How to Improve Your Extracurriculars if you are Applying to College Right Now

Let’s talk about Charles. He does a lot of extracurricular activities. His commitments include:

  • Treasurer, Student government
  • Volunteer Club committee
  • Vice President of the Finance Club
  • Soccer team
  • Babysitter

Relatively impressive and a line-up of a few things that seem like they must be a significant commitment. Ultimately, though, is Charles really “on” all of these things? He is more “in” these clubs and commitments because he attends meetings every week, or practice a few times a week. His commitment is relatively surface-level because he hasn’t done anything to add to or innovate these groups. He joined half of them because he knew that “extracurriculars matter for college” but the passion isn’t there when you talk to him about it.

Sound familiar? So, what should Charles do for his activities section of his Common App? This is the lesson in framing. It’s all about order, format, and information.

Prioritize the activities that you have invested more time in and have something to show for it. If Charles moved up from being a founding member his freshman year to being a secretary his sophomore year to being the Vice President of the Finance Club by his senior year, then that is something to highlight. He has invested time and moved up in the ranks. Though Student Government is arguably “better,” Charles was newly elected his junior year. He hasn’t invested the time that he has into the Finance Club, and thus we suggest that Charles list the Finance Club first on his activities list. And he needs to mention all of his positions to illustrate a steady rise to power.

To be clear: we aren’t saying be dishonest. At all. Don’t ever lie on your college application. Let’s be clear in that. We are saying that it’s necessary to think critically about what activities you have truly invested in. There are certain activities that students have contributed to more than others, and those are the activities that we recommend our students highlight.

Prioritize, emphasize, and make sure that any organization that you’ve moved up the ranks in is at the top of your list. Your activities list should be ordered in reverse chronological order and prioritized by time invested, as well as these considerations above. Make sure that when you’re writing your activities that you highlight any changes that you can own that you made within the organization.

As for what you should do about your senior year and extracurriculars, make sure that you don’t drop them all and really take the time to consider how you spend your time. We always suggest devoting the most significant amount of time to the organization within which you can make the most change. Yes, title is important, but actions within speak more, particularly if you can write about them or speak to them in your application or your alumni interview.

If you have any lingering questions, please reach out to us. We have a lot of information about the entire application, but the activities section is pretty important and we’d love to help you make yours as great as it can be.