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How to Turn Your Interest or Hobby Into an Extracurricular Activity

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Some sections of your college application are open to more interpretation than others. For example, your GPA or standardized test scores are numbers that can’t be changed, and they will serve as concrete evidence of your academic achievement and potential. But other sections, like the extracurricular section, can involve a little more creative thinking as you craft them.


Of course, if you’ve been involved in a few high school clubs or played on a sports team, this section might be cut and dry. You have participated in obvious, structured activities that neatly fit under the extracurricular heading. But the line isn’t always so clear-cut. What happens when you’ve passionately pursued an outside interest, spending significant amounts of time and energy doing so? Or what if your family commitments take up most of your time outside of school hours? How can these activities be grouped into extracurriculars, and how will they stack up against those of a more traditional nature?


For high school students planning their college applications, the extracurricular section of the application can be very important. With admissions becoming more and more competitive, you need to shine both in terms of academics and extracurriculars.


If you’re considering how to mold your casual interest or hobby into an extracurricular that will truly shine on your college applications, this is the post for you. Here, we will review the working definition of what makes an activity an extracurricular, and then outline five specific ways that you can ramp up your participation to create a focused and meaningful extracurricular for your college applications.


What is an Extracurricular Activity?


How do you define extracurricular activities? Extracurricular activities are hobbies and pursuits that don’t fall within the scope of the traditional academic curriculum. More to the point, extracurriculars typically refer to organized, official activities and athletics for which students don’t receive school credit. They can also refer to personal projects done outside of the classroom that aren’t as official or organized, such as running a marathon or building a computer.


Still, not every hobby meets the extracurricular activities definition. First of all, it needs to be something that you participate in with some regularity over an extended period. Volunteering at the soup kitchen once doesn’t count because it isn’t something that you do regularly. The longer your participation lasts, the more established your activity will appear on your college applications.


Next, it needs to be something that is not a part of an academic class at your school. For example, your advanced math classes at school don’t count, because they are already included in your GPA and on your transcript. If, however, you took advanced math classes at a local community college or through your local library, those would qualify as extracurriculars, as they are something you have pursued in addition to your school work. Similarly, if you teach yourself a foreign language, that would also count, since you are doing so outside of your formal courses.


Finally, when defining extracurricular activities, it’s important to choose something that contributes to your personal growth. Playing video games and watching Netflix aren’t extracurricular activities in themselves, but if you program plugins for your video games, or start a movie analysis blog, those would count.


Here are just a few examples of pursuits you can define as extracurricular activities:


  • Working an after-school or weekend job 
  • Playing on the football or field hockey team 
  • Leading a church youth group
  • Volunteer tutoring at the public library
  • Starting a politics blog and regularly writing articles
  • Participating in school plays or musicals
  • Writing for the student newspaper


To learn more about how to define extracurricular activities, see our post What Counts as an Extracurricular? Then, take a look at the below chart for sample extracurricular activities for various hobbies and interests:


Interest Extracurricular Ideas
Art Anime club, school play set design, photography club, yearbook club, after-school art classes
Music Band, chorus, school musicals, start a band
Athletics and Fitness School sports, yoga club, hiking club, youth athletics coach
Food/Cooking Restaurant job, food blog, cooking lessons, gardening/sustainable food club
Math and Science Math club, chemistry club, Academic Decathlon, robotics club, medical center volunteer
Reading Book club, literature club, tutoring, library volunteer
Writing Poetry club, school newspaper, school lit magazine, Quill and Scroll, start a blog
Politics Student council, Model UN, Gay-Straight Alliance, Mock Trial, debate team
History National History Bee, history museum volunteer, history independent study
Film Film production club, shoot your own movie, produce a play, independent theater intern

How Do I Turn a Hobby or Interest Into a Strong Extracurricular?


Almost any hobby or interest can count as an extracurricular, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will, on its own, be a strong addition to your college application. There are a few key things you can do to turn a regular hobby or interest into a strong extracurricular. Here are our five favorites.


1. Join Others


There is power in numbers, and extracurriculars are no different. If you participate in your hobby or pursue your interest with others, you will learn from them, and your experience will quickly multiply. It’s likely that each person in the group will bring their own unique strengths and insights, so you will gain more collective knowledge by working in each other’s company.


Not only that, but participating together will mean you can potentially reach more people if you turn your activity or interest in a project. Maybe you are producing goods that can be sold or donated. Maybe you are sharing your skills with others. Whatever the case may be, pooling your resources will allow you to do more of it than you’d be able to do alone.


Finally, participating together will help you to hold yourself more accountable. There will inevitably be times when you feel too busy or stressed to devote much time to your independent extracurriculars, but if you know that others are counting on you to join them, you’ll be more likely to follow through on your commitments. The group context gives your activity some sense of formality.


If you’re looking to join others who share your interest or pursue the same hobby, find out if there are any existing clubs you can join. If there are none at your school, try checking the local library or rec. center. If you can’t find an existing club, consider starting your own. For more advice on doing so, check out our post How to Start a Club in High School.

2.  Branch Out


Another way to expand your reach, aside from joining others in your pursuit, is to join or pursue other related, similar activities. For example, think of activities that are closely related or otherwise relevant to your interests that would reinforce your commitment to it.


If your hobby is creating visual art, consider taking an online art history course or organizing a school trip to the museum. If you teach computer skills at your grandmother’s nursing home, think about taking a programming class or rebuilding a computer.


By pursuing related activities, you reinforce your interests and show that you are committed to this hobby beyond the casual level; you’re invested in deepening your participation by branching out to related fields.


3. Quantify Your Participation


Putting a number on your participation or quantifying your results is an especially strong way to drive home your commitment. Particularly if you are participating in or pursuing this activity or interest independently, it’s important that you try to find a measurable way to count your work or progress.


There are many ways to do this. For example, if you’re teaching yourself a foreign language, enroll in an online class that will result in a certificate of completion or take a national language exam at the end of the year to measure your progress. This will serve as a concrete testimonial of your work. Similarly, if you’re creating visual art, start to keep track of the time you spend on it and the number of pieces you produce. If you’re teaching computer skills at a nursing home, keep track of how many “students” you instruct.


Being able to put a number or offer some other form of concrete achievement in relation to your activity will further legitimize it.


4. Incorporate a Service Element


Finding a way to give back through your hobby makes it more meaningful, and you can do so on your own or with others.


For example, if you’re creating visual art, consider donating artwork to a local hospital or volunteering as a youth art instructor. If you’re teaching yourself a foreign language, think about volunteering at a local clinic or shelter where a large population of native speakers seek services. Or if you’re teaching computer skills at a nursing home, start a fundraiser to buy some laptops or iPads to keep in the library there.


If you put your head to it, it’s possible to come up with a service angle for nearly any activity or interest.


5. Share Your Work


Another way to give back is through simply sharing the products of your experience or interest. Organize a night to share your skill with others by attending an open mic night, putting together an art show, or creating another opportunity to share your skill.


If you are teaching computer classes, set up drop in hours to create new email accounts for interested students. If you are teaching yourself a new language, host a foreign film night at your school and provide subtitles so that everyone in the audience can appreciate it.


By creating a formal event that showcases your work or highlights your new skills, you formalize your participation and interests in a tangible way.


Hobbies and casual interests can easily qualify as extracurriculars, but in order to make them a strong contribution to your college application, you’ll need to do some work. By formalizing your participation, joining others, giving back, quantifying your experience, and sharing your work, you set yourself up to strongly present your hobby as a serious extracurricular pursuit on your college application.


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.