Best extracurricular activities for college applications

“What are the best extracurricular activities for college applications?” I hear this question often, but the answer is simple: Do what you’re genuinely interested in, and sustain that activity.

Why do what you’re interested in?

If you’re going to spend a lot of time on an activity, it should be one that you actually want to engage in. Doing something you’re interested in means that you will likely be more invested in making it a success.

When I was in high school, my friend got me interested in the speech and debate team. Practicing my speeches and competing at tournaments took a lot of time.  However, I had a genuine interest in what I was doing, so I was happy to commit the time.

Being interested in an activity doesn’t have to mean you’re passionate about it. Interest and passion are different. Being interested in an activity could mean that you find it to be purposeful, and that’s why you want to do it. You might find a particular activity to be challenging and not exactly what you love.  At the same time, you want to continue because you feel you’re making an impact.

What’s a sustained activity?

The best extracurricular activities are ones that you consistently do over the long-term.

I joined the speech and debate team in the tenth grade and continued through senior year. That’s 3 solid years (4 years would have been ideal). I got really into the expository category of speeches and went to the state championship twice. (Expository wasn’t a national category at the time, so it wasn’t possible for me to make the national championship.) My memory is a bit fuzzy now, but I ranked in or near the top 10 in the state. I became good at what I was doing because I started early in high school and kept at it.

You personally won’t get much out of doing very short-term activities. Moreover, it would be hard to make an impact through short blips of effort. Besides, colleges are more impressed by a couple of long-term activities than a laundry list of short-term activities that each require little time.

Your College Advisors Guide to A is for Admission

Final Thoughts

Choose a couple of activities that you truly want to do, and make it a marathon that stretches across your time in high school.

As with everything, there’s a caveat. Some students have no choice but to work to earn an income, in which case, you can’t necessarily go for a genuine interest. Nonetheless, holding a job to earn income in itself is impressive, and you’ll learn so much from the experience. Admissions officers will also appreciate your hard work because showing a sense of responsibility matters in college applications.

(Photo: UC Davis College of Engineering)


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