If you’re at any stage of the college admissions process, then you already know the word “extracurriculars” is important.
Colleges want you to not just be a great student and an amazing test taker, but also someone who spends their free time doing significant activities to further themselves as a person.
JEEZ. As if you didn’t have enough on your plate.
But think about it like this: there are lots of students who have grades and scores similar to yours, but none with the exact combination of interests that make you you.
Here’s the good news: the right extracurriculars can actually improve your life and make you a better person while also helping you get into college.
The bad news? There is no magic formula or combination of “best” extracurricular activities that will guarantee you get admitted to the college of your dreams. If so, everyone would be doing those.
So while the following tips aren’t a cheat sheet, I hope they offer some wisdom and guidance that you might find helpful on your college admissions journey.
Do what you love.
My opinion (and some people might disagree here) is that you should spend what little free time you have doing should things you actually enjoy. Don’t join ECs just to check boxes. For one, colleges can smell that a mile away when you have a huge spike in clubs joined your junior year. That being said, it’s perfectly ok to explore and try out clubs. You’re a teenager; you should be checking out a variety of interests and experiences.
You want to be “star-shaped.” Well-rounded with some spikes along the way.
You never know what might get you where you’re trying to go. You could be active in all the “right” clubs, yet your hobby is actually what lands you a dream internship down the line.
Think outside the EC box.
Lots of things count as extracurricular activities. Basically, I say it’s anything you do outside of schoolwork. That’s right. ANYTHING.
If you worked in a coffee shop, that counts. If you maintain a blog, that counts too. Even playing video games can count in the right context (like if you’re interested in a related field).
Colleges want to see that you have a life beyond school work and test prep. So don’t be afraid to mix it up. Also, keep in mind that colleges understand when you have home and family responsibilities, and these can go on the Activities list on your application. If you spend your afternoon taking care of your siblings or you have to help your parents in their business, list it. That counts.
Make time for fun.
Filling your schedule with back to back extracurriculars just to pad your résumé is fun for exactly no one. You only get to be a teenager once. You should enjoy yourself and find activities that make you happy. And then you can figure out how to turn those into an extracurricular activity.
If there’s no club at your school that specializes in what you love, start one. “Club Founder” looks pretty good on an application.
You can also only list 10 activities on the Common App. Most students list about 5. So keep that in mind too. Don’t overload yourself needlessly.
If it feels like a waste of time, it probably is. Enjoy yourself and find the activities you enjoy. And that will also be valuable to your life regardless of what school you get into.
Work it, baby.
You’d be surprised at how far a good old-fashioned summer job can go. There aren’t many students who work. And the ones who do often think it doesn’t count as an EC. But you do them while you’re out of school, so why shouldn’t it? It also shows you’re responsible and gives you the real-world skills that a lot of students entering college just don’t have.
If you feel you’re lacking in your extracurriculars, I think getting a job is your best bet.
Change it up.
What you do in your free time doesn’t have to be what you want to do forever. You’re allowed (and dare I say encouraged) to be interested in different things. That’s healthy. Just because you want to be a doctor doesn’t mean you have to spend all of your time doing “doctor” things. If you love hiking, great. Find your passions wherever they are and don’t limit yourself because it doesn’t feel like a storyline cohesive to your goals.
If you’re not sure if what you’re doing after school should count as an EC, get in touch! Let’s chat.