Importance of Extracurricular Activities for College: Do They Matter?

Updated: May 10, 2023 You’re our #1 priority.
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importance of extracurricular activities for college

What do football, volunteering at the dog shelter, and working part-time at a fast food place all have in common? They can score you extra points and stand out with college admissions committees.

If you’re one of the many high school students gearing up for the college admissions process, you may be wondering how important extracurricular activities are to your application. The answer is simple: they matter, and they matter a lot.

While grades and test scores are undoubtedly crucial factors in admissions decisions, high school extracurriculars can significantly impact and serve as a way to differentiate oneself from other applicants.

In this article, we’ll explore the role of extracurricular activities in college admissions and offer tips on how students involved can make the most out of them.

Why Extracurricular Activities Matter in College Admissions

extracurricular activities for college applications

In recent years, many colleges and universities have adopted a holistic admissions approach, which means they consider all aspects of an applicant’s life, not just their academic performance.

Extracurricular activities allow students to demonstrate their interests, passions, and character outside of their classes.

They can also help students develop skills such as leadership, public speaking, and teamwork that admissions committees value. They can also be involved in other activities that show who they are at their core. For example, a prospective music major may spend time singing in a community choir or giving free signing lessons. At the same time, a student who plans to major in psychology might spend her time writing about mental health topics in a student-run blog.

What College Admissions Officers Look for in Extracurricular Activities

When evaluating extracurricular activities, admissions officers typically look for four criteria: initiative and commitment, impact and accomplishments, diversity and inclusion, and passion and personal growth.

Quality is generally more important than quantity, meaning that students should focus on pursuing activities that align with their interests and goals and showcase their dedication and achievements.

Types of Extracurricular Activities That Matter

how much do extracurriculars matter for college

Many types of extracurricular activities can make a positive impression on admissions committees.

These include academic-related activities such as debate or science Olympiad, athletic-related activities such as varsity sports or intramurals, and creative and performing arts are also good options.

Special interest clubs, such as those focused on gaming or environmental issues, can also be valuable, allowing students to explore their interests and passions.

Volunteer work is also great because it lets students explore interests while also developing leadership skills for college, public speaking skills, and more. In addition, admissions offices like to see volunteer work on a school application because it shows dedication to a cause for an intrinsic reward.

Extracurriculars Example

Just because work isn’t paid doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile. In fact, this is part of what makes extracurricular activities important.

For example, a high school student who loves animals might volunteer at a local animal shelter as an extracurricular activity. They might start by contacting the shelter to inquire about volunteer opportunities. Once they are accepted as a volunteer, they might be asked to help with tasks such as cleaning cages, feeding animals, walking dogs, and socializing with the animals to make them more adoptable.

volunteer extracurricular activities for college applications

The student could commit to volunteering a certain number of hours per week or month, and they may also be able to participate in special events such as adoption fairs or fundraising events.

In addition to helping animals in need, volunteering at an animal shelter can also provide valuable experience in animal care, teamwork, and communication skills. The student could also consider starting a club at their high school to raise awareness and funds for the animal shelter or organizing a donation drive to collect supplies and raise money for the shelter. This might even turn into a part-time job!

It would certainly help the student practice time management, make more friends, increase their work ethic, practice being in leadership roles, and other important factors that college admissions committees see as important.

Tips for Choosing and Pursuing Extracurricular Activities

When choosing extracurricular activities, students should start by conducting a self-assessment and goal setting. Then, they should focus on finding activities that align with the student’s interests but also challenge them and allow for personal growth.

If you’re trying to decide which extracurriculars to pursue, consider the following questions:

  • Which high school clubs could you consider becoming involved with?
  • Which class or classes do you enjoy the most, and how might this lead to opportunities outside of the classroom?
  • What, besides good grades, do you want to achieve before graduating?
  • Is there an important skill that you could benefit from learning?
  • Are there any new interests you’d like to pursue?
  • Is there a small business in your community that you’re really interested in?

Balancing academic and extracurricular activity is important, as is maximizing impact and achievements. Leveraging technology and networking can also help find and pursue extracurricular opportunities in and outside of school.

How to Highlight Extracurricular Activities in College Applications

what do colleges look for in extracurricular activities

Extracurricular activities can be highlighted in several parts of the college application process, including the common application and supplemental college admission essays, activity sheet and resume, recommendation letters, interviews, and campus visits.

It’s vital to showcase one’s achievements and impact clearly and concisely and provide context and explanations for any activities unfamiliar to admissions officers.

Here are some specific tips:

  1. List all your activities on a piece of paper and then rank them based on how much time you spent on them and how much impact they had on you and your community.
  2. For each activity you list, provide specific details about your involvement. This could include your role or position, challenges, and impact on the organization or community.
  3. Whenever possible, try to quantify your achievements with statistics and numbers. For example, if you raised money for the dog shelter, mention how much money you raised. If you organized an adoption event, mention how many people attended.
  4. Finally, use your extracurricular activities to demonstrate your passions and interests. This will help admissions officers understand what motivates you and what you might contribute to their campus community.

Remember, the goal is not to simply list all of your activities but to help admissions officers understand who you are as a person and what you might bring to their college or university.

Potential Challenges and Risks Associated with Extracurricular Activities

do extracurriculars matter

While extracurricular activities can offer many benefits, they also have potential challenges and risks.

Burnout and stress are common issues for students who overcommit to too many activities.

Financial and time constraints can also limit students’ ability to pursue specific opportunities.

Negative or controversial activities, such as those involving drugs or alcohol, can also have unintended consequences on academics and health.

You’ll also want to consider the myths and misconceptions surrounding extracurriculars.

There are many myths and misconceptions about extracurricular activities in college admissions. For example, some believe that only certain types of activities matter or that only leadership positions and awards count.

Others think that extracurricular activities are only for well-rounded students or that they are not as important as grades and test scores. These are all myths, and the truth is that extracurricular activities can make a significant impact on admissions decisions.

Extracurricular Activities Beyond College Admissions: Long-Term Benefits and Impacts

Extracurricular activities are not only important when related to an admissions decision, but they can also have long-term benefits and impacts. They can help students explore their interests, develop skills, and build relationships that can carry over into their careers and personal lives. For example, leadership opportunities in student government or starting one’s own club can provide valuable experience for future endeavors.

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Extracurricular activities are an important part of the college admissions process and can offer many benefits for students beyond that.

By choosing activities that align with their interests and goals, students can demonstrate their passions, develop skills, and make a positive impact in their communities.

While grades and test scores are important, extracurricular activities can help differentiate oneself from other applicants and showcase the unique qualities that make each student special.


What if I don’t have access to many extracurricular activities?

Even if you don’t have access to many extracurricular activities in your school setting, there are still ways to get involved outside of school. Consider volunteering at a local organization, joining a community group or club, or starting your own initiative.

How do I balance academics and extracurricular activities?

Balancing academics and extracurricular activities can be challenging, but it’s important to prioritize your time and focus on activities that are meaningful and aligned with your goals. Set realistic expectations and learn to manage your time effectively to avoid burnout and stress.

Do I need to have a specific major or career in mind to pursue certain extracurricular activities?

No, you don’t need to have a specific major or career in mind to pursue extracurricular activities. The goal is to explore your interests and passions, develop skills, and make a positive impact in your community.

Can extracurricular activities compensate for low grades or test scores?

Extracurricular activities can help compensate for lower grades or test scores by showcasing your strengths, passions, and achievements. However, they cannot completely make up for poor academic performance, so it’s important to strive for higher grades and test scores as well.

How do I know if my extracurricular activities are impactful and meaningful?

Extracurricular activities are impactful and meaningful if they align with your interests and goals, challenge you to grow and develop new skills, and make a positive impact in your community. You should also be able to articulate your achievements and impact in a clear and concise manner in your college applications.

How many extracurriculars do you need to get into a good college?

There is no set number of extracurricular activities needed for admission to a good college. It’s more important to focus on pursuing activities that align with your interests and showcase your dedication and achievements. Admissions committees look for well-rounded students who demonstrate a passion for learning and making a positive impact in their communities, so the key is to highlight your unique strengths and achievements.