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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

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

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Most high school students are under the impression that good grades will get them into college, and in part, they’re right. For many of the top colleges, good grades are almost prerequisites for acceptance in that almost all accepted students will have them. However, colleges are not just looking for students who excel academically. They are looking for well-rounded students who also excel in extracurricular activities.


The extracurriculars that you participate in outside of school hours give colleges an idea of what you’re interested in, what your skills are, and what your character is like. There aren’t specific extracurricular activities that colleges value over the others. As long as you are pursuing things you are passionate about and can prove that you have challenged yourself and succeeded outside of the classroom, that’s fine.


It’s up to you to find whichever extracurriculars spark your interest and will impress colleges. To help you narrow down your extracurricular choices to the best ones you want to pursue, here are some aspects for you to consider. For help on choosing the best extracurriculars for your high school career and college applications, read on.

Quality over Quantity


Many high school students fall into the trap of thinking that, in order to impress colleges, they need to participate in as many extracurriculars as possible. In fact, this is not the best strategy. Many college admissions officers have said that they would rather students choose a few extracurriculars that they truly enjoy and focus on making a real impact in those instead of joining a large number of extracurriculars and not doing anything meaningful in them.


Thus, when you’re choosing your extracurriculars, don’t choose the ones with the least time commitment, and don’t try and join as many clubs and organizations as you can. Join those extracurriculars that you genuinely enjoy and see yourself making a lasting impact with.

Passion vs. Impression


Some clubs like Key Club, National Honor Society, and others have a reputation for being great clubs to have on your college application. While they may look good on a college resume, does that mean you have to join them? Absolutely not!


When you’re choosing your extracurriculars, keep in mind that colleges care more about what you did in those extracurriculars and what impact you had than just joining a club because it looks good on your resume. Also, don’t be scared of being involved in an lesser known or more obscure activity because you feel like the college won’t know what it is. You’ll have an opportunity on your college application to explain, and you may even stand out in the admissions process for having a unique experience.


The bottom line is to delve into something you are truly passionate about because that’s what is going to stand out to colleges. You’ll probably find that you’re motivated to make an impact in those extracurriculars anyway.

 Leadership and Impact


Colleges love to see that you were able to take on a leadership role in your extracurriculars. It shows that you were invested in the activity, took on some responsibility, and had a real role in making that activity what it was. After all, those with leadership roles tend to have the biggest authority to make an impact.


So, when you’re narrowing down your extracurricular activities, give some thought to the activities that will give you the best chance of a leadership role down the line. Here are some ways for you to build your leadership skills so that you can eventually get that coveted position:


  • Increase Your Participation in the Organization: A great way to show an organization that you have the dedication to assume a leadership role is to become deeply involved with the organization. Try and participate in as many projects and deliverables as you can, and be sure to show your enthusiasm for the work that you are doing.


  • Lead a Project Within the Club: Before you try and assume a large leadership position, you should get some experience running things in the club. If you can get permission from the current leadership in the organization, try to propose and run a project, fundraiser, or other event. You’ll learn the ins and outs of the organization and get some great experience for your college resume!


  • Get to Know the Other Members of the Organization/Club: Any activity is more enjoyable when you do it with people you like being around. Try and get to know as many people as you can in the clubs that you’re in. Not only will you have a better time in the organization and thus be more motivated to make a difference, but you will also be increasing your popularity in the organizations in case leadership positions are decided by popular vote.


Commitment and Time Management


While time commitment shouldn’t be the first thing you take into consideration when choosing extracurriculars, it should definitely be in the back of your mind as you’re deciding how many extracurriculars to participate in.  Some extracurriculars require more of a time commitment than others, and sometimes, one extracurricular can take up so much of your time that you end up neglecting other extracurriculars or being unable to participate in other activities at all.


You should be aware of both the amount of time that each extracurricular is going to require and set some realistic expectations about how much time you are willing to dedicate during a week to extracurricular activities. You want to put in enough time to your extracurriculars to make an impact, but you don’t want to have to neglect your schoolwork or worse, your health.

For More Information


If you want to know more about extracurriculars and their role in the college application process, check out the following blog posts:


How to Become President of Your High School Club

What Counts as an Extracurricular?

How Much Do Extracurriculars Matter in College Admissions?

Is It Too Late To Join a Club Junior or Senior Year?


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 academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


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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!