How Important Are Extracurricular Activities to College Admissions?
By Thomas Broderick
I’ve been around this great big world, and it seems that of all the cultures I’ve come across, the good ole’ U.S. of A. puts the most emphasis on high school students participating in extracurricular activities. Oh sure, high school students in other countries play sports and participate in clubs, but doing so doesn’t have much of an effect on college admissions.
For you see, in the rest of the world a high school student’s chances of getting into a good college rest entirely on grades and test scores, especially the latter. Seriously, being a high school student in some countries is just like that ham-fisted YouTube movie The Thinning, except without the threat of euthanasia because you scored lower than the mean.
So before we dive into the world of extracurricular activities, let us take a moment to appreciate the fact that your academic future isn’t 100% riding on standardized test scores.
*Moment of Appreciation*
That was nice. Now let’s talk extracurriculars, and how you can use any one of them to work for YOU during college admission season.
So which one should I do?
Simple Answer: Something that interests you.
Complex Answer: No matter which extracurricular or two that you pick, doing two things will help set you apart from the bulk of the competition. First, stick with an extracurricular for at least two years. Second, take on a leadership role where you get to show off your responsible/organized side. Consistency and leadership experience under your belt, you’re already a step ahead of the majority of college applicants.
Just the majority? How do I stand out from high achievers like me?
Simple Answer: Apply a personal touch, even if it means creating your own activity.
Complex Answer: If you’re aiming for a top tier school, you’re right to assume that most applicants will have both consistent track records with extracurriculars and hold leadership positions within them. Here’s how you can go a step above:
- Create a new club, preferably one that does some good for the community. (College admission counselors love applicants who create volunteer organizations.)
- Take a creative hobby to the next level.
- Submit a short story for publication. (And get it published somewhere)
- Submit your photography or artwork to contests.
- Start your own company. (Think Shark Tank)
- Take your band on tour over the summer. (But don’t skip school if you should become famous 😉 )
In other words, apply yourself to your passion, whatever it is. Even if you don’t succeed before college application time rolls around, your journey can make for an excellent personal essay.
Okay, my extracurriculars are great. What difference will they make?
Short Answer: They’re a tiebreaker.
Long Answer: Everyone loves a good story, and for college admissions counselors, an engaging story about an extracurricular activity can act as the tiebreaker between two highly qualified applicants. So, at the end of the day, you need extracurriculars just in case. Doesn’t matter if it’s the French club or your second studio album.
What you’re telling me is that extracurriculars are like an insurance policy?
Short Answer: Yep.
Long Answer: With college admissions getting more competitive seemingly by the minute, there’s a good chance that your extracurriculars will come in handy when the admissions counselor at Your Dream School reviews your application. You’ll never know if they were the deciding factor, but you wouldn’t want to be without them.
In summary, it matters less what extracurricular activity you choose than how you approach it. Like most things in life, the more you put into it, the more it’ll give back. You’ll make some friends, have fun, and hopefully do a little good in the process.
Let me leave you with some sage advice in the vein of homemaking guru Martha Stewart. “An extracurricular activity: it’s a good thing.”