The college admissions process is daunting. Throughout high school, students work to fill their resumes with amazing extracurricular activities in order to improve their chances of admission into top universities. When it comes to extracurriculars, there isn’t a clear cut formula that will get you into college. You can objectively say that a 1520 on the SAT is better than a 1300, but how can you compare volunteering at a soup kitchen to participating in boy scouts or starting a small business?

When preparing students for the college admissions process, we place a lot of emphasis on identifying and developing students’ interests in addition to good grades and test scores. As we’ve said before, students’ interests are important because it helps colleges make admissions decisions and build well-rounded classes.

However, developing students’ interests isn’t just about getting into college—they’re a key factor in helping students succeed during their four years and after graduation. 

Why Do Extracurricular Interests Matter to Colleges?

When admissions officers evaluate college application resumes, they don’t just assess an applicant’s grades and standardized test scores. They also factor in extracurricular activities and your interests to get a comprehensive view of who you are, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Extracurriculars Highlight the Impact You Will Make on Campus

While grades and test scores are important decision factors, admissions officers read applications in context and strive to paint a whole picture for each student they review. Colleges want to know exactly how you’ll fit in on campus, what kind of roommate you will be, and what activities you’re likely to get involved in once you’re on campus. Extracurricular activities can help admissions officers answer these questions. 

Activities Showcase Your Leadership Skills

If you aren’t the student body president or the captain of your basketball team, don’t panic. While admissions officers look for students who are leaders, leadership itself can take on many forms. Maybe you’re the student working behind the scenes to make sure everyone has what they need or the dedicated athlete who serves as a mentor for rookie teammates. What’s most important isn’t the title you have but rather your ability to convey your leadership skills and highlight when you’ve been able to use them to make an impact. 

Participation Underscores Your Ability to Commit

College admissions officers are looking for students who are dedicated and committed to their fields of interest instead of serial joiners. To highlight your ability to commit, draw attention to the activities you have participated in throughout your high school career. Students who’ve played on the same sports team or volunteered at the same organization for several years should emphasize these commitments and ideally describe how their role has grown and expanded.

Choosing the right extracurriculars to include can be a bit of a challenge, but it’s important to strike a balance between relevance and passion. Here’s what we’d suggest:

1. Start with the activities that you’re most passionate about. Colleges love to see genuine enthusiasm and dedication, so don’t be afraid to showcase what truly excites you. This can also make for a great essay topic!

2. Include activities relevant to your intended major. Demonstrating your interest and commitment to your field of study can give you an edge, especially if you have a clear idea of what you want to pursue in college. Just make sure not to overdo it and only include activities where you’ve genuinely been involved.

3. Consider the impact you’ve made through your activities. Have you held leadership positions? Did you start a club or organization? Don’t hesitate to highlight these achievements, as they can show your ability to take initiative and contribute to your community.

4. Finally, don’t forget about variety. Showcasing a diverse range of interests can help you stand out and demonstrate your well-roundedness.

Applying this Advice

The college admissions process can be daunting. As you develop your interests and begin your applications, keep in mind these three things:

  1. Everyone’s extracurricular experiences are going to be drastically different, so don’t compare your resume to someone else’s.
  2. On your application, express why your activities are meaningful to you, what you learned from them, and how they shaped you as a person.
  3. And, most importantly: DON’T do activities that you have no interest in. Colleges can see right through resume builders.

Good luck with your college applications, and remember to stay true to yourself!