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Managing Extracurriculars: A Guide to Strategic Quitting

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It’s easy to get overwhelmed in high school, particularly if you intend to apply to competitive colleges. Academic pressure can be intense, the stream of paperwork and research to be done can seem endless, and your schedule is likely full of extracurricular activities to manage. Quitting one or more activities could free up valuable time and energybut isn’t quitting a bad thing?

Despite the negative connotations being a “quitter,” quitting isn’t always a bad thing, as we discussed in the CollegeVine blog post “Will Quitting an Extracurricular Reflect Poorly on my College Applications?” Sometimes it’s essential for managing your time, maintaining your well-being, and refining your applicant profile for the college admissions process. No one is capable of doing it all, and limiting your commitments ensures that your resources are directed toward the activities and goals that are most important to you.

Are you feeling overextended and considering leaving one of your extracurricular activities? Read on for some advice on why, when, and how to strategically quit an activity in a way that will ultimately benefit you.

Deciding when it’s necessary to quit an activity

As we’ve discussed in our CollegeVine blog posts about how to manage your extracurricular involvement in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, you’ll likely start by exploring a number of different extracurricular activities. Some may be particularly enjoyable or fit well with your goals; others may not be the right match for you. Either way, this is a time to explore different possibilities.

The flip side of trying many different activities is that some of them simply will not work out for you in the long run. That’s perfectly normal and okay! It’s better to try new things and decide they’re not for you than to stick too closely to what’s comfortable. In order to make effective use of your time and effort, you’ll inevitably need to quit some of the activities that you initially explore.

In your later years of high school, when you have more experience in your extracurricular fields, your participation in those activities will likely intensify. You may take on formal or informal leadership roles that come with greater responsibility and a larger time commitment. You may even join entirely new activities. When each activity starts to take up substantially more of your schedule, the total time commitment can become overwhelming. At this point, it may be time to consider quitting one or more activities in order to focus on others. 

Another important reason you might quit an activity is for your personal health. We at CollegeVine know that most of our readers are motivated high-school students with college aspirations and high expectations of themselves. However, you’re also human, and your time, energy, and abilities are not unlimited. You may want to accomplish anything you set your mind to, but you simply can’t do everything at once.

It’s vital to maintain your physical and mental health during this stressful part of your life. If your health is threatened, it’s time to let one or more activities go. The same is true if your activities interfere with your academic work. Sometimes, quitting is the most responsible course of action for your overall well-being, and you shouldn’t be ashamed to prioritize taking care of yourself. (You can find some resources on time management in our CollegeVine blog post “How to Effectively Balance your Time in High School.”)

Since it’s not possible to participate in every activity that sounds interesting, you’ll need to make some decisions about which activities are most important to you and how many activities you can take on at one time. Colleges will understand that you can’t do it all, but there are ways to strategically manage which activities you quit (and how you quit them) for the best results.

Choosing which activity to quit

Once you’ve determined that you need to free up some space in your schedule, it’s time to choose which activities to leave behind. A number of different factors come into play when you make this decision:

  • You may simply not enjoy an extracurricular activity.
  • The extracurricular may not be a good match with your particular talents.
  • There may not be sufficient opportunities for you to take on leadership roles or significant responsibilities in this group.
  • You may not get along well with the other students, advisors, or coaches involved.
  • An activity may take up a great deal of your time.
  • An extracurricular’s schedule may interfere with another activity, schoolwork, or other commitments in your life.
  • An activity may not be within your major areas of interest.
  • A change in your life, such as a health problem or a geographic move, has affected your ability to participate.

None of these factors may be an automatic dealbreaker; you should be more concerned with how these factors combine and contribute to your own goals. It’s up to you to find the balance of activities that fit your life and your ambitions best. Often, it’s most helpful to quit the activities that take up a disproportionate amount of time and work for insufficient benefit to you.

For example, let’s say that you have joined your school’s football team. You work hard and invest time in practices and games, but you rarely see playing time and have no interest in playing in college. You could use that time to study for biology class, since you’d like to be a doctor someday, as well as to work toward becoming the president of Student Council, which suits you better. In this situation, quitting the football team might be in your best interest overall.

As we’ve discussed in the past on the CollegeVine blog, an important thing to keep in mind is the significance of specialization in crafting a cohesive college application. While being “well-rounded” is necessary, colleges also need to see that you’ve pursued depth as well as breadth in making your academic and extracurricular choices.

Even if you’re experiencing issues with a certain extracurricular activity, it may be worthwhile to keep that activity if it contributes to the specialized nature of your profile. Quitting an activity that seems to contribute to your area of focus and future plans will be confusing to colleges reading your future application. They’ll likely wonder why you would stop participating in an activity that outwardly seems well-suited to you.

Colleges may also be more concerned if you quit an activity in which you’ve already participated for a long time, as opposed to an activity you’re just trying out. For instance, if you’ve played the violin from an early age, quitting would be a more serious decision than if you just started playing last year. If quitting an activity like this is really necessary, you’ll need to consider how you will address any questions about your decision, which we’ll cover later in this post.  

This also means that if you’ve just started a new activity and have already found that it doesn’t suit you for one of the above reasons, it’s generally better to end your involvement quickly than to draw it out. You’ll want to stick around long enough to give the activity a fair shot, but as long as you’re not rapidly cycling through multiple activities, there’s no point in investing your valuable time and energy in an activity that isn’t right for you.

How do I quit an activity the right way and stay on good terms with everyone?

Once you’ve decided which activity you need to quit, you’ll have to bite the bullet and actually do it. This can be difficult , especially if you’re shy or your coach, advisor, or fellow participants disagree with your decision. However, it’s important to try to leave the activity on the best possible terms if at all possible. Burning bridges and leaving behind bad feelings can hurt you in the future.

If you’re only very casually involved in an activity, particularly a large group activity, it may be fine to just stop showing up for meetings or ask to be taken off a mailing list. If you’re more involved, it’s usually best to speak to your coach or advisor first and express your concerns. It may even be possible to reduce your involvement to a more manageable level without quitting entirely, though this approach may not be right for you.

Be as honest as possible with your advisor about your reasons for leaving. It’s possible that that they simply didn’t know that a problem existed— for instance, a time conflict with another popular activity— and can take that into account for future decisions.

The most important thing to remember is that you need to avoid leaving your advisors and fellow participants hanging. If you’ve already committed to certain responsibilities, either fulfill them or take an active role in finding someone else to take over. If you have any items like school property in your possession, return them promptly.

If you can, wait for a convenient time to quit. Often, quitting before the beginning of a year, semester, or season, or immediately after it ends, will allow the transition to go more smoothly. This is especially true if you have specific responsibilities in your activity, or if your advisor has invested significant resources in your participation for this period of time.  

Obviously, you’ll need to be polite if other participants or advisors have requests for you after you’ve left, particularly if you have valuable knowledge or skills about the activity. Transitions are difficult for everyone, and it’s okay to set boundaries for how much time you’ll spend on questions, but it’s also valuable to maintain a good relationship with these peers and advisors.

Unfortunately, the reality is that your fellow participants, teammates, or advisors may be upset that you’ve decided to quit an activity. This is normal, especially if your exit is inconveniencing them in some way. However, if this dynamic develops into bullying or other significant conflict, that’s not okay, and you should tell a trusted adult.

Even if others are upset, don’t feel guilty about strategically quitting an activity. As long as you’ve made a good-faith attempt to minimize the consequences for others, you are doing nothing wrong. Taking care of yourself, maintaining a reasonable stress level, and focusing on the activities that are most important to you are necessary parts of managing your high-school workload.

What do I say if colleges ask me why I quit an activity?

When you apply to colleges, you’ll provide the schools with information about your extracurricular involvement as part of your application, including the start and end dates of your involvement. (For a guide to what this entails when using the popular Common Application system, check out our blog post “How To Fill Out The Common App Activities Section.”)

Quitting an activity in high school is a normal and common thing to do, and that alone likely won’t attract special attention from colleges. However, certain circumstances may give colleges some pause.

If you have a history of bouncing around between different activities rather than making significant long-term commitments and sticking to them, this can be reflect poorly on you. Colleges may worry that you lack dedication, don’t have a solid grasp of your interests, or can’t be trusted to honor your commitments.

As we’ve mentioned, colleges may also have concerns if you quit an activity that’s been a large part of your life for a very long time, and others in your life may be curious about your decision as well. For instance, if you were a champion gymnast in your early teens, but left that sport during high school, this may come as a surprise to observers.

It’s possible that your decision to quit an activity may come up during your college interviews, in an interview for a job or internship, or elsewhere in your life. If you can say that you quit activity A in order to focus more on activity B, which is more important for reason X, that can help others to understand your priorities.

If your problem with that activity was more personal, you’ll need to be more judicious in choosing what to reveal if you’re asked about your decision. It’s never acceptable to lie during the college application process, but at the same time, it’s not necessary to tell your interviewer every detail of the personal conflict with your teammate that led you to leave the team.

If your decision to quit a particular activity was an exceptionally significant moment in your life—for instance, if it marks a point at which you substantially changed your future goals and took on new challenges—you might even want to write about that experience in one of your application essays. In this case, explaining your decision can add context and depth to the bare facts listed in the activities section of your application.  

Again, however, strategically managing and limiting your extracurriculars is normal and expected, and colleges generally won’t be too critical of quitting in and of itself. If you have a solid reason to quit, and if doing so won’t significantly damage your profile as a future college applicant, it’s better to strategically choose how and when to leave an activity than to get burned out participating in an extracurricular that doesn’t contribute positively to your overall well-being.

For more information on managing extracurriculars, check out our CollegeVine blog post, “Will Quitting an Extracurricular Reflect Poorly On My College Applications?” You can also visit the CollegeVine blog’s Extracurricular Activities category for more detailed tips on what various activities entail, how to manage your extracurricular profile, and how your extracurriculars influence the admissions process.

Good luck!


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Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.