How To Prioritize Your High School Extracurriculars
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, 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 extracurricular profile.
Rumor #1. Joining a bunch of extracurriculars will not impress colleges.
Instead, the better strategy is to join as many as you think you can handle and try to make an impact in those few activities.
Rumor #2. You shouldn’t join an organization because “it’ll look good on my 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 who participated in a wide range of extracurriculars, so long as the student made an impact in those clubs/organizations and really showed their interests and passions through their extracurricular involvement.
Rumor #3. Don’t join a bunch of clubs that require a large time commitment.
Sometimes, an extracurricular can take up quite a few hours during a week, giving you little time to do things like study, do your homework, or participating in other activities. While that extracurricular will no doubt show your dedication and commitment to colleges, a college won’t be impressed if it is the only extracurricular on your college applications. You may want to consider re-prioritizing your extracurriculars and try to join some other clubs or organizations that you enjoy if you find yourself in this trap.
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 activity because it shows that you can handle multiple responsibilities, a life skill that you will definitely need in college. However, after that, the number of extracurriculars you get involved in depends entirely on you.
We at CollegeVine recommend that you only take on as many activities and responsibilities 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.
Want to learn more? See The Dangers of Overcommitting: How Taking On Too Much Can Hurt Your Applications.
Thus, while there isn’t an exact number of extracurriculars that you need to impress colleges, there is definitely 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 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 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.
3. Look for the opportunity to make an impact
While you’re exploring your different extracurricular options, 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.
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 extracurricular involvement quite extensively. To check out some of our guides and other resources, see the following:
Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academics, choosing courses, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and much more!
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.