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The 3 Best Extracurricular Activities for Your College App


Extracurricular activities are an important part of your college application. The things that you choose to do outside of the classroom help college admission officers understand your personality in a way that your grades and test scores can’t show.

With so many activities to choose from, how do you know which ones are going to make the biggest impact on your application? Do colleges prefer students with traditional activities like sports and student council, or are you better off if you have something unconventional on your activity list?

If you're unsure about how to strategize a list of activities that will make an impact on your application, read on to see the three best extracurricular activities that will really get you noticed.


What Are the Best Extracurricular Activities to Have on Your College Applications?

Many students worry that they have to play a sport to get into a good college, or that there are some specific extracurricular activities that college admission advisors consider an automatic admissions ticket.

If you have suspected that this kind of activity bias exists, I have good news: colleges do not really care which specific activities you choose to do.

However, they are hoping to understand certain things about you through your activities.

Your extracurricular activities show colleges aspects of your personality that your grades and test scores can’t. Though admissions officers can also get to know about your “intangible” qualities through your essays and letters of recommendation, extracurriculars are important because they show that you walk the walk. Think you have leadership skills? Well, your extracurriculars are where you prove it.




There are a few specific things that colleges are always hoping to see in their students’ activities. They include:

  • Passion. Your activities are supposed to be a reflection of you and what you care about. Admissions officers can usually tell when you're just doing activities to pad out your resume. Colleges love students who are passionate because, more often than not, they are the ones who will stick with something through thick and thin and go on to change the world. You can show passion by focusing on a couple activities and dedicating a significant amount of time to them.
  • Leadership. Leaders are the people who will be at the forefront of change and the first to take on new challenges. Since colleges are looking to educate and shape the leaders of tomorrow, they love to see students who are taking initiative to be leaders through their extracurricular activities. You can do this by leading a group or activity, being in charge of a project, or otherwise motivating or directing other students.
  • Impact. How have you changed your activity for the better? Have you expanded membership or the amount of activities your extracurricular does? If you saw a problem, did you fix it? Once again, colleges are looking for the people who are going to change the world someday. In your activities, you can show them that you're the type of person who takes something and leaves it better than you found it.

If you need some inspiration to help find a great extracurricular, we have a list of hundreds of activities that you can try. With commitment, over time you could show the above qualities in any of the activities on the list.

But if you'd like more guidance, there is a surefire combination of activities you can pursue in high school that will show off a range of your best traits.

In fact, as long as you have these three types of activities, you won’t have to worry nearly as much about what else you choose to do with your free time during high school!


The Perfect Extracurricular Activity Combination


For students who are unsure about what types of activities to pursue in high school, you can easily impress admissions officers by making sure that you have the following three kinds of activities on your list. They are:

  • The Academic Activity
  • The Community Service Activity
  • The Personality Activity

Colleges are out to find students who are mature, have a good sense of direction and purpose, and have a strong sense of self. Students like this know what their passions are, are willing to put in the time and effort to make an impact in their chosen extracurriculars, and are more likely to be leaders.

Though there are many valid combinations of extracurriculars out there and you will not be penalized if you do not follow the above structure, this combination of activities allows you to show off your personality and talents while also showing an awareness of and concern for the larger world.

To show why this is the perfect combination, let's examine each activity in a bit more detail and discuss why it impresses admission officers.



The Academic Activity



The first key type of extracurricular activity is the academic activity. This is an activity that is somehow related to what you're hoping to study in college.


What Are Some Examples?

For example, if you want to get a degree in journalism, you could be working for your school newspaper. A math major could participate in Math Bowl or some other competitive form of the subject. A future medical student may have volunteered at the local hospital.


Why Should You Do It?

There's no better way to prove that you're really interested in your chosen field of study than to show admissions officers that you live and breathe it already on a daily basis. Remember that old saying that work isn’t work as long as you’re doing what you love? By doing an extracurricular related to your studies, you're showing that you have real passion for the topic and know what you're getting yourself into.


Why Do Colleges Love It?

Colleges want to admit students who are hard-working, passionate, and who will potentially be innovators in that field in the future. This is a great way to show that your studies are also your passion. You aren’t just pursuing that engineering degree because it’s going to make you money someday; you’re pursuing it because if you didn’t you wouldn’t be the person that you need to be.

Students who are actively and passionately involved in their studies through an extracurricular are much more likely to make a difference in the field and potentially change the world.


The Community Service Activity



This activity is an extracurricular that allows you to volunteer your time to work with people or for a cause in your community.


What Are Some Examples?

There are hundreds of ways to do community service. It’s important to choose something that is related to a cause you actually care about and that you'll be able to commit to long enough to make an impact. Examples range from volunteering at a senior center, to tutoring students after school, to working in wildlife conservation. If you need more examples, check out our guide to the nine best places to do community service.


Why Should You Do It?

There are a lot of benefits for high school students who are ready to put time and effort into community service. Service learning can be a great way to reinforce ideas that you've learned in the classroom. You can develop skills that will be necessary for college, such as critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Many students say that they experience personal development through community service and become more responsible and empathetic. Studies have also shown that people who volunteer reap health benefits because they feel better about themselves.

See more about the benefits of community service for high school students here.


Why Do Colleges Love It?

Community service is a great extracurricular that can show that you're a concerned citizen and aspiring leader. Keep in mind that colleges are always looking for students who are going to be making a difference in the world. Community service shows that you have already taken the first step to do that.

By showing that you can take charge when you see an issue in your community and are willing to put in the time and effort needed to make a change, you're showing initiative, dedication, and perseverance. These are all traits that will help you be a successful student in college and an impactful human being well after you graduate.


The Personality Activity



This is an activity that showcases something special about you and your interests. What makes you tick? What's your secret passion?


What Are Some Examples?

Any activity that you do solely because you love it counts as a personality extracurricular. This is your chance to show colleges what you're passionate about. These activities may be surprising at first because they don't necessarily have anything to do with what you want to pursue academically or professionally.

While an aspiring engineer may list her love of building robots as her personality activity, it's equally true that an aspiring astronomy major may have a passion for working backstage in theater productions. As long as it's an extracurricular you love doing, it can be used as a personality activity.


Why Should You Do It?

Personality activities are a chance for you to do something that's important to you and that you really love. There’s more to you than just what you intend to study. Everyone is moved by different things, and it’s important to pursue these passions. These activities are all about you and allow you to develop confidence and a sense of self that you might not get in the other activities.


Why Do Colleges Love It?

Colleges want to see the person behind the application, and this is where the personality activity comes in. Colleges are also concerned about creating vibrant campus communities, and one way of doing this is admitting students with a lot of different interests who will be able to participate and contribute to areas beyond just what they're studying. They will appreciate that you have taken the time to develop these side passions and see you as a motivated and interesting person.


The Bottom Line

These three types of activities are a good place to start if you're stumped by how to make an impressive resume for college.

But keep in mind that any combination of activities is just as valid - as long as you remember to make a commitment, show leadership, and have an impact!


What's Next?

If you want a more basic grounding in what extracurriculars are, check out our explanation of why you need to have extracurricular activities.

Need some more inspiration for activities? See our complete list of extracurricular activities.

Got your activities under control, but worried about how the application works? See our guide to writing about extracurriculars on the Common App.


Struggling to write about extracurriculars on your college application? Check out our in-depth guide to crafting a compelling narrative about your extracurriculars. Read it for free now:

Impress Colleges With Your Extracurriculars


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Mary Ann Barge
About the Author

Mary Ann holds a BA in Classics and Russian from the University of Notre Dame, and an MA from University College London. She has years of tutoring experience and is also passionate about travel and learning languages.

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