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The Story of Your College Application: Extracurricular Activities

Much to some students’ chagrin, everyone is required to go to school, at least until they reach a certain age.  Yet when the bell rings at the end of the day, what you do until class starts again the next morning is much more a matter of personal choice.  How you spend your time outside of the classroom says a great deal about who you are and what’s important to you.  That is the reason why colleges are interested in your activities.

In my last two blog posts, I’ve explained that your college application tells a story about you and have discussed two of the most important parts of that story: your transcript and test scores.  (See: “The Story of Your College Application: Transcripts” and “The Story of Your College Application: Test Scores“.)  Here, I will focus on extracurricular activities, which constitute another part of your story.

Throughout this post, I will use the term “activities” to include everything students do outside of the classroom, including clubs, sports, community service, religious activities, and work experience.  Many students have asked me if it will “look better on a college application” if they do one activity versus another.  The truth is that it doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you’re doing something and demonstrating an ongoing, in-depth commitment to it.

When deciding which activities to pursue, the most important question to ask yourself is, “What do I enjoy doing?”  After all, if you’re going to devote a significant amount of time to something, you might as well have fun in the process.  If possible, you should take on a leadership role in an activity, as this suggests that you are responsible and have good communication and organizational skills.  Additionally, being a leader indicates that you are capable of guiding and managing your peers.  Colleges are interested in this because they want to admit students who will become leaders on their campuses.

Another factor to keep in mind is that you don’t have to do everything.  Colleges are not impressed by students who have a mile-long list of activities but who are only involved on a “surface level”, especially if those students didn’t even get involved until their junior or senior year.  Rather, colleges prefer applicants who have fully participated in two to three activities for an extended period of time.  Furthermore, colleges like to see that students have achieved something in their chosen activities, be it winning a district or state championship, receiving an honor or award, or holding a leadership position.

Some students choose not to get involved in activities for a variety of reasons.  One of the most common is that they want to focus on school and are afraid that participating in activities will negatively impact their grades.  Unfortunately, this generally is not the type of student colleges are looking for.  Of course, colleges want students who are committed to academics, but they also want students who will get involved on campus, as that is what makes colleges thrive.  Not only that, but participating in activities and earning good grades shows that you can manage your time, and that is key to succeeding in college.

Another reason students might not participate in school or community activities is because they have to work or have family obligations, such as taking care of younger siblings.  Believe it or not, those are activities, too!  Again, colleges like to see that you’ve made a long-term committment to something and that you are responsible, and what better demonstrates that than maintaining a job or helping your family?

In addition to being interested in the activities you do during the school year, colleges also want to know how you’ve spent your summers.  Unless you’re going to summer school, you don’t have to go to school at all during the summer, so what you do with that time speaks volumes about who you are.  When deciding what to do during the summer, use the aforementioned guidelines; summer should be more than just sleeping in, watching TV, and hanging out with your friends.

As with your transcript, you have control over the kind of story your activities tell, and you should give some thought to what you want your story to say.  If you find yourself coming home after school everyday and doing nothing more than your homework, ask yourself is there’s a better way you could be spending your time.  Not only might you find something impressive to put on your college applications, you also might discover something you really enjoy.

 

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