Inside tips and advice from AcceptU's team of former admissions officers


What should I know about extracurricular activities?

January 30, 2015, Posted In Activity Involvement

All parents and students know the importance of extracurricular activities in college admissions. However, with all the talk about extracurricular activities, it’s hard to determine what’s fact and what’s fiction. What are admissions officers really looking for in extracurricular activities? How can you guide your child to appropriately select the best types of activities? We’ve untangled four of the most common myths about extracurricular activities below.

• MYTH #1: Colleges want “well-rounded” students who are involved in a variety of activities, including sports, academic clubs, community service and more. Selective colleges actually appreciate seeing students with an academic focus, especially if it is demonstrated in their activities. Students should not feel obligated to play a sport in high school in order to be considered “well-rounded” if they do not like sports. If your child is interested in creative writing, then she should not feel pressured to continue with an unfulfilling sport just for the sake of playing a sport. Encourage and support your child to join activities that are meaningful and that he or she is likely to stick with for several years of high school.

• MYTH #2: Extracurricular activities that are not school sponsored cannot be included on a college application. Students should include any activity that they’ve been involved with regularly for two or more years no matter where this activity takes place – at home or at school – it all counts! Some of the most interesting activities to an admissions officer are those that are not formalized clubs or activities within a school. Activities within a student’s community help students differentiate themselves from their peers. If your child has special talents or activities that she has engaged in over the years, such as teaching herself an instrument, then you should certainly find a way to include it in her application. These are the types of extracurricular activities that colleges are most interested to learn about from students.

• MYTH #3: Students need to include volunteer work or community service as an extracurricular activity. Many parents think that their child must include some type of community service on their activities list and the more hours, the better. While community service does not hurt a college application, it certainly will not get a student admitted on its own. The best type of community service is one that is reflective of your child’s academic interests. However, if your child does not have the ability to do community service because, for example, he or she needs to work or care for younger siblings instead – do not worry, this will not be held against your child.

• MYTH #4: Admissions officers look for quantity over quality. Admissions officers are much more interested in the quality of extracurricular activities than the quantity of activities on their list. High quality activities include those to which your child has contributed greatly, stuck with for 2-4 years, progressed into leadership roles, shown initiative and, again, reflected his interests. An admissions officer would much rather see a prospective engineering student work biweekly at, say, a computer refurbishing non-profit than spend four hours per week picking up trash at a park.

Understanding the myths about extracurricular activities can help you guide your child toward those activities that will be most meaningful and beneficial to him or her in the college admissions process.