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Balancing School and Extracurriculars

Extracurricular activities play an important role in rounding out your holistic college application. However, it can become really demanding to be active in several clubs while maintaining a strong GPA, especially as you near the deadlines. In this blog, we give you some tips on balancing schoolwork and extracurricular engagements.

For more on what counts as extracurricular activities, check out other blogs on our website, such as the College Application Checklist and Timeline.

#1. Develop a system of time-management

Balancing academics and extracurriculars is essentially a matter of managing your time wisely. You want to be able to allocate the appropriate amount of energy and effort to things that matter to your application and your personal development at large.

It is important to adopt a system of time-management that allows you to visually track your commitments in an accessible way (to you). This helps make sure nothing falls through the cracks, which will be vital as you get busier. There are several ways to manage your time and stay on top of assignments: bullet journal, Google Calendar, to-do lists, etc. Each method has its pros and cons; you should try out a few and pick the one that works best for you.

Again, it is important that whatever tool you use to stay on task, it needs to be easily accessible and intelligible to you. I personally have a color-coded calendar, sticky notes, and a to-do list app open on the same desktop so that I can immediately check when I have an engagement, and what outstanding tasks I have. Here’s a screenshot for reference:

The color-coding allows me to easily see how much time each engagement takes up every week, while the to-do list helps me categorize academic and extracurricular tasks and sort them by due date. The sticky notes are where I note down straggling things that I need to reference often.

#2. Be selective

There are so many extracurricular activities to choose from. Especially if you go to a big high school, there are likely a wide array of student organizations, varsity sports, theater programs, volunteer & community service opportunities, internships, part-time jobs, and more. You cannot possibly be involved in everything.

Remember, quality over quantity. While variety is important, colleges prefer consistency and long-term commitment. Avoid committing to more than you can handle. Instead of doing 4 things half-heartedly, prioritize 1 to 2 things that align with your interests and help you cultivate and demonstrate the qualities that you value. (For more on exploring and articulating your values, try the exercise in this blog ).

For example, if you are considering becoming a student athlete in college, you should commit to your chosen sports for as long as you can in high school. If you want to major in Theater, you need to show in your application that you are serious about this choice by participating in various theater productions.

Another tip is to engage in a couple of extracurriculars that meet regularly but less frequently. For instance, many volunteer opportunities take place biweekly or monthly. By participating in these opportunities on a regular basis, you can still demonstrate commitment while leaving time for schoolwork and 1 to 2 other more frequent responsibilities.

#3. Put academics first

Avoid overcommitting to extracurricular activities at the expense of your academic performance. Even the most thoughtfully planned out schedule experiences conflicts from time to time. Perhaps you have a Math exam on the same day as an important presentation in your Entrepreneur club. You want to do the best you can in both activities, but you only have time for one.

In these instances, we advise that you put your academic goals first, as a strong academic performance provides a strong foundation for your application. Extracurriculars are undoubtedly important, but admission officers care much more about your academic performance overall.

Therefore, when it comes down to it, students should always opt for maximizing their academics. This does not mean you should ignore extracurricular activities altogether. It only means that when conflicts arise, you should prioritize your academics. If you have a lot of schedule conflicts, however, it might be time for you to reconsider your responsibilities. You might be biting off more than you can chew!

#4. Take breaks

Last but definitely not least, find time to take breaks. Rest is important to prevent you from feeling burnt out. The college application process is a long, arduous one that demands stamina. If you don’t take breaks, even the least amount of schoolwork or extracurricular responsibilities will become overwhelming, and you will find yourself out of steam quickly.

To remind yourself to take breaks, you can physically block off rest time on your calendar. Budget a few minutes in your day for breathing exercises. Take a walk. Listen to music. Whatever you prefer, give your mind and body time to recover. Remember, if you are tired, your performance will go down, be it in school or during club events.

Conclusion

Balancing school and extracurricular activities is no easy task. We hope that the four strategies above will help you manage your responsibilities more smoothly. Adding an extracurricular activity to your list can help you improve your time-management ability and hone transferable skills. However, remember to choose your commitment wisely, and don’t overcommit so that you can maintain a strong academic performance. Lastly, make sure to take breaks as appropriate, so you can recharge your energy to continue on this long journey. Good luck!


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