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20 APR 2022
It used to be the case that the best college applicants had perfect test scores, top grades and well-rounded extracurriculars — but the admissions landscape is ever-evolving. As universities receive more applications every year, the baseline requirements to get accepted have changed. Now, top universities look for much more, especially when it comes to extracurriculars. Today’s admissions officers want to see proof of tremendous ambition and initiative, illustrated by a cohesive personal narrative.
Before we dive into the benefits of extracurricular activities for college hopefuls, let’s break down what they are within the context of your university admissions journey. By definition, extracurricular activities are “pursued in addition to the normal course of study.” When it comes to your college applications, though, extracurriculars are a bit more complex than this — they require a consistent time commitment, a degree of responsibility and initiative, and in the best cases, a level of leadership not demonstrated in the classroom.
Examples can include taking an online course in coding, starting a podcast, or even starting a business! However, the world of extracurriculars is truly limitless and taking on massive projects isn’t the only way to make admissions officers remember you. The authenticity and dedication they illustrate are much more important than the difficulty or grandeur of your extracurriculars.
This is the key reason it’s vital to get started early on building your extracurriculars throughout high school. Listing several extracurriculars on your application, but lacking any long-term commitments or leadership roles, instantly shows admissions officers that you joined clubs or started projects solely to make your activities list longer in anticipation of applying to universities. A shorter list of extracurriculars that show a longer-term commitment and progressive responsibility is much more valuable than a long list of activities you’ve only dabbled in.
Download our free eBook to see examples of successful Ivy League admits activities!
Now that you understand what extracurriculars are and how they add to your college applications, let’s break down why extracurricular activities are important for high school students.
Some students worry that participating in extracurriculars may take away too much time from their schoolwork, thus hurting their grades; however, extracurricular activities can improve your overall outlook on school!
Participating in activities you are passionate about can increase your brain function, and help you concentrate and manage your time better, all of which contribute to higher grades. High endurance sports, for example, will train you to focus and build stamina in the face of intense difficulty. This gives you an advantage when it comes to studying and taking exams.
Lots of studies have been conducted on the relationship between extracurricular activities and academic performance, and they all show that students who participate in them have higher grades, more positive attitudes toward school and higher academic aspirations.
When you participate in different activities, you’ll get the opportunity to explore a range of interests and unlock passions you never knew you had! Plus, diversifying your interests broadens your worldview.
Think about it this way: if you join a philosophy club, you’ll begin to look at the world through the eyes of a budding philosopher.
When you succeed in the activities you love, your self-confidence will improve. For example, let’s say you’re really good at math and your teacher encourages you to get involved in competitions. You decide to join the school team and start training for the national Math Olympiad. You realize how fun math can be and how talented you actually are during the process, which gives your confidence a massive boost.
Working hard and mastering new skills in a fun, relaxed – and sometimes competitive – setting allows you to be successful without the pressure of getting a good grade. Plus, once your confidence improves, you’ll be more open to taking risks in all aspects of your life, not just in Math Olympiads.
Let’s be honest. Making friends can be challenging, but one of the easiest ways is through extracurricular activities! Each extracurricular you engage in provides you with another opportunity to expand your social network, which will also come in handy when you’re looking for a job.
Plus, if you make friends in your extracurricular activities, you’ll be more likely to get more deeply involved. For example, if you make a few friends doing community service at school, you might decide to start a volunteer club together and really impact your community!
Extracurricular activities give you something fun to do aside from school. It also gives you the chance to explore your passions to discover things you may be interested in beyond academics while taking some time off hitting the book. For example, you could learn how to start a podcast!
Take the much needed break. You deserve it!
On top of all the benefits of extracurricular activities, we already discussed, one of the greatest advantages extracurricular activities give you is “real world” skills.
These skills include (but are not limited to):
The more you push yourself in your extracurricular endeavours, the more you’ll develop these skills. If you’re passionate about coding, you might join the school coding club, where you’ll develop teamwork, problem-solving and analytical thinking skills.
But you could take that passion even further and create your own coding club, where you’ll develop goal setting, time management, prioritisation, leadership and public speaking skills. Learn more about how you can turn an idea into a portfolio of leadership projects.
Phew! That’s a lot of responsibility. Each and every step will teach you a new skill you can use for the rest of your life.
Without previous work experience, one of the only ways hiring managers can assess your ability and work ethic is through your extracurricular activities.
For example, if you were on a debating team, the manager would know that you work well with others, can argue a point professionally and have public speaking experience - all awesome skills to have in the workplace!
It’s nearly impossible to get into any university in the US or UK without extracurricular activities. Universities in the US & UK want to see that you’ve gone above and beyond in your intended area of study and have made a difference and/or excelled in your field.
If you want to major in chemistry, a UK university is more likely to accept you if you’ve joined a chemistry club, taken extra chemistry courses at your local university and volunteered in a lab.
Although that sounds like a lot, extracurricular activities are even more important to US universities. In fact, extracurricular activities and leadership account for about 30% of your application!
US universities don’t limit you to just one passion. If you want to study science and love filmmaking, get involved in scriptwriting, directing, international film competitions, and movie nights that raise money for environmental science. If you’re the president of your school’s science club, you’ll increase your chances of getting into your dream university.
US colleges want to see specific things from your extracurricular activities. Make sure your activities are ticking the following boxes to increase your chances of getting in:
In collaboration with current and former admissions officers from eight top universities, including Dartmouth, Stanford, and Oxford, Crimson's product team created a first-of-its-kind tool that helps you stand out in your extracurriculars.
Pathfinder is a comprehensive in-app tool that quantifies the value of high school extracurriculars in the context of college admissions success. Every student’s Pathfinder looks different because it’s customized to their interests, needs, and objectives. This intelligent tool helps students stay on track as they prepare to apply to competitive US schools.
Pathfinder is a groundbreaking tool designed exclusively for Crimson Education’s students. Check out the Crimson Pathfinder introduction video to learn more. If you have further questions, contact one of our Crimson advisors.
Introduction to Crimson Pathfinder
Although you probably participate in activities outside of school, think about the benefits of extracurricular activities and how to maximise your passions. The lessons you’ll learn from participating in meaningful extracurricular activities will help you get a job, apply to universities, and live a meaningful life.
What are you waiting for? Go join a club, start an online class or volunteer today!
Crimson Education is the world’s leading university admissions support company specialising in helping students gain entry to some of the world’s most competitive universities. Our holistic approach provides support across all areas of the US and UK university application process. We assist you in finding your best-fit university, creating a personalised roadmap, acing your standardised tests, crafting the perfect essay, building candidacy through extracurriculars, and more. Find out more about our Admissions Support program.