How Important are Extracurricular Activities in the College Application Process?

By: Caroline Koppelman

Think of extracurriculars like a side dish at a restaraunt. They may not be the main event, but they’re chosen deliberately by the chef and without them you’d be disappointed and left with an incomplete meal. The extracurriculars are not the main portion of your application—your grades, scores, and essays will always be more important—but your application, like your meal, would be incomplete without them. You need to decide which activities are going to be the best for you, keeping in mind that they need to elevate you and bring out your best qualities. Colleges don’t want students who spend all their time in the classroom and the library. The more active a member of the community, the better you are as a candidate.

Students can definitely fall into traps when it comes to selecting their extracurriculars. Some people choose way too many and pepper their application with a litany of clubs, teams, and organizations, none of which stand out. It’s okay to do this when you’re a freshman, but by senior year you need to have distilled down the activities which you are most involved in and most passionate about. Like we've mentioned, college are often looking for extremes. They want students who are very focused in particular areas. They do not want someone who is a member of five clubs; they want someone who is the president and founder of one or two clubs which they have shown dedication to.

Students also make the mistake of not explaining their role in each club. When you go to fill out the activities portion of the common app, you will want to be able to talk about each activity, not simply say “you were a member.” Your extracurriculars help paint a picture of who you are and what you love. There are so many different ways to fill your free time, so you must be intentional with your activities. Take some time to really think about which activities you love most, and put 100% into them.

Extracurriculars can also bolster the effectiveness of your essays. Our students will often tell us that they want to study economics (or government or business, etc.) in college, and we always ask them how they know that. They say that they “just know.” Although this may very well be true, colleges like to see a demonstrated interested in the subject. So, if you write all of your essays on entrepreneurship but have never had any role in starting a business, your essay will not be very compelling or deep. Thus, extracurriculars help support the claims you make to the college regarding what major you hope to study.

At the end of the day, your extracurriculars will not make up 200 points on the SAT. They are not going to turn a B into an A+, and no college is going to accept you solely based on them. They are a part of a well-balanced application. You must be intentional with your time and how you choose to spend it so that the admissions committee can get a better understanding of who you are. But, they can add a unique perspective to your application and push you into the ‘accepted’ pile.