The Best Extracurriculars for Impressing Colleges

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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.

 

 

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

 

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

 

STEM

 

International Biology Competition

Math Olympiad (1st place)

Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science

Research Science Institute

Science Olympiad (president)

Telluride Association Summer Program

 

Arts

 

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

 

Medicine

 

Doctors Without Borders high school program (leadership position)

HOSA – Future Health Professionals

Medical Explorers

Medicine-related internship

Shadowing a medical provider

 

Politics

 

Doors to Diplomacy Competition (award)

Model Congress (president or award)

Model UN (president)

Senate Page Program

Starting a Junior Statesmen of America chapter

 

Athletics

 

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)

 

Writing

 

Interning at a publication

NCTE Achievement Award

Newspaper (editor)

Publishing your work in a national publication

Quill and Scroll

Scholastic Writing Award

 

Music

 

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

 

Community Service

 

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.

 

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Short Bio
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.

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