Starting your freshman year of high school is often exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. Not only do you have new classes and expectations, but you are also developing new interests and must find ways (“extracurricular activities”) to fill up your free time. So just what are extracurriculars, and why should you start building them as a freshman?

 

What is an Extracurricular Activity?

An extracurricular activity is essentially something you do outside of class time that is meaningful to you and from which you are learning. While it can be related to a subject that interests you, it should not be a project that you are doing for a specific class. (For more extracurricular criteria, check out “What Counts as an Extracurricular?”)

 

Most high school students get involved in extracurricular activities in some form or another, not just because they provide you with ways of learning new things, having meaningful experiences, and meeting like-minded people, but because they are an important part of the college process. For better or worse, colleges will evaluate not only your academic performance, but your extracurricular activities as well.

 

Why Does Freshman Year  Matter?

While colleges place less weight on your freshman and sophomore years than your junior and senior years in the admissions process, both in terms of academic performance and extracurricular commitment, time passes quickly. Starting early provides you with more opportunities—and wiggle room, in case some activities don’t work out. While there are some circumstances under which it may be okay to join a new activity in your junior or senior year, as discussed in this guide, for the most part, it can be difficult to jump into something new later in high school.

Activities outside of the classroom can have a number of positive impacts:

• They can complement your academic experiences.
• They allow you to develop skills that may not be taught in the classroom.
• They give you a chance to express the things about which you are most passionate.
• They may provide leadership opportunities. (For more on the importance of becoming a leader, read “Your Resume Revamped: Securing Leadership Positions and Perfecting Your Extracurricular Profile.”)
• They may improve your social life and allow you to get involved in your school community, especially in your first year of high school, when you are looking to meet new people.
For more information on getting the most out of your activities, check out “Your Comprehensive Guide to Extracurriculars.”

 

Where Do You Start?

Trying to get involved as a freshman may seem daunting at first, but remember that you have a lot of resources at your disposal.

You could start by flipping through the yearbook from the previous year. This way, you can see what has been offered in the past, which teachers have served as advisors, what upperclassmen are involved, and so on. If you are not sure how to join a particular activity, try approaching the faculty advisor or an older member for advice.

Your high school may also offer opportunities to find out more about activities and get involved. Be on the lookout for fliers, emails, and other announcements. Many groups hold introductory meetings at the beginning of the year or semester to encourage new participants to join. Some high schools might hold fairs to showcase the clubs and activities that are available.

You should also try to find activities outside of school. As we describe in “How to Determine Which Clubs to Join: A Guide for Freshmen,” connections you make through in-school activities can also lead to activities outside of school. For example, if you are involved in the school band, fellow participants or the director may be involved in other music groups that you might be able to join as well. You can also try to find activities on your own. Try looking online and talking to teachers and other adults in your community about your interests. They may know of internships, programs, or other activities that may be suitable for you.

 

What Should You Prioritize When Choosing Activities?

Since you are just beginning high school, you may not know exactly want you want to do yet. That’s okay! Now is the time to explore. You don’t have to have a clear idea of what your major or future career will be. And you don’t have to commit to every activity you start, either.
However, you should make an effort to explore possible interests and get involved, so you can build upon them or find better-suited activities going forward. Start by thinking about your academic interests and the areas in which you excel. Then think about activities that use those skills. For instance, if English is your strong suit, trying joining the school newspaper or literary magazine. If you love languages, perhaps you could get involved in a specific language club.
You might also think about skills you would like to learn that might be valuable going forward. For example, if you want to become a better public speaker, perhaps you could get involved in debate. If you are hoping to become a teacher, think about tutoring, either in school or at an after-school program in your community.

 

You should also think about which activities might give you the opportunity to grow and eventually gain leadership roles and responsibilities. While it may be too early to tell, think about what kinds of activities seem to have leadership potential. How is the activity structured? Do juniors and seniors run the club or organization, or are faculty members in charge? Do you see a role for yourself? Is it an activity that seems to find value in your skills?

 

You should also keep in mind that leadership can have multiple definitions. Just because you aren’t the president of a club doesn’t mean you are not a leader. For instance, if you volunteer at an organization (e.g. a soup kitchen) outside of school, you may be tasked with training others or performing independent duties. That still shows leadership, even if you don’t carry an official title. Additionally, finding opportunities to get involved outside of school in the first place demonstrates initiative.

 

It is also important to make sure you don’t overload yourself right off the bat. While it is a good idea to join several different activities to start, try whittling them down once you can tell which ones are working and which ones are not. As we discuss in “How to Effectively Balance Your Time in High School,” you don’t need to overload yourself with activities—this may result in undue stress, and can also cause your grades to suffer. Pick a few activities to which you can really commit. While you don’t have to have a clearly defined path yet, eventually colleges are going to want to see specialization, or excellence and commitment in a specific area—so ultimately it is better to have a few activities in which you truly excel than many scattered clubs in which you haven’t invested much effort. Also, since you are just starting high school, you may not know how much time you will need to invest in homework and studying. Try to find a balance to avoid overloading yourself.

 

What Can You Expect from Extracurricular Activities as a 9th Grader?

This is the time to explore new things and find your niche. You may not be a superstar in the clubs, organizations, or other activities immediately, so don’t stress if you feel like you’re still learning the ropes. Right now, just focus on building your experience, expertise, and reputation in the activity.

 

Since you are most likely one of the younger participants in the activity, you probably won’t have the opportunity to take on leadership positions immediately. Be patient and understand that upperclassmen have be involved longer, and have therefore had more time to gain experience and leadership skills.

 

If you are lucky enough to find an activity you love in your freshman year and stick with it throughout high school, you may have a chance to help shape the future and direction of the activity. There are many other benefits as well. For starters, you will be engaging in something you enjoy. As we mentioned previously, you will also be building connections with likeminded group members, which may lead to activities outside of school as well. Additionally, you can develop relationships with club advisors, who could write you recommendations based on your skills and performance in and out of the classroom.

 

However, if you find you don’t particularly enjoy an activity you joined initially, you don’t need to stay with it. In fact, as we discuss in “Will Quitting an Extracurricular Reflect Poorly on My College Applications?” it is much better to leave an activity earlier rather than later (although you should still try to give it a chance). Since you are still in the exploring stage, colleges understand that you haven’t fully honed your interests. Quitting an activity you don’t enjoy now will free up time for you to pursue something to which you may be better-suited.

 

The Takeaway

Ultimately, 9th grade is a time for you to explore a range of activities and find new interests or find opportunities to explore interests you already have. While your freshman year activities may not be as important for your college applications as those in your later high school years, starting early allows you to build skills and commit to something over time. It may also give you the opportunity to be a leader later on, as well as develop connections with peers and mentors.
For more information on extracurricular activities and navigating your early high school years, check out some of our posts below.

 

How to Determine Which Clubs to Join: A Guide for Freshmen
A  Guide to Freshman and Sophomore Years
Your Comprehensive Guide to Extracurriculars
How Much Do Extracurricular Activities Matter in College Admissions?
What Counts as an Extracurricular?
Well-Rounded or Specialized?
How to Effectively Balance Your Time in High School
Will Quitting an Extracurricular Reflect Poorly on My College Applications?
Do I Need Community Service for My College Applications?
Why You Should Send a Resume to Colleges?
Your Resume, Revamped: Securing Leadership Positions and Perfecting Your Extracurricular Profile
The Dos and Don’ts of Joining Extracurriculars Your Senior Year
How Do I Get an Internship?
Is It Too Late to Join a Club Junior or Senior Year?

 

Want to make the most of your high school career and develop strong skills and interests early on? Check out CollegeVine’s Mentorship Program. You will be paired with a mentor from a top college who will work with you one on one to help you discover your interests, develop significant self-motivation, and gain the skills necessary to show the best side of yourself to college admissions committees.

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 in publishing. She also writes, dreams of owning a dog, and routinely brags about the health of her orchid.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine