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Extracurricular activities—and how you present them—are an important component of your college applications. While your grades and test scores speak to your academic strengths, extracurriculars demonstrates your strengths and interests outside of the classroom.


But what if you sit down to complete the activities section on your college apps and can’t think of anything to say?


Don’t panic! Chances are, you’ve done plenty of activities—they just might not have the labels that you think qualify them as such. Even if your activities aren’t as clear cut as some of your classmates’, such as class president or school choir, you can still find a way to write about them and stand out to admissions committees. In fact, your off-the-beaten-path activities may even allow you to come across as more unique. As we discuss in Why Colleges Want to See More Than Class President on Your Applications, you want to stand out and not just stick to the cliche activities. Nontraditional activities could separate you from the pack.


Think Outside the Box


It’s possible you’re thinking too strictly about the definition of an extracurricular. Really, anything that takes up your time outside of school and helps you learn and grow as a person qualifies. That could mean music lessons, continuing education classes, or something else entirely. Check What Counts as an Extracurricular? for more ideas.


Turn Your Passion Into an Activity


Chances are, you’re not spending every waking moment studying or thinking about school. So what do you do in your down time?


Perhaps you love writing. You don’t have to participate in a formal writing program or be on the staff of your school newspaper to demonstrate that passion. Writing for pleasure can be an activity in and of itself. You could even submit a portfolio of your work, assuming the college to which you’re applying welcomes such materials.


The point is that even something you love but haven’t “quantified” through an established organization is still an extracurricular activity and something you can describe on your applications.


Describe Your Nontraditional Extracurriculars


Do you babysit your siblings? That’s an extracurricular. Tutor your friends? That’s also an extracurricular. Unofficial volunteering, such as helping out people in your community, watching neighbors’ pets, and assisting at Sunday School, counts as well.


There are plenty of nontraditional activities in which you may be participating without even realizing it. For more tips, check out How to Present Nontraditional Extracurriculars on Your College Application.

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Perhaps you’ve participated in plenty of activities that are nontraditional or not easy to quantify, as described earlier. As a junior or senior, you could try to turn your passion into a more formal activity. For instance, you might start a club or run for a position in an activity that aligns with your interests.


Avoid joining something just to pad your resume. Instead, join an activity that clearly follows your area of specialization. You could even start your own!


Explain Obstacles


If you’ve faced certain obstacles, such as family emergencies or an illness, that impede your ability to participate in extracurricular activities, be sure to explain it in the additional information section of your application.


The Takeaway


Even if you haven’t participated in formal activities, you’ve still likely done something that’s worth mentioning on your college applications. Sometimes, you just have to spend some time thinking. Wording is key here: Make sure you’re doing your activity justice. Don’t belittle yourself or your activity or apologize for not participating in something more formal. Make it clear that you’ve worked hard in your pursuit! Check out How to Fill Out the Common App Activities Section for more tips.


Looking for help with your college applications? Check out our College Application Guidance Program. When you sign up for our program, we carefully pair you with the perfect admissions specialist based on your current academic and extracurricular profile and the schools in which you’re interested. Your personal specialist will help you with branding, essays, and interviews, and provide you with support and guidance in all other aspects of the application process.

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine

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