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How to Pick Extracurriculars for College Admissions


happy student in front of her laptop

A college application is like a puzzle. Each piece represents a different part of your academic and personal achievements. Grades and test scores might reveal a good chunk of the whole picture, but not the entire thing. Extracurriculars are the puzzle pieces that expose your passions, desires, and character.


You need to know how to pick extracurriculars for college admissions if you want to make a good impression on schools. In this guide, we’re going to go over picking the right extracurriculars, their role in college admissions, and some tips on managing extracurriculars.


What are the Best Extracurriculars?


While no extracurricular is necessarily better than the others, some are more popular among college applications. Those include sports, theater, music, art, community service, a part-time job, on-campus clubs, and academic competitions.


Let’s go over each type of extracurricular to help you find the right fit:


Academic Competitions


Academic competitions put students against each other, either in teams or individually, to gauge which students display the highest understanding of a specific subject. Popular academic competitions include mock trial, math competitions, debates, and more.


These competitions require students to dedicate extra time to studying a specific subject. They also require students to show up to practice and competition days. If you’re not passionate about the subject you’ll be competing in, then you shouldn’t sign up. You’re likely to face severe burnout a couple of days in, which might even hurt your performance in class.


pros and cons of academic competitions as extracurricular activities

Sports


Colleges recognize the value of team sports, but they certainly don’t need to see it from every student. Students can learn a lot of important lessons and skills through team sports, and they can make you a bigger and better person. However, they are an enormous time commitment, usually right after school, and they don’t make for the best college essay topic later, so if you join a sports team, make sure you’re doing it for the love of the game.


If you’re passionate about playing a sport, then go for it! It’s good exercise and can help you make new friends.


pros and cons of sports as an extracurricular

Arts


There are many different creative endeavors you can pursue in or outside of school. Popular ones include visual arts, theater, and music. Colleges appreciate when students make time to pursue the arts.


Your application will be appreciated more if you could win an award in your field. If you sign up for any extracurricular in the arts, then be prepared for long hours of practice. You should only sign up for these extracurriculars if you’re passionate.


pros and cons of arts as an extracurricular

Volunteering or Community Service


You should always dedicate some time to community service. Try to hit at least 20 hours a semester if possible. Community service is an essential part of any college application. It shows character.


Consider working at an animal shelter, an elderly care facility, or even an elementary school. Volunteering leaves a real impact on your community.


pros and cons of volunteering as an extracurricular

Work


Working a part-time job or starting your own business can show entrepreneurship and leadership abilities. It can be tricky to balance work with school, so manage your time carefully if you choose this path.


Work experience can help you land an internship. College admissions readers love it when students have interned before!


pros and cons of working in high school

School-Sponsored Activities


Most extracurriculars can be done on or off campus, but school-sponsored activities take place on campus only! These activities include editing the yearbook, participating in student government, or volunteering as a student tutor.


These activities are fun and convenient because they all happen on campus! There typically isn’t too much of a time dedication, so you should consider participating in more extracurriculars.


pros and cons of school extracurriculars

How to Pick Extracurriculars for College Admissions

Self-Reflection


A lot of extracurriculars ask for more than just your time and effort. They’ll require passion! While you don’t need to be passionate about volunteering, you might need to be passionate about law if you want to compete in mock trials.


Take some time to reflect on yourself and your passions. Remember that you’re going to be dedicating a lot of time to your extracurriculars, so you shouldn’t dread participating in them!


Identify Relevant Extracurriculars


If you already know what career path you want to pursue, then consider taking extracurriculars that complement that career. If you want to work in tech, then sign up for your school’s coding club.


If you’re still unsure about what you want to do, then don’t worry. Just sign up for whatever sounds interesting! Colleges will appreciate the fact that you put yourself out there, even if it isn’t related to the major you’re going with.


Pick Extracurriculars That You Enjoy!


I can’t stress this enough. Pick extracurricular activities that you enjoy! Don’t do anything that will make you miserable. It will hurt your application more than helping it.


Do Colleges Care About Extracurriculars?


Colleges absolutely care about extracurriculars. Extracurricular activities can reveal a lot about a student. Your GPA and test scores don’t reveal who you are as a person. Extracurriculars can help colleges learn about your passions, interests, and academic goals.


One of the most common misconceptions about college admissions is that it’s all about the GPA. It’s important to maintain a good GPA while also being engaged in extracurriculars. Let’s say two students are applying to a math program. One student has a 4.0 GPA and the other has a 3.9, if the 3.9 student participated in Mathletes and the 4.0 student did not, then most colleges would prefer the 3.9 student.


Another misconception is that you should only pursue academic extracurriculars. If you want to join the drama club, then go for it! You should only participate in activities that genuinely interest you. If you’re not engaged in an activity, then you’ll likely quit and get burnt out.


How to Manage Extracurriculars


Participating in extracurricular activities is essential for a well-rounded college application. It’s important to remember that you need to balance these extracurriculars with school. School is your first priority.


Juggling academic responsibilities, a social life, and extracurriculars can be challenging.


Here are some tips for managing your time and avoiding burnout:

  • Create a weekly schedule that allocates time for different activities

  • Prioritize tasks based on deadlines

  • Recognize your limits and avoid overcommitting

How to Join Extracurriculars


Most schools have a “rush week” or a “club rush” where clubs table throughout the campus and you get to learn more about them! This is the best time to find and sign up for extracurriculars.


You can also get in contact with a teacher or student who helps run the organization you’d like to join. They’d love to have more people on board!




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