Extracurricular Activities: Why They are Important in College Admissions, What to Choose, and When to Start
UFit College Consulting
Now, more than ever, college admissions officers spend time evaluating a student’s potential to be an invaluable contributor to its campus community and beyond. To make this determination, admission officers look very closely at students’ extracurricular activities to create a picture of an applicant as a learner, peer, and leader. In addition to the interview and application essays, extracurricular activities provide an opportunity for students to showcase their personalities, character, curiosity, leadership, and passions outside of the classroom. So, when should students start thinking about extracurricular interests? How many activities should they pursue, and which ones should they choose?
Choose activities that are truly of interest, not just those that look good on resumes.
When selecting extracurricular activities, a logical approach is for students to pursue activities that they are truly interested in and will enjoy doing. If they choose activities because they think will look good to admissions officers, they will be doing themselves a disservice and it will be unlikely that they will be able to sustain participation or achieve steady accomplishments in those activities.
Choose depth over breadth.
While it is advisable for students to explore a variety of activities early on to find those they enjoy most, they should be careful not to spread themselves too thinly. Doing so will only result in greater stress and the inability to deepen their participation in their chosen activities. Following their initial exploration, it is better for them to have one or two activities with strong achievements than to participate in numerous activities where they are not able to display a trajectory of growth. No matter which activities they choose, they should strive to increase their accomplishments and actively seek out competitions, internships, and other avenues that demonstrate their passion and leadership.
Find ways to be differentiated from everyone else.
Not all the activities students choose in high school have to be conventional ones like high school sports, debate, Model UN, or Scholastic Bowl. Students can explore a myriad of ways to display their talents and interests that will create differentiation from their fellow applicants, including working part-time jobs, doing volunteer work, or getting involved in community engagement. While there is nothing wrong with participating in the typical student activities, students should try to take on leadership roles and keep track of their specific accomplishments in order to distinguish themselves.
Get involved as early as possible.
Ideally, students should start thinking about activities in middle school. Some activities, like sports, theater, music, research, and impactful community service projects, typically need a longer runway than others. Starting early will give students an opportunity to take classes, join clubs, or explore ideas prior to high school, to see which activities they possess a talent for and enjoy the most. Students need the benefit of time to find their passions and meet others who share similar interests; joining activities in middle school is a great way to make connections with peers and plan for high school extracurricular activities. It also allows students to start high school with some foundational direction that they can build upon and will position them to progress in their activities, perhaps win some awards, and create a path to leadership in their high school and community. Starting early also allows students to demonstrate length of commitment to an activity. Admissions officers look favorably upon activities or projects that have been pursued for multiple years. An activity a student joins in their junior year will usually not hold as much weight (it also depends on the activity) as something they embarked on in their freshman year of high school.
Consider using a certified college consultant to help guide your student.
With so many extracurricular options available to students these days, many parents don’t know where to start or how to best advise their students. At UFit College Consulting, our certified college consultants can be your guides. We assist with activity planning, as early as eighth grade and, through detailed conversations together, we help students choose activities to explore. We also actively facilitate brainstorming sessions to create unique, personal projects. Our first consultation is always free, so don’t wait to take this first step towards helping your students find their strengths and passions.