The Best Extracurriculars for Impressing Colleges
Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?
See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.
- 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?
Here are more than 40 ultra-impressive extracurricular activities across categories ranging from STEM to writing to community service to sports to 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 its 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.
But colleges receive applications from numerous academically talented students, so they need to look beyond transcripts and test scores. That’s where extracurriculars enter the picture! These activities, along with other qualitative materials, like essays, will make students stand out.
How Do Colleges Evaluate Extracurriculars?
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 (and you can only have so many tier 1 and 2 activities). This tier includes leadership positions in school clubs.
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.
Use CollegeVine’s chancing engine, which helps you better understand your profile and chances of admission to top colleges, to learn how your activities rank.
Should You Be Well-Rounded or Specialized?
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. It’s even more memorable to blend two different specialties into a single activity.
For example, if you’re an athlete who loves to write, perhaps you might find a niche in sports journalism, including starting a column for your high school newspaper. Or, if you’re a musician with a passion for helping your community, you could teach lessons to children at your community center.
How Many Extracurriculars Do You Need?
Most competitive applicants have 8-10 extracurricular activities, including seasonal activities. If you’re applying to highly selective schools, at least one or two of these should fall into tiers 1 or 2. Be careful to avoid overloading yourself with activities. If you take on too much, your grades could suffer — as could your mental health. Whether you’re aiming to be a well-rounded student or to develop your niches, it is critical that you learn to prioritize certain activities. Time management skills are really important for college, so try to practice incorporating balance into your academic, social, and personal lives before graduating!
Impressive Extracurriculars for College
International Biology Competition
Math Olympiad (1st place)
Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science
Research Science Institute
Science Olympiad (president)
Telluride Association Summer Program
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
Doctors Without Borders high school program (leadership position)
HOSA – Future Health Professionals
Shadowing a medical provider
Doors to Diplomacy Competition (award)
Model Congress (president or award)
Model UN (president)
Senate Page Program
Starting a Junior Statesmen of America chapter
Captain of a competitive sports team
Coaching a competitive team
High-ranking, recognized athlete
Running a marathon
Scholar-athlete award programs (usually run by states or districts)
Interning at a publication
NCTE Achievement Award
Publishing your work in a national publication
Quill and Scroll
Scholastic Writing Award
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
Amnesty International (leadership role)
Key Club (leadership role)
Mentoring peers or younger students through a formal program
Starting a nonprofit
Starting a volunteering club
Looking for more ideas? Check out CollegeVine’s complete list of extracurricular activities.