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Can Electronic Gaming Count as an Extracurricular?

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If you’re a current high school student, you don’t need us to tell you that electronic games are an extremely popular activity among young people today. From dedicated gaming consoles to elaborate computer games, to the simple but engrossing games that have become popular among smartphone users, everyone seems to be playing something.


Electronic gaming doesn’t always have the best reputation—there are many popular stereotypes about gamers, and not all of them are positive. However, the reality is that gaming is popular among students in an incredible range of different situations, including high schoolers contemplating the process of applying to competitive colleges.


If you’re one of these students, and you’ve invested considerable energy into your gaming pursuits, you may be wondering whether you’ll be able to include your gaming activities in your college application under the heading of extracurricular activities. The short answer is that it’s possible you can do so, but it depends on how you approach gaming and what you’ve gained from participating in that activity.


In this post, we’ll explore how gaming can count as a valuable extracurricular, and offer some advice on how to best present your gaming involvement and accomplishments when it comes time for you to apply to college.


A brief introduction to gaming and the eSports world


As we’ve mentioned, electronic games are extremely popular, and their popularity extends not only to teenagers, but to people of all ages, interests, and skill levels. Plenty of people play games casually and have fun doing so, especially given today’s proliferation of smartphones.


The terms “gaming” and “gamer”, however, are most commonly reserved for those whose interest in electronic games is on the more serious end of the spectrum. Gamers are people who have dedicated substantial time and energy to their gaming activities and who are committed to working toward certain goals, whether it’s a high score, a speed record for getting through a tough game level, or some other challenge.


You may have also heard the term “eSports” used when people are talking about competitive gaming. ESports usually refers to gaming competitions that are organized and that take place in front of an audience, whether this audience is observing physically or digitally. These competitions, which often focus on multiplayer combat-focused games that include elements of strategy and planning, have even spawned opportunities for people to become paid professional gamers.


If you’re in high school, you’re most likely not a professional gamer. However, if you’re interested in gaming, you’re likely also interested in competing with others in one way or another, discussing your interest with like-minded people, or even sharing your gaming experience through services like Twitch.


With all these possible avenues for engaging with your interest in gaming, you may find that you’re devoting a significant amount of time to that pursuit. If you’re preparing for college application season, it’s very reasonable to consider whether this investment of time and energy could be credited as one of your extracurricular activities.


Does gaming count as an extracurricular?


First, it’s useful to go over what constitutes an extracurricular activity. As we describe in the CollegeVine blog post What Counts as an Extracurricular?, in its most general sense, the category of extracurricular activities covers things you do that aren’t schoolwork, paid work, or time spent interacting socially with friends and family.


A typical extracurricular is an activity to which you devote an appreciable amount of time on a regular basis and in which you’re significantly invested. Extracurriculars could include hobbies, sports, clubs, volunteering, and many other types of activities.


Most importantly, for the purposes of the college application process, a high-quality extracurricular activity is one that is demonstrably valuable to you. This value could be personal, professional, or academic, among other categories, but either way, your activity needs to be something that has had a real impact upon you in your high school years.


The impact of your extracurricular activities can come in a variety of forms. Some activities teach concrete facts and skills that will be valuable to your future pursuits. Others help you develop less tangible personal characteristics that colleges nevertheless value, such as commitment, leadership skill, and achievement under competitive pressure.


Under these criteria, does gaming count as an extracurricular? The answer depends upon the nature of your involvement in gaming. If you casually play console games with friends now and then, or try a new phone game while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, your gaming experience most likely doesn’t count as an extracurricular activity.


If your involvement in gaming is more substantial, there’s definitely a case to be made that it should be considered an extracurricular. Gaming offers the opportunity to put in hard work and dedication in order to succeed competitively in quantifiable ways. Multiplayer games can also involve a great deal of strategy, leadership ability, and commitment.


You might have used your interest in gaming as a springboard for creative personal projects, such as writing for a game review blog, creating art based on a game, or building a game of your own. You could also start a gaming club at your school or in your community. Independent projects like these reflect your ingenuity and ability to think creatively, so they’re valuable additions to your college application.


If you intend to pursue a career that’s related to gaming in some way, of course, your experience as a gamer is even more valuable, as it is a way to learn skills that are directly relevant to your intended career path. This doesn’t mean you have to dream of being a professional gamer or even a game developer—you might also be interested in digital art, computer programming, or other technology fields.


However, you’ll likely need to put in some effort to make your case for gaming as an extracurricular. There are many people in the world who still think of gaming solely as entertainment, and some of those people might be college admissions officers. You’ll have to demonstrate that your gaming experience has given you the opportunity to develop useful skills and advance your goals for the future.

Making gaming stand out on your application


Putting together a compelling college application isn’t just about what you did in high school; it’s also about how you frame and describe your accomplishments. With a little extra attention to how you address the time and effort you’ve put into gaming, you can help admissions officers better understand why gaming has been important to you and what you’ve gained from the experience. Here are a few suggestions to consider. 


Be prepared to explain what gaming involves and why it’s a good use of your time.


Serious gaming is relatively new and unusual as a potential extracurricular for high school students. Guidance counselors, admissions officers, scholarship administrators, and others you encounter during the college application process may not be entirely familiar with what it entails, or may have inaccurate preconceptions about the gaming world.


To be on the safe side, don’t assume that those evaluating your applications will be knowledgeable about gaming. Come up with a concise way to describe your gaming activity and why it’s a valuable part of your background, and be prepared to use that explanation in essay questions, interviews, or other admissions-related situations.


You may also want to proactively address any doubts others may have about the value of gaming. Again, serious, organized, competitive gaming is a relatively new type of activity. Others may see it only as a form of entertainment, and not realize how much it can contribute to building valuable skills and laying the foundation for your future plans. It’s up to you to convince them otherwise.


Keep track of quantitative data about your performance.


When possible, it’s always a good idea to give colleges specific facts and figures that demonstrate your high level of performance in a particular field, be it academics, standardized tests, or extracurriculars. Gaming is no different.


Think about how you’re going to show that your hard work and dedication bore fruit in the field of gaming, whether that’s through your performance in gaming competitions, your rankings among other players, or whatever measure your game of choice uses. If your data can be independently verified—for instance, if your win in a gaming competition was covered by a media source—so much the better.


Of course, working hard and being dedicated don’t always result in winning prestigious awards or titles. However, whatever solid data you can offer about what you achieved in the world of gaming will be helpful in getting colleges to recognize it as a valuable extracurricular activity.


Seek out ways to distinguish yourself.


In order to have gaming-related accomplishments to list on your college applications, you’ll first have to find opportunities to set yourself apart. Entering gaming competitions or undertaking notable projects related to a game are great ways to differentiate yourself from the masses of people whose gaming involvement is more casual.


Your exact set of opportunities will depend upon your particular talents and what games you play, but there’s sure to be some way for you to show off the skill and dedication you’ve put into gaming. As we’ve mentioned, you should feel free to get creative—unusual and innovative projects may be particularly compelling to colleges, as they can serve as evidence of your original thinking.


Show that gaming is harmonious with your priorities and interests.


Just as with any extracurricular, gaming shouldn’t interfere with your academic and other important pursuits. High-quality extracurricular involvement is a necessity if you’re planning to apply to competitive colleges, but it can’t replace spending sufficient time on your schoolwork. If it appears that your gaming activities may have compromised your grades or otherwise distracted you from important tasks, that won’t reflect well upon you.


Similarly, gaming involvement is more likely to work in your favor if you’re interested in related fields. Colleges like to see depth as well as breadth when it comes to your activities. Gaming could be presented alongside other related activities to support your specialized interest in computer programming, for example.


Use your essay question(s) to offer a more detailed explanation.


You’ll have to submit at least one essay as part of essentially every college application, and competitive colleges often ask for more than one. Some essay questions on college applications directly ask about your extracurriculars; others are open-ended, but could potentially take on extracurriculars as topics. 


Either way, essay questions can give you the opportunity to talk about your gaming experiences in greater detail on your college application. If so, this can be a great opportunity to demonstrate how gaming has positively affected your life, personal development, and/or career development.


You’ll need to be able to talk about your gaming in a mature and nuanced way. What do you enjoy about it? What good things does it add to your life? How does it support your future plans and aspirations? A compelling essay on this topic can do a great deal to persuade colleges of the value of your gaming involvement.


Good Example of a Gaming Extracurricular


Now that you have the above tips, you may be wondering what a good example of a gaming extracurricular actually looks like. Let’s take a look at a hypothetical situation: say there is a student called Mandy who loves Minecraft and spends several hours a week playing with friends. She also loves programming, and took AP Computer Science as a freshman. By combining her two passions, she started to code plugins for Minecraft servers using her knowledge of Java.


This would be a good example of a gaming extracurricular, as Mandy has taken her gaming interest a step further an fused it with an academic—and potentially even professional—interest. She might list the activity on her Common App list as such:


Programmed plugins for Minecraft servers

  • Independently programmed 4 public plugins using Java
  • Responded to ~20 weekly user support requests
  • Averaged 2,000 downloads for each plugin


In this case, quantifying the activity through downloads, number of support requests, and number of plugins demonstrates the reach of the extracurricular. This listing also shows that Mandy is capable of providing “customer service” and working with people, as she is responding to support requests. In your own activities list, aim for a similar level of specificity, and be sure to share the soft skills gained.


For more information


Are you one of the many high school students interested in the ever-growing field of computer science and technology? Check out the following posts from the CollegeVine blog for our guidance on related topics.



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Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.