73 Awesome Extracurriculars for Impressing Colleges
- How Important are Extracurriculars in Admissions?
- How Do Colleges Evaluate Extracurriculars?
- Should You Be Well-Rounded or Specialized?
- How Many Extracurriculars Do You Need?
- Impressive Extracurriculars for College
What you do outside of the classroom is almost as important as what you do in it. Your extracurricular activities will set you apart from other academically qualified college candidates. But which ones are the best for highlighting your talents and strengths?
Below are some impressive extracurricular activities across various categories ranging from STEM to sports that you can add to your resume and boost your chances of admission to your dream school!
How Important are Extracurriculars in Admissions?
Extracurricular activities account for about 30% of a college application. But their impact on your admissions chances is a bit more nuanced than that. Most highly selective colleges use the Academic Index to screen applicants. This metric represents academic factors like grades and test scores. Students must meet the college’s minimum standards before the admissions committee will take a closer look at their application.
However, colleges receive applications from thousands of students who reach their Academic Index threshold, so how do they make their final decisions? That’s where extracurriculars enter the picture! These activities, along with other qualitative materials, like essays, will make students stand out.
Curious how your Academic Index and extracurriculars will affect your admissions chances? Our free chancing engine takes into account GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your chances of admission at over 1600 colleges across the country. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile.
How Do Colleges Evaluate Extracurriculars?
Not all extracurriculars are created equally. There is a system CollegeVine and admissions committees use to evaluate extracurriculars based on their uniqueness and the level of dedication or skill they demonstrate. Extracurricular activities can be divided into four tiers.
Tier 1 Extracurricular Activities
These are usually rare and demonstrate exceptional talent, achievement, or merit. Winning a prestigious national award, sitting first chair in an all-state orchestra, and starting a nonprofit that gains national attention are examples of tier 1 activities.
Tier 2 Extracurricular Activities
While somewhat more common than tier 1 activities, tier 2 activities still demonstrate exceptional achievement. Admissions committees simply encounter these activities more frequently than they do those in tier 1. For example, you might serve as student body present, make it to state tournaments for tennis, or you could win a local or regional contest.
Tier 3 Extracurricular Activities
These activities are more frequently found on students’ applications, but they’re still worth including since they demonstrate applicants’ interests outside of the classroom. This tier includes smaller leadership positions in school clubs like treasurer or distinctions in a sport like player of the week or junior captain.
Tier 4 Extracurricular Activities
Tier 4 describes the activities that are most commonly seen by admissions committees. Although less impressive than the other tiers, these activities do play a role in helping colleges see what kind of student and person they would be admitting. This tier includes general membership in clubs and organizations, volunteering regularly, or taking music classes or other types of lessons for several years.
The activity itself is less important than your commitment to it. Tier 1 and 2 activities that demonstrate a real passion should be prioritized, but, of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll have more than a couple of those on your resume.
Should You Be Well-Rounded or Specialized?
Contrary to popular belief, being well-rounded doesn’t necessarily make you stand out to college admissions officers. It’s a pervasive myth that you need to be well-rounded to get into a good college. In reality, students are more likely to stand out with a well-developed specialty, also known as a spike. This depth, instead of breadth, can showcase your commitment, passion, and potential to contribute uniquely to the college community.
Furthermore, you can enhance your spike with juxtapositional depth. It’s a term that describes the blending of two different specialties into a single activity, which can make you even more memorable to the admissions committee.
For example, if you’re an athlete who loves to write, you might combine these interests by finding a niche in sports journalism, such as starting a column for your high school newspaper.
Or, if you’re a musician with a passion for helping your community, you could teach music lessons to children at your community center.
Another example could be a student passionate about both software and sports. They could develop an app to track stats for their school’s teams, or they could start a coding club that creates software to help local sports clubs with their logistics.
How Many Extracurriculars Do You Need?
There isn’t a fixed number of extracurricular activities that an applicant must have on their list. While competitive applicants often have 8-10 activities, this is merely an average, not a requirement. Doing more activities isn’t necessarily better. The impact and tier of the extracurriculars are most important. Additionally, remember that many activities, like sports, are seasonal; you definitely don’t need to be doing 8-10 activities all at once!
Remember, your extracurriculars should showcase your talents, interests, and commitment. If you take on too much, your grades could suffer—as could your mental health. Learning to prioritize certain activities and manage your time is a valuable skill, not only for college applications but also for life beyond high school.
73 Impressive Extracurriculars for College
The following are extracurriculars you could consider joining depending on your interests. Remember, the most impressive extracurriculars are those with juxtapositional depth that connect two of your interests, so if you see something you like in the Medicine and Music category, why not start your own activity and bridge your two interests together!
- International Biology Competition
- Math Olympiad (1st place)
- Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science
- Research Science Institute
- Science Olympiad (president)
- Telluride Association Summer Program
- Hackathon programs (and winning an award)
- Computer science internships
- Robotics programs (and winning an award)
- Creating custom websites for businesses
- Founding a science, technology, engineering, or math club at your school
- Organizing a community-wide STEM fair or event
- Congressional Art Competition
- International Thespian Honor Society
- Juilliard Summer Dance Intensive
- National Art Honor Society (award)
- National YoungArts Week
- Scholastic Art Award
- Teaching art lessons
- Painting a mural for your city
- Organizing a local arts festival or exhibition
- Directing a play or film
- Starting a local art class for children or adults
- Doctors Without Borders high school program (leadership position)
- HOSA – Future Health Professionals
- Medical Explorers
- Medicine-related internship
- Volunteering in a clinic
- Doing research
- Founding a medical science club at your school
- Organizing a health fair in your community
- Launching a public health awareness campaign
- Doors to Diplomacy Competition (award)
- Model Congress (president or award)
- Model UN (president)
- Senate Page Program
- Starting a Junior Statesmen of America chapter
- Volunteering for a political campaign
- Founding a political discussion or debate club at your school
- Starting a blog or podcast that discusses current political issues (and getting a good amount of traction)
- Captain of a competitive sports team
- Coaching a competitive team
- High-ranking, recognized athlete
- Running a half marathon
- Scholar-athlete award programs (usually run by states or districts)
- Founding a new sports team or club at your school
- Organizing a community sports event, like a fun run or charity game
- Launching a fitness or wellness initiative in your community
- Interning at a publication
- NCTE Achievement Award
- Newspaper (editor)
- Publishing your work in a national publication
- Quill and Scroll
- Scholastic Writing Award
- Starting a creative writing club at your school
- Publishing a book or ebook
- Hosting a community poetry reading or writer’s workshop
- All-state band or orchestra
- Demonstrated exceptional skill in a difficult or less common instrument (e.g. oboe)
- Director or leader of a music ensemble, band, or orchestra
- Starting an in- or outside-of-school music group or ensemble
- Tri-M Music Honor Society
- Organizing a community concert or music festival
- Starting a school radio station or podcast featuring student music
- Teaching music lessons to children in your community
- Amnesty International (leadership role)
- Key Club (leadership role)
- Mentoring peers or younger students through a formal program
- Starting a nonprofit
- Starting a volunteering club
- Organizing a large-scale fundraising event for a local charity
- Creating a community garden or other environmental project
- Launching a tutoring or mentorship program for younger students.
Looking for more ideas? Check out CollegeVine’s complete list of extracurricular activities.
Remember, colleges are interested in how you’ve demonstrated leadership, initiative, and growth through your extracurricular activities. The more you’ve taken on responsibility or achieved a high level of expertise, the more impressive the activity will be to admissions officers.
Your activities should reflect your genuine interests and the things you’re passionate about. College admissions officers can often tell if an activity is just padding for your resume, and they’re more interested in what you’re truly excited about. It’s okay to explore a variety of activities early in your high school career, but as you progress, try to focus more on the ones that you’re truly passionate about.