Before you immediately search for the secret formula to boost your college applications, the most important element to consider when choosing extracurriculars is YOU. Your personality, goals, dreams, and interests will lead you in the right direction when it comes to your perfect extracurricular activities. College and university admissions officers want to see that you have all the necessary qualities to succeed at their institution, but mostly they want to see who you are and what you can bring to their campus. Beyond the desire to get into college at any cost, the activities you choose to pursue in school should be a reflection of your greatest strengths and offer a looking glass into the kind of contribution you’ll bring.
Colleges look for applicants who are involved, passionate, and proactive in the learning process inside and outside of the classroom. Deciding not to partake in extracurricular activities in favor of spending summers and after-school time hanging out with friends or watching television will obviously not impress colleges and universities. So, here are some choices for extracurricular activities that help students demonstrate the kinds of skills and qualities admissions officers like to see on college applications.
High school debating teams are challenged to stay up-to-date with current news stories, government policies, and social issues, so students with debate experience often look attractive on college applications. Debate will help you learn to speak in front of people, formulate intelligent opinions, think critically, and connect the goings on of the world with the society you experience every day.
Extracurricular activities that require leadership, like student government, youth leadership conferences or intensives, and volunteer opportunities for local campaigns are attractive to colleges looking for the young leaders of tomorrow. Even if you have no plans to get involved with politics in the future, leadership skills are helpful for any major in college and will also serve you well throughout your adult life. Learning to be a leader will allow you to gain a better understanding of other people and their skills and will challenge you to inspire others through your own ideas.
Activities like Odyssey of the Mind, Quiz Bowl, Chess Club, and mathematics competitions show colleges and universities that you are competitive, passionate, and thoughtful. Academic teams and clubs also showcase your interest in academics outside of the classroom, which will be required of you more in college than in high school. By taking part in an academic team or club, you can demonstrate your ability to work hard, cooperate with a group of people, and perform difficult tasks under pressure. Your application will tell the story of a student not afraid of hard work.
Artistic extracurricular activities like art clubs, theatre, music, and dance showcase your creativity and individuality. These are especially helpful for students who hope to pursue an artistic major, but extracurricular activities in the arts can show colleges and universities that you are well rounded and understand the value of the arts in society. Creative pursuits can be very rewarding and even stress-reducing throughout high school, which is another reason to consider an artistic activity if you have interests in the arts.
Being a talented athlete can definitely get students noticed by colleges, but you do not have to plan to play sports past high school for your sports experience to matter. Any athletic activity shows your determination, enthusiasm, and resilience—all qualities you need to succeed in any of life’s endeavors. A team sports activity on a college application also communicates your ability to work well with others and be supportive in a group setting.
Though many students assume internships are reserved for college, if you find an opportunity to complete an internship in high school, it could be a great addition to your resume. By following through with an internship, you are showing college admissions officers that you can work effectively under pressure and cooperate in an adult professional scenario. Internships also demonstrate that you are proactive and interested in trying new and sometimes difficult experiences in pursuit of your future goals.
Putting volunteering experiences on your college application might seem cliché after every advisor has told you over and over again to start volunteering more, but lending a helping hand to others will never go out of style. Whether you have the opportunity to volunteer abroad or have an interest in volunteering locally, community outreach is a wonderful way to show your greatest qualities on your college application. Find a cause you are personally passionate about, and start volunteering to make a difference. As a volunteer you can improve the world, feel good about the way you are spending your time, and showcase positive qualities on your college application: a win-win-win situation.
Believe it or not, college admissions officers also understand that high school students often have busy schedules and sometimes have to juggle part-time jobs with full-time school. If you find yourself without much extra time to pursue extracurricular activities because of a part-time job, know that the skills you are learning and the qualities you are showcasing at your job matter on your college applications as well. Keep track of lessons you feel you have learned on the job and take leadership opportunities when you can. All your experiences shape the person you are and will later become riveting subjects for college application essays.
All these categories are options for extracurricular opportunities that will help you shine on your college applications. But keep in mind that whatever you do, do it well, and commit fully. College admissions officers like to see students who have passion and dedication to what they do. Do not feel the need to take part in every activity; choose one or two you love and dive in deep. And enjoy!
Since 2002, NSHSS has supported young academics on their journey to college and beyond as they prepare to become the leaders of tomorrow. The mission behind NSHSS is to recognize academic excellence and honor high-achieving students, providing them with the resources and network to excel in college, career and community. In doing so, NSHSS connects members with global events, scholarships, college fairs, internships, career and leadership programs, partner discounts, and more. Discover what makes NSHSS worth it to student members and how you can get involved.
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