Your Extracurriculars Hold More Weight Than You Might Think

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Written by Kate McGunagle

The college application process is complex and nuanced, so it’s tough to make generalizations about what admissions officers are looking for. However, students heading into the process may find it helpful to think about how they can emphasize three general categories of their application: extracurricular activities, academics, and character.

I’m going to talk about the first category because it’s often overlooked, and students assume that it’s pretty obvious. What more is there to extracurriculars beyond, well, doing them and listing them on your resume?

At a surface level, not much. But from the perspective of college admissions officers, a lot.

Extracurricular activities give admissions officers a chance to understand how you make use of your time outside of the classroom, what matters to you, and how you’re making the most of opportunities available to you given your circumstances, community, and resources. Reviewing your activities can even go so far as shedding light on your personal values, career aspirations, and leadership capabilities! (No pressure or anything.)

Remember: colleges are looking for applicants likely to seize opportunities on campus, become the next generation of leaders and meaningful contributors to society, and thrive in that particular undergraduate environment. With this in mind, your extracurricular activities can go a long way in showing colleges that you are the ideal applicant.

So how do you choose meaningful extracurricular activities? And what can you do within those activities to ensure they are rich additions to your resume?

First, follow the principle of less is more. Be very wary of doing something just because you think a college will like it. This kind of resume padding is very obvious. It can also make it hard for the people reviewing your application to pinpoint big themes in your out-of-classroom work – if you dabble in a little bit of everything, that actually tells officers less. Prioritize 1-3 extracurricular activities and commit to them for extended periods of time in order to have them speak louder on the page.

Second, ensure that your activities align with what actually interests you. Are you pursuing something because you are genuinely intrigued by it? Or is it filling your calendar because you just think it should? Colleges are very interested in an honest, robust portrayal of who you are. They love hearing about your passions and interests. If there’s anything on your resume that doesn’t truly align with you, it might be time for a reassessment.

Third, diversify your roles and deepen your involvement in long-term activities. It’s great to stick with an activity for several years. But it’s even more great to evolve your role within that activity over a long period of time. This demonstrates your relationship to community, your capacity to grow and change, and other aspirations. Examples of deepening your involvement in an activity include running for and maintaining an office position (secretary, president, etc.), launching initiatives, expanding a club or activity’s influence to the broader community, and starting a new club, activity, or event. 

There are so many other ways to choose and maintain meaningful extracurricular activities, but for now, these tips are a good place to begin. One last thing before you dash off to your next activity – make sure your extracurriculars are having an impact on you. The best kinds of activities are the ones most likely to influence, inspire, and invigorate both you and your immediate communities. They are also most likely to be (quite simply) fun. 

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