Extracurricular Activities and College Admissions


What is the value of extracurricular activities in the college admissions process? Reviewers view these positively, and they WILL boost your chances — provided they generally fit these guidelines:

  1. Activities demonstrate that you are well rounded and capable of sustained commitment; they are NOT more important than grades or test scores. A long list of clubs and activities does not make up for poor academic performance.
  2. It is better to demonstrate depth with activities over breadth. One or two types of involvement lasting multiple years counts for more than a large laundry list of tried-and-dropped interests.
  3. Activities demonstrating leadership potential speak well of you. If you began with basketball as a freshman reserve player, and ended your senior season as the varsity team captain, this shows your commitment over time as well as the respect of your coaches and fellow players. Remember that an important aspect of leadership is taking responsibility, so you don’t need to have held an important-sounding title to act as a leader. Organizing a successful awareness or charity event on your own counts as leadership too.
  4. Consider mixing it up just a little. For example, if you are heavily into the arts and an orchestra and band member, check out student government for something different, involving a distinctive skill set. Similarly, if you are primarily athletic, look at service activities as a way of expanding your comfort zone.
  5. Don’t forget that summertime can be a way of increasing involvement in experiential activities such as volunteer work. I have a promising current client (high school junior) that I’ve known since she was 12, when she and her Mom volunteered along with me at a local animal shelter. Emma pursued that involvement for over two years and then moved on to increasingly responsible volunteer positions at the Denver Zoo. With her interest in biology this long-standing volunteer commitment with animals will serve her well next year when she applies to colleges.
  6. Finally, remember that work counts as an excellent extracurricular involvement also. Holding a part-time job or unpaid internship over a period of time is a time-honored, and perhaps increasingly rare distinction.

With any extracurricular involvement, be certain that you can describe what you did and what you learned from the activity.  This is a true test of the value of such experiences, and the key to getting as much value for them as possible in your college applications.

The Snow Dragon at the top was created by one of my neighbors after a recent Denver snowstorm. I thought it was brilliant! By clicking on it you can see the amazing detail better.