What Counts as an Extracurricular Activity?
When it comes to rounding out your resume and college applications, extracurriculars are a must, but since the term may seem broad and vague, some students might wonder which activities constitute an extracurricular. The good thing for students is that almost any activity in which they’re participating outside of school, on an ongoing basis, in which they’re exploring a specific interest, skills, subject, or passion may count as an extracurricular activity. Your extracurricular activities should be activities that you’re voluntarily choosing to participate in, not those required for your classes or for everyday life…so driver’s ed doesn’t count. However, if you started your own organization to help educate teens on safe driving, that would definitely count!
Why Are Extracurricular Activities Important?
Extracurricular activities are important for a myriad of reasons, but primarily they do two things: 1) help you discover your interests and strengths and 2) help college admissions officers understand your ambition and contributions outside the classroom. Your extracurricular involvement should be an opportunity to explore different activities and figure out which you enjoy most and might want to pursue in the future. Additionally, these activities should help you develop valuable life skills, from independence to teamwork to leadership and in some cases analytical, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, depending on the activity. College admissions officers want to assess students for both their contributions in the classroom and outside, which is where extracurriculars can play a big part. Extracurricular involvement can demonstrate your ambition, leadership skills, and other strengths and interests to the admissions officers, which helps them get to know you better and assess your fit for their school.
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How to Choose Extracurricular Activities
Choose Something That Matches Your Interest
When choosing extracurricular activities to participate in, this is your time to explore whichever interests or subjects you’d like. You can start by brainstorming the various hobbies or interests you already have, as well as those areas you might want to try out or learn more about. You should be excited about the extracurriculars you’re going to pursue, but you may also be unsure about some, and that’s okay. It’s better to start broad and try your hand at a wider variety of activities initially before homing in on which ones you’re going to continue with.
Research Extracurricular Options
You may not know of every extracurricular opportunity out there, and just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they’re not out there. Your school, friends, or local organizations may tell you about some extracurricular opportunities, but it’s up to you to do your research to explore all your options. Some activities may be school-affiliated, many may not, some may be group and others 1-on-1, some may be through state-wide or national organizations, and others may be entirely virtual. Once you’ve compiled a list of activities and researched the requirements and expectations for participation, you can decide which of them you may want to give a go.
Join Some Activities to Try Them Out
Early on, for example in your freshmen year of high school, it’s fine to take a stab at a wide variety of activities of interest, even if that means initially participating in eight or ten different ones. This should be a time of exploration, learning, and expanding your circle of knowledge and experience, which is why it’s okay to dip your toe into a broad array of activities. Once you spend some time participating in each activity, you can begin to determine which you enjoy and want to pursue further and which you don’t.
Then Narrow Them Down
Since you don’t want to spread yourself too thin, you’ll want to narrow down the activities you’re going to continue to pursue through your sophomore, junior, and senior year. The downside of being involved in too many extracurricular activities is that you simply won’t have the time to put sufficient effort into each, and your lack of engagement won’t impress any admissions officers and won’t help you get the learning and growth experience that you want. Ideally, you’ll find a few activities that greatly interest you, perhaps activities in which you excel, and you’ll increase your involvement in those as the years go on, possibly rising to leadership positions and demonstrating your ongoing commitment to those activities of interest.
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Academic Extracurricular Activities
For students who are good at or interested in math, the math club can be a valuable and impressive extracurricular activity. Participation in the math club both improves students’ math skills and conveys to college admissions consultants that a student is intellectually curious, ambitious, and has an interest in math. The math club also encourages teamwork and leadership skills, as students typically work in groups on games, activities, and mock competitions. Math club may be a great opportunity for students who plan on pursuing a future career in statistics, business, or finance, since having an interest in math can be helpful to those fields and indicate to admissions consultants early career direction.
For students who are interested in reading, English, and literature, a Literature Club can be a great extracurricular activity. These clubs may surround reading, discussing, and dissecting classic literature books, which may be helpful for students who in the future plan to major in English or even in Writing and Communications. Admissions officers will be impressed by students’ love of literature and interest in pursuing classic literature even outside the classroom. This type of involvement would be a good indicator to admissions officers that a student may be strong in their English, Communications, and Critical Thinking skills.
Robotics club has gotten more popular in recent years, and this is a great option for technology-interested students looking for a unique activity to stand out. Students in the robotics club typically develop and program their own robots and compete in robotics events. Since robotics is a very niche space, and there are more and more companies popping up in the space, the skills you learn in a robotics club will be valuable and possibly transferrable to your future major or career. For students who indicate an interest in pursuing a future degree and career in robotics, technology, or computer science, this type of involvement would be very impressive to admissions officers.
A debate club is a great option for students who want to try their hand at improving their communication and public speaking skills. Students in the debate club also develop their critical thinking, persuasiveness, and confidence. Additionally, the debate club exposes students to current events and global or national issues they learn about, analyze, and try to come up with solutions or a viewpoint on. This is a great exercise in analytical thinking and problem-solving, and college admissions officers are well-aware and see it as such.
Competitive Extracurricular Activities
National Spelling Bee
Students who are very good at vocabulary may want to pursue the national spelling bee. Since high school students have to learn a cornucopia of advanced vocabulary words in preparation for their PSATs, SATs, and ACTs, in addition to their English classes, participating in the national spelling bee is a great opportunity to put those studies to the test. Additionally, students may be able to win awards or scholarships through spelling bees, and this is a great way to stand out on resumes and college applications.
Quiz Bowl is a great competitive, academic activity that spans many subjects and topics, from the high school curriculum to current events, sports, and pop culture. Quiz Bowl participation can help students exercise the knowledge they’ve already learned in their classes, while also encouraging further studies in subjects they’ve had less exposure. Quiz Bowl is made up of periodic practices, leading up to the varsity tournaments, which gives students the opportunity to practice on a competitive stage. Students who participate in Quiz Bowl are clearly ambitious, intellectually curious, and competitive – all of which are traits that are highly valued by admissions officers.
The National Science Bowl is similar to Quiz Bowl, but it focuses only on science-related topics and questions. For students who excel in their science classes and perhaps want to pursue a future degree or career in the sciences, Science Bowl is a great and impressive extracurricular. Students who may want to go into the medical field in the future could improve their college application by indicating an early interest in the sciences through participation in Science Bowl. Additionally, participating in Science Bowl early on in a student’s high school career may better prepare them for their later advanced (AP) science classes, so this is an extracurricular that can also carry over to benefit your academic studies.
Art Extracurricular Activities
Not every extracurricular has to be academic, and colleges want to see that students are well-rounded and multi-faceted, with a variety of hobbies and interests, so arts-related clubs, like the Anime Club, are a great place to show this. Students interested in Anime and Japanese culture may enjoy this type of activity, in which students meet to discuss, watch, and analyze Anime. This type of extracurricular may be best for students who plan on pursuing a future major or career related to visual arts, Japanese culture, or another creative field like marketing or communications.
For creative students, those who enjoy performing, or those who may want to pursue a future career in theater arts, whether on stage or backstage, the drama club is a great extracurricular option. Drama club helps students learn about and explore various aspects of theater through hands-on experience. Students may learn stage terminology, various acting methods and skills, set design, lighting, blocking, and costume and makeup design. Additionally, students in drama club typically get to exercise what they’ve learned through end-of-semester performances put on for a local audience of peers, friends, and parents. Drama club is a great way to help shy students break out of their shells, as well as to help students determine if theater might be a real interest for them to pursue further.
Students who have an interest in fashion design might want to join the Fashion Club (or start one at their high school, if it doesn’t currently exist). The FIDM Fashion Club is sponsored by FIDM (the Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing) and helps mentor students who want to pursue careers in design and creative businesses. Fashion Clubs have at least five members, a president, and an advisor, and meet at least once a month at school to participate in fashion design-related activities. This is a great early introduction to the world of fashion design for students who may be considering a related major or career, and it can show universities both that you’re a creative person and that you’ve already started honing your career interests.
Community Extracurricular Activities
Kids Helping Kids
For students who want to help out their community with some philanthropic involvement, Kids Helping Kids is a great extracurricular option, and it gives universities a better sense of a student’s character and interest in community service. Kids Helping Kids aims to aid socio-economically and physically disadvantaged children with their fundraising, through various charity-focused initiatives. The group raises funds through food sales, a silent auction, and donations, all of which the students get to run and promote to have a real hand at helping out the community.
Habitat for Humanity
For students who are passionate about serving the local community and affordable housing, getting involved with their high school’s Habitat for Humanity Club (or starting one, if it doesn’t yet exist there) can be a great extracurricular activity. Being a part of the Habitat for Humanity club means setting up volunteer opportunities, educating yourself and the local community on issues relating to housing, fundraising in your local area for more housing opportunities, and speaking with community officials about offering more opportunities for shelter. The four main areas of focus are direct service, fundraising, advocating, and educating, so involvement in this group can demonstrate many valuable character traits and skills to university admissions officers.
Animal Rights Club
Students who feel strongly about animal rights may want to take part in or begin a chapter of a high school Animal Rights Club. This type of club enables students to be active in both learning about and educating others on animal rights, as well as encouraging them to speak out against injustice and participate in activism. While some more radical animal rights groups have come under fire for being controversial from time to time, students who are passionate about the topic will convey their independence, leadership, and dedication to effect change (and justice), which are traits sure to impress admissions officers.
The Gay-Straight Alliance or GSA is a student-led group intended to provide a safe and supportive environment for members of the LGBTQ youth community. The GSA can both teach students how to be tolerant, understanding, and inclusive of members of the LGBTQ community, as well as propel issues and mistreatments in the community to the forefront of the club’s mission to fight against. The club typically focuses on three branches: Social, Support, and Activist. The social branch meets and connects with LGBTQ students on campus, the support branch works to create safe spaces for affected students to talk about the issues and discrimination they’ve faced, and the activist branch sees students taking on leadership roles to improve the school and local climate through awareness-raising events and attempts at changing ineffective or harmful policies and practices.
Government and Leadership Extracurricular Activities
Peer Leadership Group
The peer leadership group is a good extracurricular opportunity for students who feel called to help others, and who feel confident in and want to further hone their social and leadership skills. Peer leaders are typically called to student mediation when social issues arise, perhaps holding an intervention for behavioral problems, and overall helping facilitates productive social interaction between peers. Peer leaders are trained to mentor younger students and assist them with any school-related issues they may face. Peer leaders may act as role models, educators (or tutors), mentors, and counselors for their peer group. Successful and ongoing involvement as a peer leader is very impressive to universities because this indicates that a student has maturity and wisdom beyond their years, as well as a good sense of social dynamics, and ability to diffuse difficult situations, and a talent for leading others.
Student Council is a group made of elected and volunteer students (with an adult advisor) who work together to provide a means for student expression and assistance in school affairs and activities. This group gives students the opportunity for leadership experience, as well as encourages student, faculty, and community relations. The Student Council’s projects and activities work to promote citizenship, scholarship, leadership, human rights, and cultural values. Students who care about making a difference in the local community and having a palpable impact through their involvement may want to participate in Student Council, and this is great training for anyone considering a future degree or career in politics, business, event planning, or even activism.
Media Extracurricular Activities
For students who may be interested in journalism, writing, or media, getting involved with the School Newspaper can be a perfect and impressive extracurricular activity. The school newspaper enables students to improve their research, writing, editing, design, photography, and layout skills, as well as giving them a place to voice their opinions through editorial pieces. Being a member of the School Newspaper club is also a perfect show of dedication to long-term projects with a concrete outcome. This type of involvement will also help students develop a level of professionalism in their writing, which will help prepare them both for the university standards and for a future career in journalism.
Similar to the school newspaper club, joining the Yearbook Committee is a great extracurricular option for students interested in journalism, as well as those interested in other creative fields, including marketing, advertising, photography, and design. Students on the Yearbook Committee have the task of planning everything, from start to finish, with a constant stream of deadlines, ensuring the yearbook will be ready in time for orders and printing. In addition to planning the layout and helping to curate the photographs, quotes, highlights, and other content, students on the Yearbook Committee may also get a taste of what marketing is like, as they help out with the yearbook marketing plan. This makes the Yearbook Committee a great real-world experience for students interested in pursuing various fields, from journalism to business.
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Music and Performing Arts Extracurricular Activities
Students who are interested in the performing arts or who have a passion for comedy may want to join their school’s Comedy Club. The Comedy Club may be an improv or scripted group of students who rehearse throughout the week and put on weekly or monthly shows for students and possibly parents. This type of involvement can help shy students break out of their shells and develop their stage presence and confidence, as well as help others improve their comedy and acting chops. Whether a student plans on pursuing a career in comedy or not, the Comedy Club can be a great experience that helps students develop a myriad of social and professional skills, and this can help them in everything from theater to business.
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The Marching Band is a group of instrumental musician students who perform while marching, often in uniform, for entertainment, in between school sporting events, or for competitions. The instruments involved are typically brass, woodwind, and percussion, and students in the Marching Band are usually already members of the Band or Orchestra elective class. Marching band experience can be valuable and enjoyable for students who are passionate about an instrument they play and who want to improve their musical skills, as well as their confidence and stage presence. The Marching Band requires confidence, teamwork, and leadership, all skills that universities are looking for in successful applicants.
Start Your Own Band
If you have a specific musical talent or passion, but don’t want to exercise it in the confines of a school marching band, you may want to start your own band. Starting a band with friends or local peer talent can be a great and valuable experience and education. This type of experience will teach you everything from the importance of planning and practice to marketing to sales and money management, assuming you charge for your performances. As you develop these business skills, you’ll also develop your stage presence and confidence through performing, which will only help you in any future path you plan to pursue.
Join a Sports Team
If you’re an athletic student with an affinity for a certain sport, joining your school’s club, junior varsity, or varsity sports team might be a good extracurricular opportunity for you. While only the top players on these teams typically get drafted for college scholarships with a shot of going pro, the team experience alone is valuable. You’ll develop and demonstrate your dedication and commitment, teamwork, drive, competitive nature, and leadership, all of which can help you in your personal, academic, and professional life. Some sports teams are very selective and require try-outs, so your ability to make those teams in the first place is impressive. However, if you aren’t confident you’ll make the selective JV or varsity team your first go-round, you may want to join a local peer, club, or intermural (or extramural) team to help you train and prepare for the try-outs. Then, you’ll have an even better story when you finally score a spot on your team of choice.
When it comes to choosing which extracurricular activities to get involved with in high school, there is no shortage of opportunities. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide which activities would be of interest, related to your passions and future goals, and which would coincide with your schedule and other priorities. Initially, you should keep an open mind and consider trying as many clubs or groups as sounds even somewhat appealing to you. After dipping your toe into a handful of groups or so, you should start to get a feel for which you truly enjoy and which you could live without. Among the groups that you do choose to participate in, you should constantly attempt to increase your level of involvement and your impact on the group. This way, once college application time comes around, you won’t have any trouble addressing your extracurricular involvement, the impacts you’ve made through your personal contributions, and the leadership roles you’ve risen to in those groups.
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