Showcase Your Extracurricular Activities

by | May 17, 2020

Explaining a student’s extracurricular activities is an integral part of the “holistic” admissions process at U.S. universities. And for students applying in the shadow of a pandemic, these will be even more important, as colleges move to make standardized tests optional, and many schools have moved education online. 

Colleges use a student’s extracurricular activities information to understand where they’ve shown leadership or taken the initiative. They also use it to learn whether a student has previously explored their prospective major. In many cases, a student’s letters of recommendation should mention these activities and corroborate your participation.

Showcase Your Extracurricular Activities

One myth about extracurricular activities we often hear from parents is that students should have lots of activities. But the truth is that colleges look for passion and longevity, not number: It’s not essential 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.

Extracurricular activities, along with a student’s essays, recommendations, and other application material, help contribute to what Harvard’s reading criteria call the “positive effect this person might have throughout his or her life.” So, in choosing extracurricular activities, choose ones where you can 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.

It’s appropriate to 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 origin, is an accomplished Indian classical dancer. Admissions officers love those kinds of stories.

Focus on Careers and Scholarships

Extracurricular activities can be a great way to explore potential careers. For example, some students will take an online course in computer programming or data science because they might be interested in studying that subject in college. One student who had an interest in studying sports medicine spent her summer working at a sports physician’s clinic. Showcasing extracurricular interests related to your prospective career interest can help colleges see what you’re passionate about.

Many merit-based scholarships also consider your extracurricular activities. For scholarships based on your participation in an extracurricular activity, you’ll need to provide evidence of your involvement. 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

A Word of Caution

Remember, U.S. colleges and universities also operate on a rigorous honor system. There are severe penalties (including expulsion) for violating the honor code. That code requires you to be honest in describing your extracurricular activities. So be truthful!

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Venkates Swaminathan

Venkates Swaminathan

Venkates Swaminathan (Swami) is the founder and CEO of LifeLaunchr, the world's first virtual college admissions coaching platform, and a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Swami has been an executive in the education and technology industries for over 25 years. He has an M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois, and a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. He is the father of a child in college, and in his spare time, he is a jazz and Indian classical singer and pianist.

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