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College 101: How to Choose Extracurricular Activities

Students often feel that because college admissions focus primarily on grades, decisions ultimately boil down to “Is this student smart enough for our school or not?” But ask any admissions counselor and you’ll quickly find out it’s not that simple. Though grades play a big role, extracurricular activities can be equally important and tip the scales in your favor.

Admissions professionals are looking for students who will be successful additions to their community, well-rounded individuals who will thrive in all aspects of campus life.

So, how do you show a school that you’re right for them? In today’s College 101 feature, we discuss why extracurricular activities are important and provide helpful advice for getting started.

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Explore Your Options

Extracurricular ActivitiesIf you’re looking to expand your horizons, either as a soon-to-be freshman or rising senior, there are many avenues which can lead to a rewarding experience while also boosting your college application. A common and reliable method for finding extracurricular activities is to look for things you’re passionate about: if you love theater, try out for the school play or if you like to build model rockets, check out the science club.

Most schools offer a fairly wide range of clubs and activities, often for little or no cost to students. If your school doesn’t have a group that suits you, the next step is to look into community activities. Visiting your town’s website can provide information on community art groups, special interest clubs or traveling sports teams. You can also search online to find information on local charities looking for volunteers– the Jersey Cares website is a great place to start.

Getting Started

Extracurricular ActivitiesWith so many activities to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. We recommend you begin by asking your friends! If you’re a new student, ask older friends what clubs they’re part of or what extracurricular activities they would recommend. This is a great way to strengthen friendships, meet new people and possibly try something new.

If advice from your friends still doesn’t help, try speaking with your guidance counselor. He or she is a great resource during high school, especially when it comes to college applications. Bring along a list of possible activities you’re considering and ask your counselor to help you narrow it down. For further inspiration, look at several college websites and see what clubs they provide. Pick the most interesting one and look for the closest equivalent at your school or in your town. Or if you’re really bold, start a club just like it yourself!

Maximize Your Experience

Extracurricular Activities
Admissions counselors are often asked if it’s preferable for a student to try a new club every year or to remain in one club for four years. Though there’s no easy answer, and policies vary by institution, one common factor admissions professionals will look for is dedication. So are you stuck with whatever you choose freshman year? Of course not! What matters most to application reviewers is motivation and commitment.

If going into senior year, you develop a newfound love of soccer and want to try out for the team—go for it! Tired of the debate team after three years and want to try something new? Go ahead and make the switch. Just remember that when looking at your extracurricular activities, admissions counselors are trying to put together as complete a picture of you as a student and person that they can with the information you provide.

Hero (Top) Feature Image: © Yeko Photo Studio/Adobe Stock
Additional Images Courtesy:
Jersey Cares
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Monkey Business/Adobe Stock

ProfilePicAnthony Muccio is a former college admissions professional and education researcher currently advising students one-on-one with his private practice. After years working at large state and small private schools, he decided to spend time focusing on helping unique learners reach their full potential.