Though they are a distant second to your academic portfolio, extracurricular activities will still get a close look from college admissions staff because they demonstrate your ability to lead, to make and keep commitments, and point out interests or talents you have that could contribute to their student body.
Extracurricular activities also tell the admissions committee more about what kind of person you are. That’s why it is important to include extracurricular activities as part of your high school experience and to choose them carefully. This section tells you how to choose activities that bring out the best in you while also increasing your chances of getting into the college of your choice. Learn more about school activities and community options in the sections below.
Take advantage of summer enrichment programs, like TIP, to meet and be energized by other gifted students. It broadens your horizons from your homogeneous high school and helps you realize how awesome it is to be in an academically challenging place surrounded by people who ‘get it’ like you do. -Katherine G., Duke TIP alum
School Sponsored Activities
College admissions officers look at extracurricular activities because they want to get a better sense of who you are. It doesn’t matter what you did so much as how you did it. Nearly all high schools give you plenty of outside-the-classroom options to choose from. Which activities are right for you? That depends on you.
In order to tell admissions officers how you are different from the thousands of other applicants they will see, it is important to build a strong foundation for your profile and start showcasing your strengths. Discovering a passion early in high school can also help you focus your extracurricular activities, making your college application even stronger. Here are some tips on choosing the right activities for you:
- Being a well-rounded student is not as important as committing to what you do. You do not have to be all things to all people. Being very good at a few specific activities is often enough to impress admissions officers. Choosing fewer activities, but participating more heavily in them, is also better for you: it is easier to manage your time and more fulfilling to focus your efforts on a handful of activities you truly enjoy.
- If you do not yet know where your interests lie, try several activities early on to see where your skills and passions intersect. You will be more likely to stick to an activity if you are good at it and enjoy it. Many students start out in ninth grade by sampling a number of activities and then gradually narrow their focus as they continue through high school.
- Special interest clubs are all great ways to showcase your talents and cultivate strong leadership skills. Athletics or drama will show that you value collaboration and can work together to succeed. Participating in the school newspaper, musical groups, or student government will highlight valuable personal skills you have as well. Pick a few activities you truly enjoy and go for it.
- Take on a leadership role in at least one of your ongoing activities by senior year. Showing leadership skills and commitment to an activity is a big plus on a college application.
- Choose at least some activities that have an impact on others. Admissions officers want to see some evidence that you care for others and will continue to make a positive contribution to others when you transition to collegiate life. Choosing a service club is one good option.
- Remember that your activities reveal a lot about your character. Your accomplishments in and out of the classroom tell a lot about your motivations, and extracurricular activities are good ways to show admissions officers what you believe in and value.
Don’t do extracurricular activities to build your resume; do them because you love to do them. It’s quality over quantity. -Alyson W., Duke TIP alum
Not everyone can or wants to be the student body president. Fortunately, there are many different ways you can get involved outside of school. Here are some suggestions.
The trick to choosing extracurricular activities is to focus on those things you truly enjoy. You may find those “best-fit” activities at your high school, or you may need to look beyond these traditional options.
- Take your passions into the community by participating in local sports teams, community theater productions, park clean-ups, or other initiatives that give you experience working with people from different backgrounds. Plus, you may discover a new interest: local government groups, nonprofit organizations, and faith communities can offer you opportunities you may not have had a chance to try before.
- Work part-time. If your academic load allows it, part-time work and summer employment is a good way to demonstrate your work ethic, brush up on your people and business skills, and make money for college in the process! A part-time job also shows college admissions staff that you have good time management skills.
- Internships may pay only in experience, but they can demonstrate commitment to a specific field or cause, help you make valuable connections, and teach you good work habits that pay off in college.
- Donate your time. Help out at an animal shelter, tutor elementary school students, or raise awareness for a charity. Volunteering is a great way to put your skills to work, demonstrate your beliefs, and have something worthwhile to show for your efforts.
- Create your own activity. If you are interested in an area and cannot find opportunities to pursue it in your community, start your own organization and rally others around your cause. You will demonstrate initiative and leadership skills to college admissions officers while furthering a cause you truly believe in.
As you choose your activities, just remember this: extracurricular activities should never get in the way of your schoolwork. Admissions officers will always look at your grades and course load first. So evaluate your available time and energy before you commit. In fact, constantly evaluating your extracurricular involvement is a good way to learn how to strike a balance between work and leisure time while also figuring out what is most important to you—skills that will always serve you well, both in college and in life.
Look for a college where you will have a balance of academic, philanthropic, social, and societal opportunities. At the end of the four years you need to be a well-rounded, empathetic, and contributory member of our global society. If you won’t be challenged by the people around you to open your mind (in and out of the classroom), you have missed the greatest opportunity of higher education. -Katherine G., Duke TIP alum