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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.
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.
|Intern, Congresswoman||Interned in Washington DC in a team of three; wrote 25+ letters addressing constituent concerns; attended 20+ hearings & briefings.|
|Intern, Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition||Spread awareness & outreach regarding human trafficking; delivered 5+ bilingual seminars at the Mexican Consulate on recognizing signs of forced labor trade.|
|Intern & Office Manager, Ammar Campa-Najjar Campaign||Managed day-to-day tasks such as training volunteers for a congressional campaign; crafted promotional materials in English & Spanish.|
|Participant, Entrepreneurship Summer Program||Conceptualized & prototyped smartband for people w/ panic disorder; conducted market research w/ 281 ppl; devised business plan; pitched to 8 investors|
|Summer Research Intern, News Service||Researched on Recurrent Neural Networks (NN) for automatic identification of named entities in local language; worked on an NN architecture to enhance accuracy|
|Intern, Law Firm||1 of 4 selected interns; competition department; conducted economic research and prepared memos|
Looking for internship opportunities? Check out Crimson Careers!
|Founder & Leader, Fun Maths Problem Solving Society||Recruited 40+; weekly problem-solving sessions' divided sets from "Superbrain Collection"; invited guest speakers; shared passion for maths.|
|Competitor, Various Maths Competitions||Qualified for British Maths Olympiad in Y12; qualified for Intermediate Maths Olympiad in Y11; High Gold Intermediate Maths Challenge in Y11.|
|Team B Captain, National Ocean Sciences Bowl||Organized biweekly practices & prepared a team of five for competition; expanded knowledge on environmental science topics such as Maine policy & geography.|
|Student, College Prep||Behavioral Neuroscience (received A+, 3 credits); Social Psychology (A, 3 credits); wrote analysis on "Narcissism and Social Media"|
|Founder, Neuroscience Society||Led weekly workshops; recruited 16 members; campaigned during Science Awareness Week for neuroscience; shadowed clinical neurologist|
|Author, Physics Study Guide||Spent two years compiling strategies to approach the study of physics; wrote a 50-page study guide; released ebook for free; reached 3000+ downloads|
|Vice President, Kalliope Organization Committee||Initiated school's first charity green fashion show; liaised with designers, models and performers' attracted 600+ audiences; raised 1K+ for bursary fund.|
|President and Founder (Volunteer)||Founded a youth-run charity that prophecies literature opportunities to rural, migrant areas and developing countries that cannot afford English texts.|
|Violinist (Volunteer)||Violinist in a string trip to raise money for NSQ Kids in Need and the Australian Chamber Orchestra Music Education Program for Disadvantaged Kids.|
|VP of Community Service, Int. Student Association||Hosted orientation events for 100+ students; organized fundraisers for international social issues; raised money for Save the Children|
|Volunteer & Fundraiser, Service Trip||Over $10,000 through various fundraising; assembled school supply care packages; crafted lessons & taught at schools in East Timor|
|Vice Chair, NGO||Supervise 20 students; liaise with NGO for goal setting; lead development of a machine to convert plastics into bricks to address pollution|
Extracurriculars Around the World
|Community Leader, Oaktree (largest youth-led organization)||Worked closely with CEO to develop alternative curricula to use in developing countries; raised AUD 5K.|
|Secretary and Spokesperson, Cancer Action Network||Advocated NSW government to pass legislation for AUD 100M for palliative care access to lower socioeconomic classes.|
|Co-President, Tikkun Olam (Jewish cultural group)||Organized a field trip to the Holocaust museum for 100+; planned Holocaust awareness assembly with 400+; planned cultural events promoting Jewish heritage.|
|Founder, Child Rights Group||Working w/ NGOs in India to develop computer solutions aimed at addressing issues like child abuse & food deprivation; running a crowdfunding campaign|
|Founder and Executive Director, Special Needs Charity||Set up chapters and operation in 7 countries, led inclusion campaign with 20 organisations, published regional school council journal article, keynote speaker at International event.|
|Regional Director, Climate Activist Group||Spoke for 7000+ viewers, organised an event with 43 countries, helped organise a global activism day.|
|Cross Country, Cross Country Captain||Leading the cross country squad/finishing second in the competition; qualifying for the independent school's representative team.|
|Basketball, Power Forward in First/Second Squad||Playing in the firsts and seconds throughout the basketball season in the highly competitive GPS/CAS competition.|
|Lacrosse, Defenseman, MDCHS Crusaders Varsity Lacrosse||Attended daily practices; started in games twice a week; chosen as captain in three games during the season.|
|Team Captain and Starting Pitcher, Softball||Starting pitcher; elected team captain in Junior year; planned and led practices with coaches; learned a brand new sport|
|Team Manager, JV Girls Basketball||Organized game schedule with opposing teams; managed scorebook during games; assisted coaches with managing practices|
|Player, Netball Team||Schools Grade Grand Finalists 2017; Semifinalists 2016; Semifinalists 2015; promoted to offensive play due to improved fitness & fundamentals|
|Connections, Royal National Theatre of London||Selected to an international network of dramatists and actors; attended workshops; performed in theatre festivals (including Brazil Connections Festival).|
|House Drama Captain, Playwright and Publicist||School performing arts festival; wrote, directed, organized rehearsals, lighting/sound for a school play.|
|Musical Theatre Group, Member||Vocal coaching, backstage, jazz/tap/contemporary dance training and acting with former Broadway actors. Restaged musicals in Off-Broadway theatres.|
|Lead roles, Drama and Stage Productions||Auditioned and selected to perform in the Hindi Street Plays and Drama Productions; performed as a dancer in the Dance Production|
|Co-President, School Music Council||Led team of 20 students to organize & promote 20+ events all across campus; vocal & jazz concerts, musical showcases; coordinated with music faculty|
|Co-President, Acapella Group||Led team of 17 all girls performers; arranged all pieces; arranged performance opportunities within school: revisit days, fundraisers, concerts|
|Alto Singer, Choir||Weekly practices; 6 performances a year, including during revisit days, choral concerts, and Christmas gatherings|
|Violinist, Member of First Violins||Grade 7 with Merit Trinity London Certificate; AMEB Theory of Music Grades 1-4; played in Symphony, Senior Chamber, Chamber and Studio Orchestras|
|Classically Trained Pianist||Diploma in Piano with Distinction; AMEB CMus Diploma; 2nd and 4th place for Open Piano Solo '16 and '18|
|Classically Trained Cellist||Auditioned & selected for Youth Orchestra Philharmonic; lead cellist semi-pro orchestra; Regional School Spectacular Orchestra|
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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