Applying to college is a stressful undertaking that officially begins at the beginning of your senior year. You should start to think about how to make yourself stand out among applicants during during grade 9 to 11. Universities will analyze a range of documents including your transcript, letters of recommendation, test scores, awards you may have received, and especially your extracurricular activities. If you haven’t joined any clubs, sports, or organizations yet, don’t worry! It’s never too late to join.
Even though GPA and test scores are important, extracurricular activities play a crucial role in the admissions process. Colleges view thousands and thousands of applications each year. Admission counselors have to make decisions based on a small amount of paperwork. Extracurricular activities are excellent ways for universities to gain insight on the applicant’s personality, dedication, and time management skills. If a student is able to maintain decent grades while participating in several activities outside of the classroom, that illustrates organization and management capabilities in addition to the student's motivation. Furthermore, if you are a student who is involved in numerous clubs, sports, etc., and earn average grades, the extracurriculars balance out the student's GPA. It is worse if a student has a 90 or above GPA, but doesn’t get involved in any other extracurricular activities.
So, what counts as an extracurricular activity? Basically, anything that doesn’t include taking a class in school. Working part-time, volunteering, joining a club or sports teams, performing arts, or starting a small business all count, plus more!
It’s extremely important to be a part of something to increase your chances of being accepted into college. You should start to think about what organizations fit your needs and personality best. Ask yourself questions such as: Are there leadership roles available? Are there ample opportunities for volunteering or other meaningful work? What is the purpose, and does it align with your goals? Is the club/sport/organization meaningful? Will I become a better person by being a part of it? Do I like competition or being in the spotlight? Or would I rather be behind the scenes?
It is strongly recommended to join a handful of extracurriculars. Make sure you maintain a manageable load so you can still focus on school and get good grades. The Common App has 10 slots for extracurricular activities, but that may be too many; four to six is ideal. Choose a handful that you can stay dedicated to and truly make a difference with throughout time. Colleges would much rather see that you have been loyal and devoted to a small amount of extracurriculars. Taking on leadership roles and creating initiatives are more beneficial than joining 8 or more clubs and stretching yourself thin.
Extracurriculars can also help you determine what your interests are. That’s why it’s important to have a wide array of choices. Students who join the Debate Team may realize they want to be a lawyer. Or, students who hold leadership positions in Student Government might decide to get involved in local, state, or federal governments. In addition, sometimes extracurriculars can create a network for you. The more people you meet and know, the more knowledge you’ll gain and more opportunities you’ll have. Advisors and coaches can write personal letters of recommendation for you and potentially help you get internships or even a job! Besides, you can even earn scholarships based on your extracurricular activities.
Colleges want to admit students who will stay focused, work hard, and graduate within four years. Studies have shown that high schoolers who take part in a range of activities typically do well in their classes and learn how to balance their schedules. Being active in school and in your community equates to caring, persevering, and being committed.
Remember, feel confident to start something new no matter what grade you are in. Here is a general timeline that can help you be an active member within extracurriculars.
Grade 9: Join your school club fair or show up to try outs for a sports team you are interested in. You also want to pay attention to flyers at the grocery store, church, or listen through word of mouth for job openings, volunteering and service opportunities, and/or hobbies. Within the four years of high school, you can try to escape your comfort zone and explore new things such as the Key Club, Debate Team, Student Government, a sports team you’re interested in, Multicultural Club, a Language Club, or an art or performance club (specific details below). It is a great opportunity to get involved in something new rather than the old and familiar ones. Take a leap!
Grade 10: This would be the time to focus solely on activities that are a good fit for you. Begin to focus on 4-6 activities that you are invested in. Focus on your interests, goals, and growth. Observe the structure, process, and organization of the club/sport/organization more closely and grasp a better understanding of how and why things are done. Start to think about leadership roles for the next two years and how you can contribute more to make a positive difference. Each club has officer positions such as the president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and sometimes a student liaison; all of which have specific roles to run and manage the clubs. Sports teams have captains and co-captains which entail leading warmup and drills, encouraging teammates, and instilling a positive morale and mindset to the entire team. Student Government leadership roles are especially important as these positions represent an entire student class and/or the school. More specific details are below.
Grade 11: This is the most important year for you to showcase your abilities and dedication. Run for leadership positions that display your strengths. If you are organized and detail oriented, being a secretary would be a great choice. If you like math and are good with numbers, a treasurer position is ideal. If you can give voice to something, delegate, lead discussions, make decisions, and solve problems, a vice-president or president position might be in your horizon. You can also search for internships and begin networking. Ask your guidance counselor if there are any local businesses that team up with your high school and offer internships to students. Common internships involve: acting as an aide or clerk to a lawyer or judge, assisting with paperwork and office management in a doctor’s office or hospital, helping an entrepreneur with everyday office and computer tasks, and working at a corporation in various departments, helping people with organizing, analyzing, and inputting data. Many students also enjoy interning at engineering and technology firms if those are their areas of interest. Putting your name out there and illustrating a positive work ethic can result in getting an excellent letter of recommendation. People may also be willing to help get you an interview or job in the future.
Grade 12: If you haven’t joined an extracurricular activity at all during high school, now is the time to do so! Participating for the first time is better than not participating at all. Try something new that you’ve always wanted to do. It is worth to seek out your coach or advisor for letters of recommendation so they can speak to you about your abilities. Whatever you do, don’t join more than 8 clubs or activities all at once at the beginning of your senior year. That will set off a red flag. Colleges will think you don’t genuinely care about the organizations and are just trying to get into college.
If you’re looking for some guidance on specific extracurricular activities, here are some popular groups that present skills and traits that colleges and universities look for:
Key Club–This is a student-led international club that is recognized around the world for community service. There are numerous leadership opportunities and chances to make the world a better place. Service project ideas are welcomed by all!
National Honors Society (NHS)–Applying to and being accepted into the NHS is prestigious and honorable. There is a minimum GPA (85 or 3.0) that supports your intelligence and work ethic. Also, recommendations from teachers are mandatory for acceptance. This represents your good character, respect for others, and reliability. NHS also requires community service hours which colleges like.
Student Government–Do you want to help make decisions for your school community and class? What about planning events, activities, fundraisers, and/or creating policies? Then join the student government! Colleges value students who are in student government because they are elected by their peers and take on a lot of responsibility. You will be the voice and face of your class.
Debate Team–This is an excellent choice to increase time management, problem solving, as well as communication and public speaking skills. You will gain knowledge on how to work with others, state claims and/or counterclaims, and provide a rebuttal; all skills that are essential in college level writing. You’ll also be in a competitive and fun environment!
Multicultural Clubs–Broaden your horizons and learn about different cultures throughout the world. Colleges love to see this type of a club on an application. Most college campuses are diverse and support diversity and inclusiveness. You’ll advocate for equality and increase awareness of cultures in your school. The more you know about the world, the better off you’ll be.
Internship(s)–Participating in one or more internships while in high school is highly recommended. Colleges love to admit students who have already gained experience in a career field. Having an internship shows dedication, motivation, and determination. You will also have a better understanding of what you do or don’t want to do as a career. This can help you decide which colleges to apply to.
Athletics–Joining a sports team is fun and creates a friendly and family type atmosphere among teammates. Being on a team also illustrates commitment and hard work. Sports consume numerous hours each week which shows dedication. You can set a goal to become a captain and lead your team members while assisting your coach. There are plenty of options for everyone throughout the school year.
Other organizations to think about joining are the Newspaper Club, Chorus or Vocal Ensemble, Band, Art Club, Students Against Destructive Decisions (S.A.D.D), Medical Explorers, Future Business Leaders of America, and Drama. All of these are wonderful options to gain skills and help others.
When it’s time for you to fill out the Common App, make sure to highlight skills that will make you look desirable. Skills to focus on are: leadership, problem solving, collaboration, innovation, organization, time management, and dedication. You want to explain how you displayed these skills while participating in your extracurricular activities. Additionally, some of your service, planning, and advocacy work from extracurricular activities can be used to shape your Common App essay. There are seven writing prompts to choose from, and several of them could incorporate extracurricular experience.
Being a well-rounded student means earning high grades and participating in several extracurriculars. It is “easy” to get A’s when school is the only focus. Colleges are looking for students that can do well in school and contribute to the campus community. Giving, helping others, critically thinking, solving problems, and collaborating with others can all be done within extracurricular activities. Essential skills needed to be successful in college are formed and refined when balancing betweeb academics and clubs, sports, etc. Seek out your school club fair, talk to teachers and guidance counselors, and reach out to peers to see which choices are the best for you!