Most U.S. universities ask for information on extracurricular activities in their application. Colleges use this information to see where in your life you’ve shown leadership or taken the initiative. They also use it to look at whether you’ve been involved in an area that is of relevance to your prospective major. In many cases, your letters of recommendation will mention these activities and corroborate your participation.
Showcase Your Extracurricular Activities
- Focus on passion and longevity, not number: It’s not really important to have a large number of extracurricular activities on your résumé. In fact, the opposite can be true. One parent had this question: “My son’s only extracurricular activity is that he plays chess. He has been playing for years and is ranked nationally. But he doesn’t have a lot of different interests. Is that a problem?” The answer, in this case, was emphatically no. For many university admissions officers, a student who has a passion and pursues it over many years, showing success and accomplishment, is someone they’d want in their community.
- Build leadership and excellence: The key isn’t any particular kind of extracurricular activity. Instead, it’s a track record of being involved in one set of extracurricular activities over a long period and showing excellence and leadership. One student that we worked with was a violinist and had played in the orchestra for years. As her community service activity, she played the violin for senior citizens at a retirement home. College admissions officers appreciate the passion and dedication of students like these.
- Connect to your identity: Where it’s appropriate, connect the extracurricular activities you’re involved with to your identity as a person. So for example, one student of Armenian descent started a club at school focused on Armenian history and led it for years. Another student, who is of Indian descent, is an accomplished Indian classical dancer. Admissions officers love those kinds of stories.
Focus on Careers and Scholarships
- Build bridges to a career: Showcase extracurricular interests that are related to your prospective major or career interest. For example, if you’d like to become a veterinarian, and have worked at an animal hospital as an intern, share that information.
- Think about scholarships: Many merit-based scholarships also consider your extracurricular activities. For scholarships that are based on your participation in an extracurricular activity, you’ll need to provide evidence of your participation. Ask your school counselor or coach for confirmation.
Coaching Can Help Build Your List Of Extracurricular Activities
One way to develop a well-defined list of your extracurricular activities is to work with a coach on LifeLaunchr and develop your personalized college assessment (see this for an example). Do this over all four years of high school. That way, when you apply to college, you have a well-developed list that you can prioritize and edit.
A Word of Caution
Remember, U.S. colleges and universities also operate on the honor system. There are very severe penalties (including expulsion) for violating the honor code. That code requires you to be honest in describing your extra-curricular activities. So be truthful!