Extracurricular Activities - How many? What ones? Why do them?
Updated: May 25, 2018
These are the questions that I often get peppered with from my students. Whether you're just staring out as a freshman or trying to round out your resume as a junior, activities are a hot topic in college admissions. Let's cover what you need to know as it relates to extracurricular activities.
How important are extracurricular activities for college?
For most schools, extracurricular activities are 'considered' in the admissions process. To understand how important they are to specific college you are interested in, simply google "college name" + "common data set". The Common Data Set will provide and list out the importance of different factors they consider when making a decision.
How many do I need to do?
There isn't a correct number, necessarily, but just know that there are 10 spots for activities on the Common Application. Some students have less than 10, some have more than 10. The number of activities isn't important. When college admission officers review your activities, they are trying to figure out what your interests are, where do you spend your time, and what do you value. When reviewing your activities, colleges are looking at the hours per week and weeks per year to understand your commitment. If you are a student who plays a sport or plays music in school, it would be difficult to be involved in many other activities, as sports and band require a lot of time.
What activities should I do?
Depending on your social circle, you may hear that you "have to play a sport" or "have to play an instrument" or "be the leader of debate club", etc for college. Another common misconception is that you have to be "well-rounded" and therefore need to do a little bit of everything. The truth is you should pick activities you genuinely enjoy spend time working on. There are no "right" activities. Pick activities that either help you further your intellectual or personal interests. Activities can be done during the school year, during the summer, or all year round. Lastly, schools are looking to create a well-rounded community of students, which consist of students that are passionate about different things. Therefore, think about having your activities focused on two or three main interests.
How important is community service?
I've had a few students who have received certificates for achieving 100+ hours of community service. The point of community service isn't the total number of hours achieved. Again, its the consistency in which you dedicate yourself to bettering your community. Community service matters in that colleges are looking for students that care about others.
So, what kind of community service should you do if you want to do it?
Ideally, you want to pick community service activities that are again aligned to your intellectual, academic, or personal interests. I once interviewed a student who loved music and created an organization in which she would collect used instruments and donate them to schools that couldn't afford instruments in their music program. I loved seeing how her interest in music flowed into other areas of her life as well.
You don't have to go halfway around the world for an activity.
Whether it be volunteering or participating in an internship, you don't have to spend a lot of money for it to matter. In fact, colleges would much rather see you volunteer and help your local community rather than one that's thousands of miles away.
Does an activity have to be in school to count?
Nope, not at all. Some students don't have time to participate in school activities sometimes, because of family obligations or because they work a job. These count as activities too. Remember, admissions is just trying to get a picture for where you spend your time, because that's usually correlated to what is important to you.
So why do them?
If anything, I hope you've taken away that they are another way for you to have fun and explore your interests! As you try different things, be sure to jot them down as you'll eventually need to drop them into your college applications, so its great to start keeping a resume as soon as you can in high school.
What other questions do you have as it relates to extracurricular activities? Let me know in your comments below.