The answer to this question is that what you do with your free time plays a significant role in the college admissions process. Actually, right after a student’s high school GPA and standardized test scores, extracurricular involvement is the best way for a college to gain a deeper understanding of the person you are, what matters to you, and how you can potentially contribute to college life. The key to this question though, lies in the type of activities you have done, duration of your participation, and demonstration of your growth as an individual over the course of your commitment to the activity. The best way to come across as authentic is by staying true to you. Pursue those interests and passions that are meaningful to you and your personality, talent, creativity, and leadership ability are sure to shine through.
Well, now we know that extracurricular activities can make a big difference in determining who gets accepted to a particular college and who does not. However, if you are puzzled by what counts as an extracurricular activity for college and what does not, I can help. Think of those pursuits that you do beyond the required curriculum of your school (or university, if you are a transfer student). Preferably, these pursuits should relate to your interests. Here is an example of some activities that would count as extracurricular endeavors and others that would not:
|Count||Does Not Count|
part-time or summer jobs
involvement with a political group
hobbies – like trapeze, blogging, and archery
enrichment classes – like robotics or debate
volunteering for your religious organization
playing video games
spending time on Facebook
taking required courses
Moreover, the benefits of extracurricular activities are deeper than just listing them on the activities section of your application. Many colleges require recommendation letters and a coach, drama teacher, faculty advisor, employer, or leader of a nonprofit organization could be a great source for praising your efforts and contributions to others. Participation in groups or clubs could also be an ideal platform to display leadership skills or ingenuity; character traits that are highly sought after by many universities. In addition to building a strong student resume, these activities offer substance upon which to draw topics for both college application essays and scholarship essays.
Aside from enhancing your college application, extracurricular pursuits offer a number of other advantages that aid in a student’s personal development and intellectual growth. Here are 6 compelling reasons to engage in activities outside the classroom that you may not have known:
- It offers a chance to explore your interests and discover new pastimes.
- Instills the character traits of dedication, responsibility, loyalty, and commitment.
- It teaches time managements skills and how to prioritize.
- Students gain self-confidence.
- It helps to gain new skills.
- Students can expand their social circle and make friends with others that share a similar interest.
How many activities do I need to do? As top Los Angeles college admissions counselors, Helping Hand College Guidance advises students to focus on quality rather than quantity. Engaging in a few meaningful activities over a long period of time will help your chances of college admission for more than dabbling in an array of activities, each for a short amount of time. In fact, you may actually appear to be unfocused if you start and then drop numerous pursuits. Admission officers are looking to discover your passions and interests and can see through those students that seemingly lack that spark in the activities they engage in. Your chance of having a greater impact on others increases when your efforts are concentrated on fewer areas. It’s okay to start with a larger number of activities in 9th grade and by 10th grade, narrow it down to those that you enjoy the most. Remember to stick with your activities throughout senior year. There is also another practical reason not to overextend your commitments. Spreading yourself in too many different directions could leave you without adequate time to maintain strong grades; this should still be your first priority. A dip in grades cannot be compensated by additional extracurricular involvement. Getting adequate rest and enjoying leisure time with family and friends is also vital to a student’s healthy development. Remember, summer activities also count as extracurricular endeavors and summer is generally a more relaxed time. Even activities such as helping to organize a fundraiser once a year still count on the list. For a student that has few activities to list, this can help to fill in the blanks. In comparison, here is the difference in the UC application versus the Common Application with respect to the activity section:
10 activity fields (150 characters allowed for details and 50 characters for the position and organization’s name)
30 blanks to fill in (5 each for courses other than A-G, educational prep programs, volunteer and community service, work, awards and honors, and extracurricular activities)(160 characters allowed for description)
When filling out the activities section on both the UC application and Common Application, you will want to keep a few things in mind that will strengthen this portion of your application.
- Try to work off a student resume that you have written to make sure you do not forget any activities. Make sure your brag sheet includes these same extracurricular activities to keep it consistent. When you write the descriptions on your applications, you can take the information directly off your resume.
- List those activities first that you have been involved in the longest. Also, list the more recent ones first, working backwards in time.
- Try to completely fill in all the spaces for extracurricular activities and for volunteer and community service on the UC application.
- If you complete the UC application first, it will make it easier to complete the Common Application’s activity section, as the activities section is shorter on the Common Application.
- Accentuate the positive impact you had on others or your community.
- Use powerful action verbs in your description (examples include the words generated, planned, guided, evaluated, authored, influenced, and focused).
- Avoid using the same verbs repetitively (there are many to choose from) and keep the verb tense in the present if you are still active in the pursuit.
- Be realistic in your impact on others rather than grandiose.
- Try to use more sophisticated vocabulary. An example would be “instructed” rather than “taught” or “organized” rather than “brought students together”.
Helping Hand College Guidance’s Recommendation on Extracurricular Activities
- Try out and experience a good number of extracurricular activities when you start high school.
- By sophomore or junior year, narrow the list down to the few pursuits you enjoy the most.
- Look for leadership opportunities in those endeavors as a chance to demonstrate increased skills or talents.
- Show growth in those activities or deepening interest.
- Try to select activities you are more likely to continue in college (they ask that question on the applications).
- Be truthful when filling in the activity section on your college application. Do not list activities you did not participate in or exaggerate your role in the description. Dishonesty is a reason for rejection and shows poor character.
- Continue your activities throughout senior year. Do not drop them! If you are waitlisted or decide to appeal a rejection, your continued involvement in activities could work in your favor and be a compelling reason to accept you!
- If you are seriously lacking in extracurricular activities due to a valid reason such as personal hardship or illness, you can write an explanation in the “Additional Information” section.
As a comprehensive top Los Angeles college counseling service, Helping Hand College Guidance serves freshman, transfer, and international applicants in their search for best fit colleges and maximizing their chances of admission to those schools. We work tirelessly to make your application stand out from the rest and offer you the best chance of success. Pam Ohriner, serves local students with in-person one-on-one counseling and offers distance counseling to those outside of her travel radius. Areas considered as local include but are not limited to: Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Malibu, Westwood, Sherman Oaks, Encino, Tarzana, Woodland Hills, Manhattan Beach, South Bay, Beverlywood, Culver City, West Los Angeles, Studio City, and Marina Del Rey. Please contact Pam Ohriner at Pamela@helpinghandcollegeguidance.com or call 310-733-8433 to get started on your college journey. We look forward to being a part of your transition to college!