activities?

There is no “right” type of extracurricular activity. Focus on activities that interest you and align with your strengths and passions. Genuine enthusiasm for an activity will set you apart more than participating in something just to check a box.

Young multiracial students learning about painting on canvas during lesson

Extracurricular activities should be fun, interesting, and meaningful. They can also be the source of some of your best memories after high school. When seeking out extracurriculars, consider what subjects, hobbies, and sports you are most interested in. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new, as this can open doors to new skills and interests.

Think about activities that help you grow personally and professionally. Choose activities that speak to you and align with your goals. Focus on your strengths and push yourself to develop.  Make the most of your extracurriculars and leave a lasting impression on college admissions officers.

What Extracurricular Activities Do Not Impress Ivy League Schools?

When researching extracurricular activities, you might come across lists of activities that are ideal for your Ivy League applications. However, some of these commonly recommended activities may not actually make an impact when applying to these elite colleges. Here are a few examples of such activities that might not impress admissions officers as much as you might think.

Athletics

While being involved in sports is valuable, athletics are extremely common. Unless you are highly committed to and passionate about your sport in a way that significantly contributes to your application narrative, it may not stand out to admissions officers.

Travel

Traveling can be a wonderful and eye-opening experience, but it doesn’t necessarily demonstrate any specific skills or interests relevant to your college application. Describing your travel experiences often fails to build a compelling applicant profile.

Awards

Awards can be listed within the context of specific activities, but they should not be considered standalone extracurriculars. Including too many awards without the accompanying activities that led to them can dilute the impact of your application.

women and man riding on bikes at sunset

Leadership Organizations

Leadership conferences or similar events don’t provide much insight into your personal leadership abilities. Being a participant isn’t enough, unfortunately. Instead of listing broad leadership organizations, opt for specific examples where you have developed your leadership skills in a tangible way.

Academic Honor Societies

Membership in academic honor societies, such as the National Honor Society, is common among applicants. While it’s good to include these, they should not be the focal point of your extracurricular activities. Admissions officers are looking for unique and personal activities that differentiate you from other applicants.

While these activities are not inherently bad, they are either too common or lack the depth needed to make a strong impression on Ivy League admissions officers. Focus on what makes YOU unique, and look for meaningful activities where you can apply your skills, interests, and personal growth.

Baseball batter hits the ball

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What extracurricular activities will look good on college applications?

Ideal activities include academic clubs, athletic teams, and community service organizations. However, the quality of involvement is more important than the quantity. Highlighting a few leadership roles held for extended periods is awesome!

2. What extracurriculars do Ivy Leagues look for?

Ivy League schools favor extracurricular activities that are intellectually stimulating and less common. Elite sports such as fencing, horseback riding, water polo, and lacrosse are highly regarded. Ivy League thinks it is even more impressive if you hold leadership positions in these activities!

3. In terms of hours per week and weeks per year, what are admissions officers at elite universities looking for?

Admissions officers at elite universities expect a reasonable number of hours dedicated to extracurricular activities. During the school year, up to 25 hours per week is considered appropriate. During the summer, when students are not in school, committing around 40 hours per week is acceptable. Each summer should be accounted for in the activities section of The Common Application.

4. Can I include personal hobbies or interests as extracurricular activities?

Yes, personal hobbies and interests can be included as extracurricular activities on Ivy League applications. These activities offer insight into your personality and character. Be sure to highlight any notable achievements or leadership roles within these hobbies to make them stand out.

5. Can I get into an Ivy League without extracurriculars?

Gaining admission to an Ivy League school without any extracurricular activities can be very challenging. As mentioned previously, these schools seek well-rounded individuals who have special interests and commitments outside of academics. Extracurricular activities strengthen your application, dedication, and skills.

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