Extracurricular activities are activities that typically take place outside a classroom. According to the Common App, extracurriculars are activities that include arts, athletics, clubs, employment, personal commitments, etc.
Most well-known and top-rated colleges receive applications from incredibly accomplished students for mostly the same number of spots. How do applicants set themselves apart? How do admissions officers decide which student is the better investment?
Note - Before we get into extracurricular activities, I would just like to say that nothing can replace your high school grades and the results of your standardized tests (ACT/SAT). Your grades are still important- an excellent extracurricular profile will just make your application look good and make it stand out from the rest of the applicants. Do not take your grades lightly. You must enrol in challenging courses and do well in them if you aspire to attend top schools. Easy course loads, as well as low grades or test scores, cannot be overcome by developing a standout extracurricular profile.
However, it’s equally important to emphasize that doing well in challenging courses and on standardized tests like the SAT or AP Exams is not enough to get into elite universities. To stand out from the competition, you must pursue interesting activities in a focused way to demonstrate expertise, initiative, leadership, impact, and other positive qualities.
Most applicants are highly accomplished, and they have excellent stats while participating in various extracurricular activities. Therefore, a unique extracurricular profile will help the admissions officer pick you.
Typically, colleges would prefer a student with an average score of 85% and a lot of involvement in extracurriculars as compared to a student with an average score of 90% with no involvement. Also, colleges would rather admit two students from the 99th percentile in a particular field than admitting two students from the 80th percentile in various fields.
Colleges believe that what you do before college reflects what you will continue to do in college. College administration officers like students who are active and are contributing to the community. They believe that there is a good chance that applicants who are active and involved in the community will continue to do so in college. Therefore, extracurriculars can help you get into good colleges. But, how do you decide when to focus on school work instead of extracurricular activities?
Colleges understand that not all students will get time for traditional extracurricular activities. Sometimes, obligations to family or financial constraints might restrict a student from taking up extra activities. Therefore, any way you use your time in a constructive or valuable manner will be acceptable by the college. For example, taking care of the family or working a part time job are responsibilities that display maturity. This will show colleges that you are capable of being responsible and making serious commitments.
A study in the US showed that students taking up extra curriculars have a better chance at scoring well in exams. The logic behind this study was that sometimes extracurriculars help you feel better about yourself, which in turn helps you get better grades. Think about it this way- playing a sport makes you smarter than watching TV/movies. If you like watching movies, you can form a club for movies and increase the members of this group. This will also be considered an extracurricular.
What do Colleges want to see?
When admissions officers see a list of extracurricular activities that is very common, it becomes difficult to differentiate between applicants. Thus, while looking at applications, colleges are looking for students who are specialists in their chosen fields and have a deep and interesting reason for engaging in it.
Colleges care less about “what” activity you do and care more about “why” and “how” you do. No activity has more importance over the other, as long as your reason behind it is strong enough. There are three main things that colleges are looking for: Passion, Leadership and Impact. The “why” and “how” define these three points.
Passion – Colleges believe that your passion is something that will create a drive in you to accomplish great things. They believe that this passion will most likely continue to drive you in college as well. Therefore, make sure your activity is not only for fun but also for passion.
Leadership - Leadership experiences include any time that you have been responsible for a project or for guiding, motivating, or instructing others. Many schools – especially the most selective ones – want to see students who exhibit leadership skills because they are hoping that their students will someday go on to be leaders who make differences on a larger scale in academics, business, or research. Therefore, showing that you have the desire and sense of responsibility that a leader needs can be very attractive to admissions officers.
Impact - One of the reasons that passion is so important is because admission officers want to see that you have made a significant investment in an activity over an extended period of time. Though you’ll probably experiment with several different activities when you're younger, once you settle on the one you're most passionate about, officers are going to be looking for how you've made a difference in the activity and how you've changed because of it. Admission officers want to know about you, who you are and what made you like this.
The extracurricular activities you wish to pursue should be something that:
- You love to do
- Will also help you benefit from the experience
- Enhance your application
- Impress colleges
Best extracurricular activities in a college application
Listed below are some of the extracurricular activities that universities look for in applications and which you should consider pursuing so that it positively enhances your university applications.
1. Student Government
Students who stand for elections and are elected form the Student Government on campus. Typically, the student government’s functions can include:
- Coordinating events and activities for students
- Being the voice of students
- Allocating funds to other student organizations on campus
- Providing forums for discussions of students’ problems
- Strengthening the student community on campus
Everything listed in the extracurricular activities of the Student Government aims to hone the leadership skill in a student. By being part of Student Government, you will become:
- More articulate
- Enhance your interpersonal skills, as you will be interacting with different people
- Adept at handling activities beyond academics at school
The most salient takeaway of being part of the Student Government is that it infuses you with leadership skills. Extracurricular activities at colleges where Student Government is an option have additional functions like being part of the honor council that is responsible for the university’s honor code as well as being on the judiciary board to hear and pass verdicts in disciplinary cases.You can participate in extracurricular activities at colleges such as Student Government only if you have done so in the past and exhibited leadership qualities.
Watch this video about the merits of extracurricular activities in Student Government:
Watch this video of extracurricular activities at colleges:
By participating in extracurricular activities pertaining to sports, there are many qualities that you will refine. Sports will display your
- Leadership skills
- Obligation to practice
- Competitive spirit
All colleges look for such qualities in applicants so when you have demonstrated these qualities in extracurricular activities, colleges are bound to be interested in your application. There are many universities in the US like Stanford University, University of Florida, and the University of California, Los Angeles, – to name a few, who are reputed for athletics. By choosing athletics as one of your extracurricular activities, and studying at a university that further hones your talent, it could well pave the way for you to become a professional athlete. An added incentive in choosing sports is the possibility of getting financial aid to pursue your studies while participating in the university’s sports/athletics team.
For more information about getting financial aid for extracurricular activities in sports:
Watch this video of Stanford University’s extracurricular activities at colleges:
3. The Debate Team
If you love conversations and putting forth your point of view about current matters, become a part of the debate team. All extracurricular activities are meant to challenge you but this one does so from the moment you decide to participate in a debate.
By participating in debates you will be:
- Up to date in current affairs
- Fearless to speak your mind
- Think on your feet
- Analytical in your thinking
- Confident in your beliefs
With such qualities in extracurricular activities that are demonstrated and not simply mentioned in your personal statement, your college application will be high up in the pile of applications. If you have the qualities of being good at debating, it can well present you with career options – you could become a lawyer, politician, broadcast analyst, etc.
For information on extracurricular activities in debates at Indian schools:
Watch this video of extracurricular activities at colleges:
When you choose to intern as one of your extracurricular activities, it immediately signals that you are focused and intent on achieving your academic and career goals. By doing an internship, you are willing to work for free if necessary to gain experience.
What an internship says about you when mentioned under extracurricular activities is that:
- You are dedicated to your goals
- You are efficient
- You are competent and mature to begin working
- You are willing to work hard
- You will go that extra mile if necessary
All colleges look for such qualities in applicants and the college will be further assured that you will be willing to take on tough study programs and challenge yourself.
While choosing an internship, ensure that it is related to the major that you wish to pursue at college. In doing so, your efforts in enhancing your extracurricular activities will have direction and purpose.
For information on extracurricular activities in an internship in India:
5.Volunteer Work and Community Service
By choosing to do volunteer work and community service, you demonstrate your desire to do what you can to make a difference to your community or the larger world. By becoming involved in local groups or international organizations, you can participate in such extracurricular activities.
Volunteer Work and Community Service will make you:
- More sensitive to the needs of others
- Committed to giving back to society
- Willing to work beyond the call of duty
When Volunteer Work and Community Service is mentioned under extracurricular activities in your application, every college admissions office will place you a few notches higher than other applicants. The experience you gain with such extracurricular activities is what colleges look for in students to make their college a better place.
When you initially choose to volunteer or offer community service in an area that you love, e.g., something related to the environment, helping stricken animals, etc., it may influence the study program you choose and may even lead to various career options. An added advantage of volunteering can be in getting selected for a job because you already have working experience.
Watch this video about extracurricular activities:
Watch this video about how volunteering can help in finding employment: