How to Boost Your College Application with Extracurricular Activities

Application Strategies
September 16, 2019
Extracurricular Activities Offer An In-Depth View Of College Applicants That Is Difficult To Convey In An Application Alone...

Using extracurricular activities to give your college application an edge is a common tactic recommended by college counselors across the country. High school students who plan their participation in extracurricular activities for college applications ahead of time can create a cohesive story of who they are, what they value, and what their future career goals are.

Of course, this makes choosing the right activities of the utmost importance.

Students looking to show colleges who they are through their extracurricular activities should put most of their effort into the activities that showcase their talents, values, and interests.  Dedicating quality time to a smaller number of related extracurricular activities rather than trying to be a member of every club and activity on campus not only shows off your passions, but your dedication, maturity, and focus.

What You’ll Find In This Article

How Extracurricular Activities Affect Your College Application

Colleges pay extra attention to students who excel academically while also showing their passions and interests through extracurricular activities.

One of the benefits of extracurricular activities is that they act as proof of your best qualities, and are easy to point to in your college applications and essays. Students who show commitment to extracurricular activities can use this to their advantage when applying for college.

However, there is no “golden” extracurricular activity that all colleges look for.

College admissions officers value how active and dedicated you are within your extracurricular activities above any other consideration. Colleges are looking for applicants that are willing to be consistent and committed, and extracurricular activities are a great way for students to show these qualities.

All of this is good news for students! Since their contribution to their extracurricular activities often matters more than what the activity is, students can be flexible with their extracurricular choices.

How To Choose The Right Extracurricular Activities To Impress Colleges

Choosing extracurricular activities that will impress colleges results in different activities for every student. Each student should carefully evaluate their own interests, talents, and goals, and then choose activities that encourage growth in these areas.

Remember that colleges are not looking for a certain club or organization name so much as they’re looking for your enthusiastic dedication to causes, values, and civic duties that are important to you.


As we touched on earlier, colleges value the length and quality of your participation in extracurricular activities more than the quantity of extracurricular activities on your application. Passionate participation in a select few extracurricular activities throughout your high school career is a great way to distinguish yourself.

In particular, colleges look for the following when reviewing the extracurricular activities on your college application:

  • Demonstration of leadership skills
  • Commitment to the activity
  • Creation of skilled work (such as research, art, or writing)
  • A connection between extracurricular activities and career goals
  • Uncommon or unique extracurricular activities
  • Cultivation of important social skills
  • Dedication to civic service or volunteer efforts

One of the benefits of extracurricular activities is that many of them take you out of your comfort zone and provoke growth without you even noticing. Students can find ways to express these benefits for almost every imaginable extracurricular activity, giving them a huge boost in their college essays.

Volunteer at your local food shelter twice a month throughout highschool? That can be used to show commitment, cultivation of social skills, and a dedication to civic service. A passionate soccer player can highlight their commitment to the team, the connection that working as a team player has to their future career, and a yearly charity game they had a hand in organizing. Likewise, a student who participated in the debate team could highlight the research they did to support their arguments, their improved speaking skills, and the unique topics they debated.


Colleges place a higher emphasis on what students accomplish in their extracurricular activities than the activities themselves. This means that the “right” choice of extracurricular activities is different for every student; the correct choice for extracurricular activities will always be those that you can give 100% of your effort to. However, more prestigious, difficult, or complex extracurricular activities can carry more weight than activities that any student can join.

Extracurricular activities that are difficult to accomplish and explain show that a student isn’t afraid to step outside of their comfort zone to challenge themselves. This type of “above and beyond” extracurricular attitude can be seen in students who start volunteer efforts, organize charity events, participate in cultural movements, or create an impressive portfolio of work in the arts or sciences.


Students who bounce from one extracurricular activity to another, or who poorly manage their extracurricular commitments, will not get the most out of these commitments on their college application.

Just as employers value focus and long-term commitment in their employees, colleges value the same ideals in their students. Students who are active in a few extracurricular activities will see more benefit from them than a student who passively participates in every extracurricular activity they can join.

Committing to a smaller number of extracurricular activities also helps keep students from becoming overwhelmed.

Too many activities can leave students with little time in their schedule to study, socialize, and relax. Finding a healthy balance between your extracurricular commitments and the rest of your life is essential.


Showcasing the hard work you’ve put into your extracurricular activities on your college application goes far beyond simply listing all your accomplishments.

In order to get the most out of your extracurricular activities for your college application, you should make it a point to showcase what you’ve learned from them. Go beyond simply listing your activities by tying your participation in those activities into your college application essay and going in-depth about the lessons you learned when given the chance on your college application.

Bonus Tips For Getting The Most From Your Extracurricular Activities

Students who know how to effectively present their extracurricular activities have the opportunity to maximize the benefits for their college applications. Learning how to present your extracurricular activities in a way that puts emphasis on your contribution can be used to turn even the most boring activities into a strength.


Using your extracurricular activities to tell a story about who you are, who inspires you, and who you want to become can make your college application stand out from the crowd.

This cohesive story can be achieved by being selective with what activities you join, as well as through your college application itself.

For example, a student with a solid four year commitment to helping lead and develop their school’s robotics club while also being a student council member tells a much clearer story than a student who divides their time between 7 different extracurricular activities.

The truth is that your extracurricular activity participation is one of the few ways that a student can stand out on their college application. Extracurricular activities go beyond test scores and grades. This is why it’s so critical that you present your extracurricular activities as a cohesive story; you voluntarily joined these clubs for a reason, and it’s up to you to present that reason in a convincing manner to college admission officials.


Students should lean toward extracurricular activities that involve their passions and talents. This makes participating in your chosen activities more enjoyable, while also allowing colleges to get a clearer picture of who you are. Innovative students can also present extracurricular activities that they’re passionate about as being relevant to their future career choice; even if the connection isn’t obvious at first glance.

For example, a future political science major can highlight his leadership role in the local glee club rather than his passion project within the club to show off his leadership skills.

Ultimately, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with picking your extracurricular activities with the thought of how they’d look on your college application in mind. However, picking activities based on how well you think they’ll make your college application look alone is a recipe for finding yourself in extracurricular activities that feel like a chore. Your goal should be to find a balance between what will look impressive on your application and what you are truly excited about.


The Common Application gives you enough space to list 10 extracurricular activities,but you shouldn’t necessarily use all of them

Before filling in your extracurricular activities on the application, it’s a good idea for students to make a separate list of all the activities they participate in. Using this list, students should order their extracurricular activities based on the length of their participation, their accomplishments, and their leadership level within the activity. This is the order that your extracurricular activities should appear in your Common App activities section.

When listing extracurricular activities on the Common Application, students should focus on the core activities that helped shape their academic and civic lives. Because the Common Application includes a section where you can write additional information about your extracurricular activities, students can truly highlight their more intensive and complex activities.

This is why you may not want to use all ten activity slots on the Common Application.

Your goal here is to tell a story about who you are to college admissions officers, and creating a curated list of activities can be a much more effective way to do that. While the “right number” of extracurricular activities will vary from student to student, don’t be afraid if you only have two or three on your college application if you’re using them to their fullest.


Like all schools, Ivy League schools are looking for extracurricular activities that show your ability to commit to and focus on something important to you.

In particular, Ivy League schools are attracted to activities that are uncommon, require a lot of student-driven work, or demonstrate extraordinary talent or innovation. Students who go above and beyond the minimum requirements of their extracurricular activity have an edge over those who merely show up to meetings and pay dues. Like with many other colleges, the best extracurricular activities for Ivy League schools are those that allow you to go beyond what the average person thinks is possible for a high school student.

Extracurricular Activities Give Your College Application An Edge

While there are no “right” extracurricular activities that students can pick to make getting into college easier, there are ways to boost your college application with the activities you already love. After all, colleges want to see that you’ll be a dedicated and focused student, and your passions are a great way to highlight that.

Ultimately, extracurricular participation is a great way to create a track record of your strengths, values, and work ethic; the key is showing those qualities off on your college applications.

Fortunately, we’re here to help.

WeAdmit college counselors know what it takes to help keep students on track when choosing and participating in extracurricular activities, and can guide you as you show off your skills on your college applications. We help students define their values and goals through self-analysis, and then work with students to identify the extracurricular activities that will inspire the most growth, enthusiasm, and bonus points on your college applications.

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge of how to get the most out of your extracurricular activities, it’s time to start showing off your passions on your college application. Which means it’s time to...

...Play Ball, Battle Robots, Sing Show Tunes, And Get Into College!



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