We asked. You answered.
Over the summer, we asked our student alumni network, "What piece of information would be most helpful during your college preparations?" A vast majority of you responded wanting some clarity around which activities OUTSIDE of the classroom make a difference when it comes to standing out from the crowd, and so began OUR homework.
The college admissions process seems to get more competitive with every passing year. While a student's grades and test scores are still the most important factors, extracurricular activities play a major role as well. Admissions officers want well-rounded students who are not just academically strong but are also involved and accomplished outside of the classroom.
If you're a high school student looking to strengthen your college applications, make the grade and consider these top 5 extracurricular activities that colleges look for:
1. Give Back
For most colleges, giving back is core to their culture, so volunteering is one great way to demonstrate your values to the school and support your community at the same time. Sustained community service, where you take on leadership roles and make a significant impact, means a lot to admissions committees. Tutoring younger students, volunteering at hospitals, raising money for nonprofits, serving food at homeless shelters, and cleaning up parks show you devote real time and energy to helping others.
Ideally, you should commit to one or two volunteer activities and stick with them throughout high school instead of doing disjointed activities here and there—colleges want to see passion and follow-through. When possible, share measurable outcomes from your service, such as hours volunteered or number of students tutored. Consider some well national nonprofits such as the Boys & Girls Club, United Way, and Habitat for Humanity.
2. Take the Lead
Time to stand up and stand out. Leadership roles such as student government, club president, team captain, or newspaper editor demonstrate responsibility, commitment, and your ability to lead others. Colleges look for students who will get involved and make positive changes on campus.
Plus, major leadership roles show that you're willing to take initiative and guide your peers. Really, ANY leadership experience is beneficial—even being the secretary of a club or leading a group community service project can check this box in a meaningful way. These positions are fantastic points to touch upon in your college essays, trust us!
Fun fact: Brad Pitt was a part of his high school student government before he was…well, Brad Pitt.
3. Game On
Let’s go, it’s game time! Extracurricular sports are another way to showcase teamwork, dedication, and well-rounded interests outside of academics. Playing on school sports teams or in competitive clubs shows colleges you pursue physical fitness and can balance a full, diverse schedule.
Make sure to highlight any major accomplishments such as making varsity, becoming team captain, or winning athletic awards. Like what we've hit on elsewhere, even participating in a sport consistently looks good—you don't have to be a star athlete to catch collegiate attention.
4. The Art of School
Be a show-off. Displaying artistic talents outside the classroom is something admissions officers particularly love. Pursuing arts and music including theater, visual arts, band, orchestra, choir, or dance exhibits creativity and passion.
Winning art competitions, having displayed paintings, earning lead roles in school productions, learning advanced music theory, and achieving high skill levels in dance or instrument performance are just some of the many ways you can showcase your dedication and should 100% be highlighted as you build your application assets.
Psst! If this is a passion of yours, you may be interested in our Honors Performance Series.
5. In the Club OR A+ Clubs
Get involved, sign up, and join a club! Joining academic clubs related to your prospective major or interests exhibits academic engagement beyond required schoolwork. Science Olympiad, math club, robotics, coding club, debate team, Future Business Leaders of America, and other specialized academic clubs showcase your passion, talent, and your above and beyond devotion to certain subjects.
Working towards leadership roles in this area of extracurriculars can really elevate your standing among students who share your similar academic interests. Academic extracurriculars related to your intended college major show admissions officers you are serious about pursuing that subject within higher education—and being a leader in this field can only help boost that reputation of yours.
With crammed schedules, pursuing multiple meaningful and impressive extracurriculars can be challenging. But fear not! Here are some parting words of wisdom from WorldStrides:
Regardless of which direction you take, focus on depth rather than breadth. Colleges value passion and impactful commitment to a few key activities over briefly dabbling in many clubs. Spending four years deeply involved in Model UN with a leadership role means more than one year each in 10 clubs. The game is quality over quantity.
Thank you to all who participated in our survey and made this piece possible. Keep your eyes glued to our blog and social media as we will ALWAYS need your feedback!