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You'll get into a top college if you get good grades and achieve high test scores, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, many high school students believe grades and test scores are the only pieces of the college application that matter. They spend all their time studying and spend very little time on extracurricular activities. While grades and test scores matter, the college application contains many important sections, including the extracurricular activities list, designed to give admissions teams a holistic picture of you.
When college admissions officers review applications, they want to see students who have well-rounded backgrounds. They look at grades, test scores, extracurriculars, essays, and letters of recommendation! Neglecting any of these pieces weakens the application and lessens the chances of getting into a top university.
An extracurricular activity is anything that falls outside the scope of a regular curriculum. It typically doesn't carry academic credit but can be related to school. For example, athletics and student clubs are considered extracurricular activities. Hobbies, interests, and volunteer work outside of school are also considered extracurricular activities.
While grades and the coursework difficulty matter most, extracurriculars for college matter more than you may think. In a world of rising application numbers and an increase in the number of students reporting stellar test scores and top grades, admissions officers are relying more heavily on the extracurriculars to determine whether a student will gain admission.
Additionally, if you participate in (or lead) extracurricular activities, you typically possess the types of character qualities, and professional skills admissions officers look for in potential students, including:
You cannot learn these skills in an academic setting. You learn them through experience and participating in high school extracurricular activities.
Most colleges allow any activity outside of classes to count as an extracurricular. It doesn't matter if the high school endorses the activity or if it's an activity you do through another organization or even on your own.
The type of extracurricular doesn't matter as much as why you're doing it. Colleges want to see you use extracurriculars to pursue your passion, experience something meaningful, increase your knowledge in your academic interest, or showcase your leadership abilities. Admissions teams want to know what you've learned, how you've grown, and how you might add depth and breadth to their student body.
Don't be tempted to sign up for every club, participate in all sports, babysit, start a part-time job, and volunteer. The quality of your extracurriculars matters much more than how many are on your list. Colleges aren't looking for a laundry list of extracurricular activities. They're more interested in how these activities shaped you as a person. The commitment you show in your high school extracurriculars over a more extended period means more than being a member of many clubs for a short period.
Participating in dozens of extracurriculars is not necessary. While there is no perfect number of extracurriculars, the Common App only gives you ten tabs on the Activities List page. If you're near the end of high school, there's a high likelihood that you have participated in at least 10 extracurriculars over your four years in high school, so you should narrow down your list to the ones that mean the most to you and your future goals.
If you're in the early years of high school and trying to figure out which extracurriculars to join, here are some questions you can ask yourself before you add another extracurricular to your schedule.
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Below is a sample list of extracurricular activities (divided into categories) that Crimson students have done that helped them get into Ivy League and other top universities.
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Extracurriculars Around the World
For even more extracurricular activity lists that got Crimson students into schools like Stanford, Yale, Princeton, UChicago, and more, and our top five tips on negotiating the Activities section in the Common app, check out our popular 15 Successful Activities Lists eBook.
Crimson recently launched Pathfinder - a comprehensive in-app tool that helps you quantify the value of your achievements, including extracurricular activities, and helps you prepare for college.
Contained within the Crimson app, Pathfinder is a master list of everything you can do during school to increase your chances of admission to top universities. Pathfinder includes over 280 goals, each with an assigned point value based on how much admissions officers will value that achievement.
Pathfinder ensures you stay on track between now and when you apply to college. It accurately predicts your admission results (based on your achievements) with unbelievable accuracy. Combined with guidance from your personalized strategist, you'll become a master of your university applications!
Introduction to Crimson Pathfinder
Crimson's extracurricular mentors are graduates from the top universities our students aim to attend. Our mentors take great care in helping students build an impressive extracurricular profile. These profiles are essential to the application and show admissions officers that our students are passionate, active members of their communities who will ultimately be great contributors on campus.
Ready to tackle your activities list? Learn more about our US Admissions Program or Contact Crimson to get started!
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