Make Extracurricular Activities Count for Your College

​Participating in extracurricular activities is an important part of your overall education. It's not just about having fun outside of classes; it's also about building key skills like discipline, determination, commitment, and communication. Plus, you get to make new friends and social connections. Not only can these activities set you apart from others in your college applications, but they also give you a place to explore your passions and build skills that contribute to your personal growth.   
Our advice? Get involved in sports, clubs, or any activity that sparks your interest. These experiences will make your high school years more enjoyable and rewarding, while also providing valuable skills to prepare you for future success. 

What Are Extracurricular Activities?

Extracurricular activities are all the ongoing things you do outside your regular classes, including sports, clubs, community service, arts, and other activities that help you grow in different ways. 

Why Are Extracurricular Activities Important for College?

Extracurriculars are important because they show colleges that you're not just about academics. They show colleges that you have a wide range of interests and skills, and that you’re able to stick to your commitments. Colleges are looking for well-rounded students, so being active in sports, clubs, or volunteering can help your application stand out by highlighting your dedication, leadership, and ability to handle responsibilities outside of your core academics. 

Importance of Extracurricular Activities and Your ACT Scores 

According to ACT research, involvement in high school activities is often associated with earning higher ACT Composite scores, regardless of a student’s GPA.

In addition, colleges appreciate hard work and want to attract students who have interests and strengths beyond the books. ​​In some cases, you can earn money toward your college education for success in extracurricular activities. Extracurriculars can also help you to stand out on scholarship applications — delivering even more opportunities to help you fund your college pursuits. 

Extracurriculars can help you: 

  • Build leadership skills  
  • Become a team player  
  • Nurture your creativity  
  • Expand your experiences  
  • Enhance your abilities  
  • Identify your strengths 

What Are the Best Types of Extracurricular Activities To Be Involved In?

There are a wide variety of extracurricular activities, letting you explore different interests and passions while contributing to your personal and academic development. Here are a few examples: 

Academic and Intellectual Development: 

  • Academic clubs 
  • Debate teams 
  • Math competition teams 
  • Science Olympiad and other STEM-focused organizations

Creative and Artistic Expression: 

  • Theater, music, and dance groups 
  • Writing or poetry clubs 
  • Film-making or photography clubs 
  • Playing an instrument 


Social Impact and Community Service:

  • Volunteering or community service projects 
  • Environmental clubs or initiatives
  • Social justice and advocacy groups 

Leadership and Teamwork: 

  • Student government or council 
  • Leadership roles in various clubs 
  • Creating your own club 

Involvement in academic extracurriculars tells colleges that you're committed to learning and using your knowledge outside of the classroom. Advocacy groups and service activities show your dedication to helping others and being an active part of your community. Creative activities like drama or music show that you're well-rounded and demonstrate your creativity and ability to work in a team. Leadership activities can take many different shapes, including taking the initiative to start your own club. All these different experiences make your college application more interesting and show off your unique strengths. 

What Extracurricular Activities Do Colleges Look For?

The list of extracurricular activities is long, and the examples provided are just a starting point. When choosing activities to get involved in, keep in mind that colleges want to learn about what interests you and what skills you can bring to their campus community. Don’t pick an extracurricular just because you think it will look good on a college application. It's better to choose activities that align with your true interests and goals, giving you a more focused and enjoyable experience. Colleges prefer to see you committed and engaged in fewer activities instead of participating in a long list of activities where you aren't truly involved. Showing that you have sustained interest in an extracurricular through multiple years of service shows colleges that you are serious about your pursuits outside the classroom. 
Do you consider yourself a leader? Are you a team player on and off the field? Perhaps you worked at a summer internship. Be sure to include any activities that overlap categories. For example, being the captain of your soccer team could fall under both leadership and sports activities.  

Leadership Roles and Activities 

When you're thinking about your college application, demonstrating leadership qualities isn't just about being a class president or a team captain. It can involve developing a new idea, taking the reins, and making things happen. Maybe you see something that could be better at your school or in your community. You can use that as an opportunity to start a recycling program or organize a study group for college entrance exams. That's leadership! 
You can also show leadership by being proactive and stepping up without being asked. Let's say your school grounds are littered with trash. You could organize a clean-up day — not because someone told you to, but because you saw a problem and wanted to fix it. That's taking initiative, and colleges love to see that. 
Remember, colleges want to see who you are and what you can do. By showing them that you can take charge, solve problems, and bring ideas to life, you're not just filling in an application; you're telling your story. You're showing them you have the skills and the drive to do great things and can set an example for your peers. 

Work Experience and Internships

Including part-time jobs, internships, or other work experiences in your college application shows that you have practical skills, are responsible, and can balance schoolwork with real-life responsibilities. Showcasing your work experience tells colleges you're hardworking, good at managing your time, and know how to handle yourself professionally. These are all skills that are useful in both college and future careers. 
Admissions officers understand that working while studying helps you become financially independent and contributes to your personal and professional growth. So, if you've had a job during high school, include it in your application. It shows much more about you than just your ability to work. 

Internships give you a deeper understanding of your field of interest and prepare you for success in college and your potential future career. If you're interested in how internship experiences can aid your career planning, there are plenty of resources out there to help you understand their benefits. 

Work doesn't always have to be outside the home. If you are a student who provides care to a sibling, or maybe you support your multigenerational family through regular cooking, cleaning, and care — include this in your application. Admissions officers value this work as much as internships or jobs. 

Sports and Athletics

Being involved in sports isn't just about staying physically fit; it also helps you develop important skills like leadership, managing your time effectively, and staying cool under pressure. These are all qualities that colleges look for in students. You don’t even need to be the fastest person on the track or the highest-scoring basketball player. Participating in sports shows that you have the self-discipline and drive to push yourself and be a team player. 

Academic Teams and Clubs

Being involved in academic clubs, competitions, or research projects shows your commitment to doing well in your studies and wanting to learn more than just what's taught in the classroom. 

It's not just about being smart; it also shows that you're willing to put extra effort and initiative into your education. This kind of dedication contributes to the academic energy of the college community, and college admissions teams see that. So, make sure to mention your extracurricular academic pursuits in your application. ​It helps show colleges that you're eager to learn and challenge yourself beyond standard expectations. It shows that you have the initiative to go the extra mile.  

Creative Arts

Showcasing your artistic and creative activities on your college application provides a glimpse into your unique way of expressing yourself, your imagination, and your passion for the arts. Whether you're into visual arts, music, dance, drama, or creative writing, being involved in these activities shows that you have a wide range of talents and are committed to developing and expressing your creative skills. 

Creative arts add to a lively and diverse campus environment. Being creative and involved in artistic activities shows that you think differently and are not just focused on traditional academic subjects. This brings a well-rounded and fresh perspective to the college community, which is something colleges value. 

Volunteering and Community Service 

Looking to boost your application with opportunities that blend all the above? Consider focusing on a volunteer project. It could be a standout option on your list, whether you join an existing initiative or, even better — start one of your own. Take a look at your community and come up with ways to create a positive impact. This kind of engagement reflects community involvement and shows off your leadership skills and personal interests. 

Putting your volunteering and community service activities on your application is a great way to show that you're dedicated to making a positive difference, not just in school but in the wider world. Volunteering shows you have empathy, understand social responsibility, and that you're committed to helping others. 

If you're searching for more volunteer opportunities and want to truly make an impact, there are many resources that can help you find great opportunities to lend a hand.  

Frequently Asked Questions About Extracurricular Activities 

Extracurricular activities are all the ongoing things you do outside your regular classes. They can be sports, clubs, community service, arts, academic competitions, part-time jobs, internships, and other activities that help you grow outside of school. 

​Even though hobbies might not always be considered traditional extracurricular activities, they can certainly be included in your college application if you're dedicated to them. If your hobby highlights your skills and passion or occupies a substantial part of your time, it can help present a more complete picture of who you are. Including hobbies in your application can show colleges what interests you and what you're good at.

Let's say you spend hours every week painting or drawing. This is much more than a hobby; it demonstrates your creativity and dedication to your art. Or maybe you like building apps or web pages in your free time. This shows your technical skills and ability to teach yourself new things. These hobbies tell colleges your bigger story. They show what you care about, what you're good at, and how you spend your time outside the classroom. 

There's no set number regarding how many extracurriculars to include on your application. It's better to focus on the quality of your activities rather than how many you’re able to list. Admissions teams look for activities you're genuinely interested in that align with what you want to do in the future, show off your skills, and highlight your ability to lead. They value deep, committed involvement more than just a long list of activities. 

Start Extracurricular Activities at Your School

Let's say you have a passion, something you love that may not be fully represented in your school's current club lineup. Perhaps it's a sport that isn't offered, a type of digital art you want to explore, or maybe just a social cause you are passionate about. This could be your chance to shine by starting your own club. Doing this isn't just about adding another line to your college application; it's a powerful way to demonstrate a whole range of dedicated leadership and resourcefulness qualities that colleges are looking for.  

Download this list of 85 high school club ideas you could start at your school! 

Maximizing the Summer: A Guide to Finding Programs & Building Extracurriculars

Our partners at Collegewise are experts in guiding students and their families through the college application process. With their “Maximizing the Summer” resource, they can help you learn how to make the most of your summer break by building opportunities for college-ready extracurriculars.

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