The 7 Best Extracurricular Activities for College Applications

Extracurriculars can make a big difference during the admissions process. Learn more about how to choose these activities in our guide.
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Updated on May 5, 2023
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  • When preparing for college, extracurriculars are about quality, not quantity.
  • Choose activities that you enjoy, you excel at, and demonstrate leadership.
  • Different schools place different values on extracurricular activities.
  • For admission, extracurriculars are often less important than grades, course rigor, and test scores.

While different schools put different stock in extracurricular activities, almost every college considers them when deciding which students to admit. For example, the University of South Florida ranks extracurricular activities just behind grades, difficulty of coursework, and standardized test scores in terms of importance.

The right high school activities can make a big difference during the admissions process. In this guide, we cover the best extracurricular activities for college applications and answer frequently asked questions.

How Important Are Extracurricular Activities for College?

According to a study by California State University, Sacramento, extracurricular activities are positively correlated with attendance, GPA, test scores, and educational ambition.

Although this study deals with college students, schools often apply the same insights to applicants. The assumption is that students who get involved outside the classroom will make better additions to their campus communities.

Your involvement in high school extracurriculars can help you gain a competitive advantage when applying to college. These activities can also show what makes you unique beyond your transcripts and test scores while demonstrating leadership ability and a willingness to serve your community.

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What Kinds of Extracurricular Activities Should You Take?

You can pursue different types of extracurricular activities based on what interests you. The strongest applications include a blend of the following activities.

  • Academic Activities: Examples include quiz bowl, debate, model United Nations, pre-college programs, study abroad programs, and mock trial. These activities demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning beyond the classroom and an interest in furthering your education. Colleges love to see academic activities on applications.
  • Community Activities: These activities include service or volunteering with local organizations. Possible groups include Habitat for Humanity, Room in the Inn, food banks, and family shelters. Colleges value these activities because they show you care about other people and will likely contribute to the campus community.
  • Personality Activities: Personality activities emphasize to colleges who you are beyond your grades, test scores, and application. They make you a unique person who jumps off the page. Examples include sports and scouting.

What Are the Best Extracurriculars for College?

The following seven activities are among your best options for impressing colleges. Keep in mind that there are plenty of activities beyond this list, including travel. Be intentional and strategic about the types of activities you include on your application. You don't need to list everything, but you do need to highlight your best activities.

1. Leadership Work and Positions

Colleges seek out applicants with leadership experience. Leadership can demonstrate a commitment to your interests and passions and the ability to make a difference in the campus community once you arrive. Examples of leadership include Eagle Scout, Gold Award, editor of the school newspaper, sports team captain, and student council positions.

If you really enjoy a particular activity, consider throwing your hat in the ring for leadership positions. You can grow personally, and your college application could receive a boost.

2. Part-Time Jobs

Colleges love to see part-time jobs on applications. Work experience can spotlight your work ethic and experience in a professional environment. It also may demonstrate an ability to support yourself and earn your own money, even if you live with your parents.

Furthermore, work experience can show your ability to succeed in an environment different from the classroom. It can tell admissions departments that you can contribute to campus life beyond academics.

3. Sports and Athletic Participation

Admissions departments like to see participation in sports from prospective students. Playing team sports can show a willingness to collaborate with others and work toward a collective goal beyond individual glory. Playing a school or club sport can demonstrate drive, commitment, and time-management skills.

Most colleges offer intramural, club, and varsity sports, so athletes are often able to keep pursuing what they enjoy at some level once they get to campus.

4. Academic Clubs and Teams

Activities like debate, chess club, model United Nations, and mock trial can demonstrate your interest in learning and knowledge beyond just coursework. Admissions departments may see your commitment and drive, since you're choosing to complete additional academic work beyond the requirements of your high school diploma.

Participating in academic clubs and teams often demonstrates some of the same characteristics as playing team sports: teamwork, dedication, and a commitment to a collective goal.

5. Artistic and Creative Pursuits

Artistic and creative pursuits like painting, drawing, sculpting, graphic design, fashion design, theater, music, and dance can emphasize your ability to think and create in visionary ways. As a result, colleges love seeing these activities on prospective students' applications.

Acting in plays, playing in bands, and participating on dance teams requires collaboration, coordination, and a commitment to a larger goal — all qualities that may help convince admissions departments you'll make a great addition to their communities.

6. Volunteering and Community Service

Volunteer experiences and community service demonstrate that you care about the world around you. Building homes with Habitat for Humanity, serving meals at Room in the Inn, or sorting cans at your local food bank can all help stress your commitment to service, in addition to making your community a better place.

Volunteer work and community service can indicate to colleges what they may be getting in return for accepting you, emphasizing how you may contribute to the campus community beyond just attending class.

7. Internships

If you're applying to a specific program or school within a college, relevant internships can be a powerful addition to your application. These experiences indicate your interest and experience in a particular field and can provide a helpful perspective for you to bring to relevant coursework.

In addition to preparing you for college-level coursework, interning with a nonprofit or local business can raise your chances of getting into more selective colleges.

While internships are usually reserved for college students, several opportunities are available to high school students.

Frequently Asked Questions About Extracurricular Activities

How many extracurricular activities should you have?

Most colleges look for depth in a few areas as opposed to a blatant, calculated stack of extracurricular activities. In the end, extracurriculars are about quality, not quantity, so try not to worry about having a specific number of activities or blank spaces to fill.

Choose activities that align with what you genuinely enjoy, what demonstrates your leadership ability, what you're good at, and your career goals.

Are hobbies extracurricular activities?

It depends on the hobby. In most cases, hobbies qualify as extracurricular activities, especially if you perform them in an organized or official capacity or as part of a club or team. Extracurricular activities must also take place with some regularity. If you volunteer with Habitat for Humanity once, it doesn't count. However, if you volunteer multiple times over an extended period of time, you should list those builds on your application.

If you're not sure whether your hobby qualifies as an extracurricular activity, ask your high school guidance counselor.

Is travel an extracurricular activity?

Travel for its own sake is not an extracurricular activity. If you travel for a purpose — for example, to participate in a service project with a church or nonprofit organization or to take classes at a school or language institute — then you can list that activity on your application.

If you're unsure whether your travel qualifies as an extracurricular activity, speak to your high school guidance counselor.

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