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)

How to Write a Stellar Extracurricular Activity College Essay

What’s Covered:


In the college admissions process, one of the most common supplemental essays asks you to elaborate on an extracurricular activity. While it may seem straightforward, students often struggle with which extracurricular to pick, what details to include, and how to format the essay.


In this post, we’ll be going over all of these topics, so you can write a strong essay response to this classic prompt. 


What is the Extracurricular Activity Essay?


As a supplemental essay, the Extracurricular Activity prompt asks you to describe a meaningful non-academic activity of yours. The goal of this essay is to better understand your passions and how you might contribute to the college community. It provides an additional way to show colleges what’s important to you, and through that, who you are. 


In order to stand out in admissions officers’ minds, you will want to choose the right activity and make your essay engaging. Not only that, but a well-chosen extracurricular will also allow you to demonstrate personal qualities that might be hard to express in other parts of your application. It can also be a powerful way to talk about your future on a university’s campus. 


To learn more about common essay archetypes, check out our posts on other such essays, like “Why This College?”, “Why This Major?”, and the Extracurricular Activity essay.


Examples of Extracurricular Activity Essay Prompts


If you’re applying to about 8-12 colleges, chances are you will likely encounter the extracurricular activity essay. Here are a couple examples of prompts from some top schools:


Georgetown: Briefly discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved. 


Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt offers a community where students find balance between their academic and social experiences. Please briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you. (250 words)


Harvard: Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. (200 words)


Unlike some of the other essay archetypes, it’s very easy to tell when a college is asking for an extracurricular essay. The prompt will likely use the word verbatim. Though Georgetown offers no word limit, these prompts are usually shorter in length, so it’s important to be strategic in approaching your essay, to make it as effective and impactful as possible. 


How to Decide on an Extracurricular to Write About


Each school may phrase their prompt slightly differently, but for the most part, such prompts ask you to describe the extracurricular which was most meaningful to you or that you are the most proud of, and why it was so impactful. 


Note that this prompt is not asking you to discuss the extracurricular in which you received the highest number of accolades or in which you held the highest leadership position. You have the rest of your application to highlight your various other accomplishments. Essays should be personal. Even if a prompt is asking you to speak about your accomplishments, you should speak about these accomplishments in terms of how they have shaped and motivated you, not how they’ve padded your resume.


Accordingly, when choosing an extracurricular to write on, think deeply about which of your activities has had the greatest impact on your growth or development. Writing about an extracurricular you’re truly passionate about will not only make the process of writing easier, but also ultimately make your essay stronger. It’s always better to write about the activity you care about the most than to write about the activity you think “looks” the best!


Here are some other ideas of activities to write about:


  • The activity where you have shown the most commitment. Commitment is an intersection of the amount of time you spend on this activity, how long you’ve been involved, and the intensity of your involvement. The more time and intensity, the better. For example, an activity in which you are a top-level performer, or on which you spend lots of time, is stronger than a job where you just go through the motions on the weekends. 


  • Clubs or groups you founded, or in which you held a leadership role. Not only do they demonstrate ambition and leadership skills, they also show that you’re passionate enough about a certain pursuit or subject that you’re willing to take initiative to gain experience in the field. 


  • Activity that relates to a personal aspect of your life. Describing how your participation helped shape who you are on a personal level can also give admissions committees a unique perspective on your personality. For example, a student with a family member who suffered from cancer may choose to write about how she organized and led a Relay for Life team. 


  • Experiences that relate to your future goals. Any activities that set a foundation for your professional plans are also highly-relevant, as they show that you’re serious about those plans. A prospective nursing student might write about his volunteer experience at the local hospital to demonstrate his passion for the field and some skills or lessons he’s already acquired.


  • Extracurricular that you haven’t had a chance to address in other parts of your application, or an activity that merits more discussion. This is especially helpful for activities that aren’t as common, like hosting a podcast or selling pottery online. The essay gives you an outlet to delve deeper into how you got involved in this activity and what your role is.


It’s important to remember that your essays should be a portfolio of the different aspects of who you are. You need to look at your essays not only individually, but as a whole. It can be helpful to ask yourself what personal qualities you want to highlight in your application, and think about which activities best embody those qualities. Just remember that you don’t want your application to be repetitive. For example, if you’ve already written about playing tennis in your Common App essay, don’t write about it again in the extracurricular activity essay. But, if you want to highlight your creative side and it isn’t really represented in your application, then you might choose to write an essay on one of your creative activities, like starting an art class for kids with disabilities.


Tips for Writing the Extracurricular Activity Essay


1. Make Your Essay About You and Who You Are


The biggest mistake you can make is turning this essay into yet another extracurricular description like the ones included in your activities section. Rather than focusing purely on the extracurricular, use it as a platform upon which to speak more generally about your ambitions or personal experiences. 


In balancing your description of the extracurricular with your explanation of why it’s important to you, we recommend aiming for a 1:2 ratio. For example, if your word limit is 300 words, try to spend 100 words describing the extracurricular, and 200 words tying your accomplishments in that activity to your personal goals and aspirations. This again places the focus on you, not the activity, and will ensure you’re allowing yourself to most effectively show who you are to admissions committees.


2. Share an Anecdote


To make your essay more vivid, take the reader to a specific experience that stands out in the arc of your extracurricular. Maybe it was auditioning for the lead role of a play for the first time and the nervous excitement you felt. You can also choose to narrate something more mundane but equally important, such as your daily soccer practice and the thoughts in your head as you dribble. 


The vital thing to remember is to incorporate reflection into your writing, not just to tell a story. It’s easy to get caught up in the details of your anecdote without showing how the extracurricular shaped you. Let us know what skills you’ve developed because of the activity, what personality traits have been strengthened, and whether the activity impacts the way you live other parts of your life.


Here’s an example of an essay that balances out storytelling with substance. The writer brings us to a specific moment as they’re playing piano, but goes on to reflect on why the activity is important to them, and what it’s taught them:


My fingers raced across the keys, rapidly striking one after another. My body swayed with the music as my hands raced across the piano. Crashing onto the final chord, it was over as quickly as it had begun. My shoulders relaxed and I couldn’t help but break into a satisfied grin. I had just played the Moonlight Sonata’s third movement, a longtime dream of mine. Four short months ago, though, I had considered it impossible. The piece’s tempo was impossibly fast, its notes stretching between each end of the piano, forcing me to reach farther than I had ever dared. It was 17 pages of the most fragile and intricate melodies I had ever encountered. But that summer, I found myself ready to take on the challenge. With the end of the school year, I was released from my commitment to practicing for band and solo performances. I was now free to determine my own musical path: either succeed in learning the piece, or let it defeat me for the third summer in a row. Over those few months, I spent countless hours practicing the same notes until they burned a permanent place in my memory, creating a soundtrack for even my dreams. Some would say I’ve mastered the piece, but as a musician I know better. Now that I can play it, I am eager to take the next step and add in layers of musicality and expression to make the once-impossible piece even more beautiful.


3. Be Mindful of Essay Length


Since these essays tend to be short, you may not be able to actually share an anecdote. If the essay must be under 100 words, you probably won’t have space. If the prompt requires 150 words, you should still have room to write about a specific moment in your extracurricular, but you’ll need to keep it very brief, and your reflections will also have to be fairly straightforward. That’s totally okay! 


However, if the prompt allows for more than 250 words, you’ll be able to get more creative. For these longer essays, consider incorporating 1 or 2 anecdotes. If your relationship with your extracurricular has an interesting backstory, feel free to use a longitudinal approach to share how your involvement with the activity has developed over time. That being said, make sure that the bulk of your essay is still a reflection on how the activity has shaped you, rather than just a narrative of the activity.


4. Polish Your Writing


Remember, essays aren’t just an opportunity for admissions committees to learn more about an applicant: they’re also a way to evaluate your writing skills and your ability to clearly and directly respond to a given prompt. We’ll say it again: be sure to address the prompt accurately and clearly! 


Also always be aware of grammar and spelling conventions, vary your sentence structure, avoid the passive voice, and be creative (although not excessively gaudy) with your word choice. We always recommend getting a second pair of eyes—or three or four—to look over your essay to catch any errors and provide feedback. You can ask a trusted friend, teacher, or family member.


 5. Show What You’ve Learned


Though it can be just as effective to demonstrate the difference that you were able to make through your participation in an extracurricular, this essay can also be a place to reflect on how engagement with an activity may have changed you. It’s a great way to demonstrate self-awareness, humility, and a capacity for learning and growth. 


This can be particularly effective if your extracurricular is service-oriented, but it’s also powerful even if it’s not. Any activity, particularly a long-term one that you’re highly invested in, has the potential to change you for the better. By recognizing the ways in which it has, you demonstrate thoughtfulness and a readiness to make the most of your experiences. One powerful way to express this can be to describe the positive impacts participating in this extracurricular has had on your life. 


6. Think About the Future


You are by no means required to continue all or any of your extracurricular activities in college, but if you do, this can be an especially valuable thing to mention in your extracurricular essay. It demonstrates commitment, true passion for the activity you’re describing, and it helps the admissions team envision how you will fit in and contribute to the campus community.


The way you imagine this activity showing up in your future doesn’t need to be a direct continuation, either. It could be related to lessons learned or experience gained while participating in your activity. Perhaps competing on the chess team gave you an appreciation for games of strategy, and you hope to join a policy group on campus to think about strategic solutions to current problems. 


Final Thoughts


The extracurricular essay should be one of the easier essays you encounter because they tend to be short and they give you the opportunity to dive deep into an activity you love. Don’t get too caught up trying to tell a story you think admissions officers “want” to hear, and instead just truthfully recount your extracurricular and why it is important to you.


You have an entire application to show colleges what you’ve accomplished. Personal essays are intended to bring out the applicant behind the accomplishments: what are you truly passionate about, and how has that passion manifested itself in your high school career? Answer that question, and you’ll be on track for an effective essay on your most meaningful extracurricular.


Where to Get Your Extracurricular Essay Edited


Do you want feedback on your “Extracurricular” essay? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

Short Bio
Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.