“Hello, nice to meet you. Tell us a little bit about yourself.” This is a perfect opening for a job interview, but believe it or not, colleges want the answer to this question too. They determine this by reading through your college application. Not only are students evaluated by GPA or SAT scores, but colleges want to know who you are, and they get a sneak peek through your activities. What counts as an extracurricular activity? How do they figure into college admission? Let’s explore these questions together and further discuss extracurricular activities and college admissions.
Choose Your Extracurricular Activity
What is an extracurricular activity? Is there any activity, group, or organization that you participate in regularly outside of the classroom? If so, then you have extracurricular activities to share with colleges. Extracurricular activities include school-based clubs, teams, local community-based groups or organizations, and even hobbies or past-times.
A great first step in choosing an extracurricular activity is to survey school offerings. Most high schools have an array of arts, language, culture, science, sports, and social/cultural clubs and organizations to choose from. If your school doesn’t have any activities to capture your interest, consider starting one on your own. Schools aren’t the only places for extracurricular activities, however. Look into churches or other religious institutions, community organizations, or local groups. You can even gather a group of peers and plan and organize one yourself.
Organizing your own activities do not have to take a supreme effort. All over the country, there are teens who have started their own after school-tutoring programs, mentorship programs with elementary school kids, or social awareness campaigns for causes near and dear to their hearts, like recycling or environmental conservation. There are opportunities to create meaningful extracurricular activities all around us. If you see a need, there is an opportunity that awaits.
Here is a short list of interests in which extracurricular activities are organized around – both in school groups and the community:
- Visual & Performing Arts
- Academic Competitions (Chess, Brain Bowl, etc.)
- Student Government
- Foreign Languages (French, Spanish, American Sign Language, etc.)
- Social/Cultural Groups
- Music (Band, Chorus, etc.)
- Environmental Conservation
- Military (JROTC)
- Career Paths (Medicine, Business, Psychology, etc.)
- Peer Counseling/Tutoring
- Media (Yearbook, TV Production, Magazine, etc.)
- Public Speaking (Debate Team, Model United Nations, etc.)
- Technology (Coding/Programming)
- Community Service
Summers Well Spent
Summer break is another opportunity to dip deep and get involved with extracurricular activities. (Yes, I can already hear students’ collective moans and groans). The truth is that it will not help you – it may even hurt you – if you’ve spent every summer zoned out in front of the TV screen. On the other hand, you do not have to sacrifice your summer for the sake of completing activities for college. There is a middle ground.
Every student has weeks of free time each summer. What to do? How do you spend those days productively? There are a variety of different activities to choose from: Summer camps – where you spend the day or sleep away from home for a period of weeks. There are academically-based summer enrichment programs, some even hosted by colleges themselves. But these are not the only options.
You do not have to spend thousands of dollars for meaningful summer activities. It is an excellent time to devote to community service. Consider scheduling out just a few hours per week to give to others. Even with just 4 or 5 hours per day, once or twice per week, you will collect a sizeable amount of volunteer hours to add to your resume. Try aligning your interests with community service efforts. Choose an organization whose mission is personally meaningful to you.
Here are a few ideas where you can begin searching for volunteer opportunities:
- National organizations, such as YMCA, Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, etc.
- Animal shelter or animal rescue organizations
- Food banks
- Local libraries or museums
- Arts or cultural centers
- Women’s or homeless shelters
- Children’s organizations
- Retirement communities
- Religious/mission trips
- Community clean-up
- Other local community-based organizations
If you’re a high school student in the state of Florida, here is a huge incentive to get started with community service: You can earn money towards your college tuition. One of the pre-qualifying criteria for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship, in which all Floridian residents are eligible to apply, is the completion of community service hours. Students need at least 75 hours to meet one of the core requirements, which is applied to pay for 75% tuition and applicable fees to in-state colleges. There are also other pre-qualifying criteria to meet in high school credits, GPA, SAT/ACT scores, however, getting hours done over the summers means one less thing to worry about when it’s time to submit college applications.
How Does This Fit Into Getting Into College?
One of the trusted guides to understanding the college admissions landscape is Springer, Reider, & Morgan’s Admission Matters: What Students and Parents Need To Know About Getting Into College. The authors detail:“Colleges not only expect students to be strong academically but also interesting, contributing members of both the school community and community at large.”
This means that being a straight-A student is incredible. The student has devoted a lot of time, effort, and energy to their academic studies. But increasingly, colleges are also interested in what students bring to the campus community beyond their grades or standardized test scores.
How do colleges learn about your interests and contributions? They ask on college applications. Both Common and Coalition Application, online platforms used to streamline the application process by allowing students to apply to several colleges at once, including an Activities section to detail activities participated in, how long, and any significant honors or accomplishments earned.
What colleges want to know when selecting students to receive acceptance letters is:
- What are you into outside of school?
- What makes you excited?
- What are you passionate about?
- What do you value enough to devote time to in your spare time?
Colleges have an overall goal of assembling a group of students with diverse interests and experiences as part of their incoming Freshman class. Colleges desire passionate students – whether their passion lies in playing competitive soccer, experimenting with new drawing techniques, or learning to speak fluent French. It doesn’t matter so much what your interests are as the fact that you are exploring those interests in the first place. And importantly, interests explored in high school can lead to your future career path.
Sometimes students feel pressured to participate in as many extracurricular activities as possible. Every single second spent outside of school is pre-determined. Overscheduling yourself with the idea that the more extracurricular activities, the better, is simply not necessary. There is not a magic number of activities to unlock admission to your dream college. It doesn’t work like that.
Colleges are not interested in how many activities you can juggle at once. Pick a few that interest you. You can have 2 activities or 10. Take this example into consideration: Nia was never interested in health or wellness until high school when she discovered that her favorite teacher was the advisor for the Yoga Club. She attended a meeting, mostly out of curiosity, before realizing she enjoyed yoga immensely. Her club was very small, but the members were passionate and serious about mastering new yoga poses. Nia started out as a member and was elected club president her senior year. She now practices several times a week at home. Nia has no plans to become a full-time yoga instructor, but she is now super interested in a health-related career – perhaps as a nutritionist or physical therapist – and yoga will continue to be her lifelong hobby. When college application season rolls around, Nia can report a deep level of interest and participation to this one core extracurricular activity. She did not have 3, 5, or 10 different extracurricular activities, nor did she need to. Her years-long participation displays deep interest, passion, commitment, and even leadership skills – all qualities that colleges are keenly interested in seeing in applicants.
It is difficult for colleges to form a full three-dimensional view of a person from GPA or SAT scores. Your extracurricular activities share something personal about you that you cannot discover from a blind focus on numbers. What types of extracurricular interest you most? What do you want to share about yourself with the colleges that you are interested in? Often underestimated and overlooked, careful planning of your extracurricular activities now may pay off tenfold down the line when applying to college.
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