What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Breaking Down the 4 Tiers of Extracurricular Activities

What’s Covered:


Extracurricular activities allow colleges and universities to get a better understanding of a student outside of the classroom. They offer students a chance to share with a college what they’re passionate about and demonstrate their readiness for higher education.


A student with a robust extracurricular profile, great grades, and strong test scores has proven their ability to juggle multiple activities and commitments. Extracurricular activities also provide an opportunity for students to set themselves apart from a crowded field of applicants with similar academic profiles.


What Are Extracurricular Activities?


Wondering what exactly qualifies as an extracurricular activity? Does working a summer job count? How about taking care of your sibling? What about volunteering at your local library?


As a general rule, anything you do routinely outside of the classroom—and not for academic credit—counts as an extracurricular. These activities should have value for you and should have a significant impact on your development.


For example, watching Netflix wouldn’t count, but running your own movie critique and analysis blog would. Casually playing Minecraft wouldn’t count, but programming your own Minecraft plugins with 1,000+ downloads each would. In both examples, the situations that wouldn’t count were simply activities for leisure. The examples that were actually extracurriculars likely contributed to the student’s growth and helped them develop real-world skills.


In a similar vein, extracurriculars are something that you should devote significant time to. Volunteering once to fulfill a requirement isn’t something you should list on your college application, but volunteering weekly for a year could definitely fit the bill.


Basically any organized club, sport, or other activity can be classified as an extracurricular as long as you’ve shown dedication and the activity has helped you grow in some meaningful way. Personal projects like running a half marathon, building an app, or learning to do a Lutz jump would also fit the criteria of an extracurricular. This means that working a job, taking care of a sibling, and volunteering for a weekly shift at the library also count as extracurriculars.


List of Extracurricular Activity Examples


Struggling to come up with extracurricular activity ideas? Top colleges and universities generally prize students who demonstrate passion, leadership, and commitment. Check out this extracurricular activity list for tips on finding new activities—and determining which of your current hobbies and passions to include on your college application.


Field or Interest

Extracurricular Activities


  • Take an online coding class
  • Create a website
  • Develop an app
  • Participate in a hackathon
  • Build a computer
  • Join a computer science club
  • Volunteer IT support to a local non-profit
  • Go to coding camp
  • Volunteer to teach seniors about technology
  • Create a video game


  • Plant and cultivate a pollinator garden
  • Take part in an event like the Great Backyard Bird Count
  • Create a compost area for your home or neighborhood
  • Start a sustainability club
  • Advocate for your school to become zero-waste
  • Take a summer forestry program
  • Organize a tree-planting event
  • Fundraise for a community garden
  • Volunteer with a local conservation organization
  • Join a group with a mission important to you—for example, Ducks Unlimited (a group protecting waterfowl and wetlands) has a high school volunteer program

Jobs and volunteer work

  • Get an internship in your chosen major
  • Volunteer at a children’s center
  • Help out at an animal shelter
  • Lead a scout troop
  • Hold a part-time job (especially if you’re helping support your family)
  • Tutor ESL students
  • Volunteer at your local senior center
  • Virtually volunteer for a group like Mozilla or the Smithsonian
  • Join a group like the Kiwanis or Lions
  • Help out at the local homeless shelter or food pantry

Math and science

  • Compete in a Math Bowl
  • Take summer science programs
  • Tutor classmates
  • Compete in a virtual or in-person science fair or competition
  • Start an astronomy club
  • Found a math or science club
  • Participate in robotics competitions
  • Take an online science class
  • Conduct an independent research project
  • Get a research-based internship


  • Participate in school musicals
  • Play in the school band
  • Join a community chorus or choir
  • Take private music lessons
  • Write and record an album
  • Organize a community concert or music festival
  • Start a band
  • Provide music lessons
  • Volunteer or intern at a local radio station
  • Start a music vlog


  • Participate in student government
  • Join Model UN
  • Participate in debates with a debate team
  • Write political articles for the school paper
  • Help raise money for a candidate
  • Phone or text bank for a campaign
  • Run for student government
  • Volunteer for a politician
  • Become an online activist for a cause you care about
  • Join a youth-focused political organization, like the High School Democrats of America or High School Republicans

Social Justice

  • Volunteer with a group like Amnesty International
  • Join a group like Black Lives Matter
  • Organize a Pride event
  • Start a non-profit
  • Fundraise online for a cause you care about, like immigrant rights or food insecurity
  • Join or start a GSA club at your school
  • Start a Queer book club
  • Participate in March For Our Lives
  • Volunteer to do virtual anti-racism work
  • Assist a group advocating for a cause you care about


  • High school athletics (especially captain positions)
  • Study martial arts
  • Coach youth sports
  • Volunteer or work as an umpire or referee
  • Start a pickleball club
  • Run a marathon
  • Compete in a triathlon
  • Join the climbing team at the local rock gym
  • Teach yoga
  • Start an esports team


  • Work for the student newspaper (particularly in an editorial role)
  • Create a literary magazine
  • Start a blog
  • Write a novel
  • Self-publish a book
  • Host a poetry reading
  • Start a virtual poetry group over Zoom
  • Get an article published in a well-known paper or magazine
  • Participate in a virtual writing workshop
  • Form or join an online book club

Visual and performing arts

  • Take painting or drawing lessons
  • Join drama club
  • Take part in community theater
  • Create a YouTube Channel
  • Shoot a film
  • Organize a local art festival/exhibition
  • Volunteer at a museum
  • Volunteer or intern at a local gallery or with a local artist
  • Start an art-focused podcast
  • Create an online art shop on a platform like Etsy


Balancing Breadth and Depth of Extracurriculars


When preparing for college admissions, it’s important for students to balance their extracurricular activities between breadth and depth. Too many activities can suggest that a student hasn’t found something they’re passionate about, or it can hint at a lack of focus or commitment. Alternately, a lack of extracurricular activities may leave colleges wondering how you’ll fit at their institution.


Students want to display juxtapositional depth to colleges. They can do this by focusing on two or three extracurricular activities that they can fully commit to and succeed in, and that highlight their different attributes as a student. Colleges are interested in students who are passionate about their interests and who are pursuing them to the fullest.


A great example of a student with juxtapositional depth is the starting quarterback for the football team in the fall who runs spring track and also plays in the school’s competitive jazz band—exhibiting dual interests in sports and music. Another example is a student who qualifies for the National Debate Tournament and who is also the captain of the school’s math club and a top scorer in the American Mathematics Contest 12—illustrating an interest in both debate and math.


Developing Your Extracurricular Profile


Part of the high school experience for a student is about developing interests and learning what they’re passionate about. Another key aspect of high school is preparing for college. With proper planning, high schoolers can accomplish both through careful choices of extracurricular activities.


Freshman Year: Freshman year is a student’s opportunity to join multiple clubs across different fields of interest, both in and out of the school environment. Students with an interest in music and athletics should try out for the band or sports teams. If there is a cause a student is passionate about, they should seek out volunteer opportunities related to it.


Sophomore Year: During sophomore year, students should begin narrowing the focus of their extracurricular activities, spending their time on the activities most meaningful to them. If there’s something a student is extremely passionate about but has no outlet for, they should start a group or organization to support that interest. Students should also consider potential future leadership opportunities in the extracurricular activities that they’re already involved in. Colleges want to admit leaders.


Junior Year: Because colleges and universities value leadership, students in their junior year should seek out as many leadership positions as possible. Students in leadership positions should work to expand the clubs and organizations under their guidance to show colleges the positive and lasting impact they made.


Senior Year: Students in their senior year should aim for high leadership positions within the clubs and organizations they’re involved in and establish initiatives that reflect what they’ve learned over the past four years.


The 4 Tiers of Extracurricular Activities


There’s no such thing as a bad extracurricular activity; however, some are more impressive to colleges than others. The extracurricular activities that stand out the most are those that admissions officers see the least—the more successful or involved a student is in their chosen activity, the more it will resonate with college admissions officers. For example, acting is a stronger extracurricular activity for a college-bound student who had a role in a major movie compared to a student who had a role in a school play.


Tier 1 Extracurricular Activities


Tier 1 activities are rare and demonstrate exceptional achievement or leadership. The impressiveness of what a student has accomplished in their pursuit and the scarcity with which such activities are seen make them extremely impactful with admissions officers. Any number of activities can fall under Tier 1—it’s the success a student has had that influences the activity’s value to colleges.


Tier 1 activities can include athletic achievements, such as being a highly recruited basketball player or a nationally ranked tennis player. Likewise, national recognition for musical prowess such as winning a Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award qualifies as a Tier 1 activity. Winning prestigious national academic awards, like first place at the United States of America Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO), qualifying for the International Biology Competition (IBO), or winning an Intel Award also qualify as Tier 1 activities.


Attendance at a distinguished summer program, such as the Anson L. Clark Scholars Program, also counts as a Tier 1 extracurricular activity. Self-driven activities can serve as Tier 1 activities as well—for example, writing a novel that gained national attention, or raising a substantial amount of money for a cause in a self-started fundraiser.


In some instances, volunteering will also qualify as a Tier 1 activity. Students who start regional or national organizations that receive news coverage often have the high-profile status desired by colleges. These kinds of volunteer efforts can range from collecting non-perishable foods for a community following a natural disaster to turning a love of soccer into an effort to build fields in underserved communities. That said, merely participating in a standard volunteer opportunity with no leadership role or major impact is typically classified as Tier 4 activity.


Tier 2 Extracurricular Activities


Tier 2 extracurriculars are endeavors that show high levels of achievement and leadership, and are impressive accomplishments to have in a student’s profile. The difference between Tier 2 and Tier 1 extracurricular activities is that Tier 2 activities are a little more common and therefore slightly less influential on college admissions.


Examples of Tier 2 activities include holding a leadership position, like president or chair, in a well-respected club such as the Model UN, debate team, or Science Olympiad. Holding a leadership position shows schools that a student is not only participating in a club, but is also demonstrating a deep commitment to it and helping guide it into the future.


Successes on the playing field and on the stage—for example, making an all-state selection in football, band, or orchestra—are also excellent examples of Tier 2 extracurricular activities. Similarly, winning a regional competition, such as a Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) would qualify as a Tier 2 activity.


Self-driven activities can also qualify as Tier 2 extracurriculars. These can include creating a short film that wins a regional competition, or being a finalist in prestigious national competitions such as the competition for National Youth Poet Laureate. Additionally, volunteer work that gains regional or statewide acclaim can serve as a Tier 2 activity—for instance, a student who made the news for creating an applauded program to welcome refugees into their community.


Tier 3 Extracurricular Activities


Tier 2 extracurricular activities demonstrate a student’s participation in pursuits outside of the classroom and help show colleges a more complete picture of the student—but they don’t have the same distinction as the undertakings found in the higher tiers.


Holding a minor leadership position in clubs like the Model UN, debate team, and Science Olympiad are good examples of Tier 3 extracurricular activities. Possessing a position such as treasurer or secretary in a club also qualifies as a Tier 3 activity. Even though these activities demonstrate leadership and show your potential for dedication to potential colleges, they’re less impactful and less impressive than holding a higher position, like president or captain.


Athletes who didn’t qualify for an all-state team, but who earned distinctions like a Player of the Week award can find their participation in sports in Tier 3. Similarly, musicians who didn’t qualify for an all-state band or orchestra, but who did get selected for a selective regional ensemble can count their musical pursuits as Tier 3 activities.


Self-driven activities with a small reach—such as getting groceries for an elderly neighbor or mentoring a younger student—are also commonly categorized into Tier 3.


Tier 4 Extracurricular Activities


Tier 4 extracurricular activities are the most common activities seen by college admissions officers. While these endeavors do not have the same impact on admissions officers as activities in the higher tiers, they’re still valuable for showing potential schools the individual behind your grades and application.


General membership in the aforementioned clubs (such as the Model UN, debate team, and Science Olympiad) are Tier 4 activities. Likewise, participation in sports—like being a member of the track team or taking karate for five years—is useful for highlighting a student’s pursuits outside the classroom. Another excellent example of a Tier 4 extracurricular activity would be playing in the marching band or learning piano outside of school.


General volunteerism is also a reliable Tier 4 activity. If you’ve been consistently volunteering at the food bank or senior center, this is the tier in which you’d find these activities.


How Do Extracurriculars Impact Your Chances of Acceptance?


Not sure what tiers your extracurricular activities fall into? Interested in how your activities outside of the classroom influence your odds of college admission? CollegeVine can help. Our free chancing engine uses a number of metrics—including extracurricular activities—to estimate your odds at more than 1,600 colleges. You can even use the chancing engine to test the effect that having a higher-tiered extracurricular activity has on your chances of college acceptance—like if an activity was Tier 2, rather than Tier 3.

Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.