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High School Extracurriculars to Join & How to Prioritize Them

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Many students and parents make the mistake of thinking that the key to getting into college is to have good grades. Indeed, this is certainly a large factor in college admissions, especially if you’re applying to the top schools. However, colleges also want their students to be well-rounded and engaged in their high school community.


In other words, colleges want to see that you have not just done well academically but have been able to handle multiple activities and time commitments. These include jobs, hobbies, and most importantly, high school extracurricular activities.


The extracurricular activities that you participate in during high school are important because colleges use your activities as an indication of who you are and what kind of student you are when evaluating your college application. Through your extracurricular profile, colleges get a sense of what your interests and passions are, what fields you excel in, and whether you would fit in at the university.


Given the importance of extracurriculars for your college application, it’s important to make them a priority. However, which extracurriculars should you be prioritizing over others? Should extracurriculars be prioritized above your academics and other commitments? For the answers to those questions and more, read on.



What are the biggest mistakes that students make with regards to extracurriculars?


Before we begin, we at CollegeVine think it is important to first dispel some popular, though untrue, rumors about your high school extracurricular profile.


Rumor #1. Joining a bunch of different extracurriculars will impress colleges.


What’s true: you should join as many as you can handle, and try to make an impact in those activities. It can be easy to overload yourself though, and colleges won’t be impressed if other aspects of your application suffer. 


You also shouldn’t join extracurriculars “just because.” It’s important for them to make sense in the context of your profile and goals. If you’re an aspiring engineering major with no experience in theater, you shouldn’t join a school play for one season just to add to your resume. It will be obvious that you don’t have a genuine interest in the activity. This doesn’t mean you can’t have disparate interests–a prospective engineering major should do theater if they’re actually passionate about it! Colleges are looking for authentic, long-held interests and deep involvement.


Rumor #2. You should join an organization because “it’ll look good on your college resume”


Actually, colleges don’t have a list of organizations that they want to see on an applicant’s application. Colleges like diversity in their student body, so they’ll select students with very different extracurricular profiles, so long as the student made an impact in those clubs/organizations, and really showed their passions through their extracurricular involvement.


Is it possible to have too many or too few extracurriculars?


In general, colleges generally like to see that you were involved in more than one extracurricular because it shows that you can handle multiple responsibilities, a life skill that you will definitely need in college. 


The most competitive students will have 8-10 extracurriculars on their application. While this sounds like A LOT, keep in mind that most activities are seasonal, so these students aren’t necessarily doing 8-10 activities all at once. Keep in mind that colleges also like to see deep involvement; it’s better to have fewer activities and be committed to them than to only be tangentially involved in many extracurriculars.


We at CollegeVine recommend that you only take on as many activities as you can handle. You may think that you need to join a bunch of activities to impress colleges, but you may end up hurting yourself in the long run if you can’t handle it all. Oftentimes, students who overload or overwork themselves see lower grades, an inability to meet deadlines, and sometimes even declining health. If you want to learn more about maintaining an extracurricular balance, see our post: The Dangers of Overcommitting: How Taking On Too Much Can Hurt Your Applications.


The bottom line: generally, the more activities and the more deeply involved you are, the better.  But, there definitely is such a thing as too many or too few extracurriculars depending on the person.


How do college admissions factor into your extracurricular involvement?


Extracurriculars  and your college essays are the main non-quantitative parts of your college application. Those two parts let the admissions officers get a sense of who you are–your personality, your interests are, and your passions. The high school extracurricular activities on your college resume speak to your skills and where you best fit in. This is important information as a college assesses whether they should admit you to their university.


Colleges don’t care as much about the quantity of extracurriculars on your application so much as they care about the impact that you had on the organization. In other words, a college admissions officer would much rather see that you were president of a club and improved the club through your efforts than see that you were in 5 different clubs and did just the bare minimum.



Keys To Choosing Extracurriculars


1. Look for Opportunities to Do What You Love


If colleges look to your college applications to get an idea of your interests and passions, you should make sure that your extracurricular involvement is a good indicator of that. Most importantly, make sure you’re enjoying each club and organization that you’re a part of. If you don’t see a club or organization at your school that represents one of your passion, you can always start that club! To help you get started, see 30 High School Clubs You Can Start Now.


2. Don’t Jump Around


When you first start high school, it’s normal to join many extracurriculars, quit some, join others, and overall take some time to find out which activities best suit your interests. After your second or third year of high school, however, you should try to have your extracurricular profile just about figured out. Then, you can focus on trying to get deeply involved and garner leadership positions in the extracurriculars that you have chosen.

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3. Look for the opportunity to make an impact


While you’re exploring your different high school extracurricular activities, try to get a feel of how much leeway each club or organization has for you to contribute something meaningful. You don’t want to be in a club just for the sake of being in it, but rather you should have something worthwhile to tell colleges about your involvement–some big project you led or something you did for the club. Try to figure out which of the extracurriculars you are in has the best room for that kind of personal growth, and prioritize your extracurriculars accordingly.


4. Be Mindful of Time Commitments


It may not be wise to get involved in band, orchestra, and cheer all in one semester, as those are all very high-commitment activities. Be very honest with yourself from the beginning about how much time you have to contribute to your extracurricular involvement and try to allocate that time as equally as you can among your various activities. The ultimate goal is to not overwhelm yourself.



How to Prioritize Your Extracurriculars

First Priority: The Extracurricular You Are Passionate About


If there is a specific club or activity that you are deeply invested in and can’t imagine quitting, stick with it. It doesn’t matter so much what it is. All that matters is that you are deeply involved and committed to that activity. With all of that passion and interest, things like leadership positions, significant contributions, and skill development will come naturally.


Second Priority: The Extracurricular Where You Can Make the Most Impact


If you’re a part of an organization where you have a lot of room to grow or where you can hold an officer position that really has an impact on the organization, it’s worth sticking with the activity for a while to see if you can affect some real change. Colleges love to see leadership positions on your resume, and they love to see that you used a leadership position to enact positive change within an activity or organization.


Third Priority: The Extracurriculars That You Simply Enjoy


Don’t completely discount those extracurriculars that don’t have much opportunity for leadership or growth or that you don’t have a strong intellectual or creative passion for. There are some activities people do simply because they get to be with their friends, they like the environment, or even because it gives them something to do. That’s okay! Those are the extracurriculars that will keep you sane and let you relax amidst your busy high school schedule, so it’s worth keeping those around if you have the time to do so with all of your other extracurriculars.



Examples of Extracurricular Activities

Below are just a few of the many high school extracurricular activities out there for students of different interests and abilities. Feel free to expand on this list based on your unique talents and passions.

Interest Extracurricular Ideas
Art Animation club, fashion design, painting lessons, school play set design, ceramics classes
Writing School newspaper, school literary magazine, blogging, novel writing, poetry slam, National English Honor Society
Science Chemistry club, Science National Honor Society, Science Olympiad, programming classes, STEM summer program
Math Mu Alpha Theta Math honor society, Odyssey of the Mind, Math League
Music Chorus, marching band, church choir, orchestra, start your own band
Athletics School team sports, coaching youth sports, teaching fitness classes, running a half marathon
Drama Drama club, dance team, school plays and musicals, shooting a short film, International Thespian Honor Society
After-school jobs Retail, food service, major-specific positions, regular babysitting or pet sitting
Volunteering Sample settings: animal rescues, hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, churches, museums, nursing homes


Sample organizations: Habitat for Humanity, UNICEF, Amnesty International, Special Olympics


The Bottom Line


No matter what extracurriculars you do or how you prioritize them, remember to have fun. The idea of an extracurricular activity is not to suffer for the sake of your college applications. It’s for you to learn something new, have a tangible impact while you’re in high school, and give you the sense that you’re a part of a high school community. If you are not feeling that way with any extracurricular you are a part of, you don’t need to be there.


We at CollegeVine have covered the methods for high school extracurricular activities involvement quite extensively. To check out some of our guides and other resources, see the following:


It’s Not Just About Grades: Impressing Colleges With Extracurriculars

How Much Do Extracurricular Activities Matter in College Admissions?

A Guide to Jobs You Can Work as a High School Student

50 Clubs and Activities 9th Graders Can Join


Students often stress about what their chances are of being accepted to colleges. After all, schools consider a wide range of factors, including extracurriculars, grades, test scores, essays, and interviews. At CollegeVine, we created our data-driven chancing engine to help take the guesswork out of admissions. Using our free application calculator, you can assess your chance of getting into more than 500 institutions across the U.S. Sign up today to try our chancing engine for yourself. We look forward to supporting you on your college journey. 


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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!