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Why Colleges Want to See More Than Class President on Your Applications
The importance of extracurricular activities
Extracurricular activities are an important part of your college applications. While your grades and SAT scores demonstrate your academic achievement, extracurriculars give colleges some insight into who you are, what interests you, and what you might bring to their campuses.
The term “extracurricular” covers a wide range of activities. Briefly, it means anything you take on outside the classroom that isn’t for pay and holds some kind of meaning for you. It encompasses clubs, community service, independent activities, sports, and many other areas.
To learn more about what qualifies as an extracurricular activity, check out CollegeVine’s What Counts as an Extracurricular?
When you complete the Common App and other college or scholarship applications, you will enter the details about your activities, as well as any leadership roles and awards you held or received related to each one you list.
As we discuss in Your Resume Revamped: Securing Leadership Positions and Perfecting Your Extracurricular Profile, leadership positions and awards demonstrate dedication, commitment, hard work, special talents, and other qualities colleges value. They can also help show an area of specialization, something colleges also want to see in their prospective students.
What’s wrong with having certain extracurriculars on your resume?
In short: nothing. There isn’t anything bad about having leadership roles like class president or football captain on your application. Like most other extracurricular activities, especially those involving leadership, these positions require hard work and dedication. However, these roles, as well as similar positions, are fairly generic; many other candidates will have similar roles on their applications, especially at competitive universities.
Furthermore, they usually don’t demonstrate a particular niche — an important aspect of your application, which we discuss further in Well-Rounded or Specialized? — and won’t do much to help your application stand out from a pool of similarly-qualified peers.
The importance of standing out
Competitive college applicant pools are full of highly qualified students with activities like student body president on their resumes, and unfortunately, colleges couldn’t accept all of those students even if they wanted to. Given low acceptance rates at top schools, you’ll have trouble getting noticed if your applicant profile doesn’t distinguish itself in any way from the others.
So what do you do? You need to make an effort to stand out. This is a must if you are hoping to attend a competitive college. Top colleges are looking for smart, talented, and interesting students who will bring something unique and special to campus.
What can I do to avoid this pitfall?
During high school, focus on extracurriculars that are less generic than those in which many of your classmates are participating. This may mean looking outside of school, or starting a new club within school. Starting your own club requires dedication and leadership, and shows colleges that you’re invested in your school and classmates and willing to step up and fill a gap when you see it. For tips on getting started, check out Organizing Your New Club.
Looking outside of school may take a little extra effort, but it will be well worth it. Start by looking online and asking teachers, guidance counselors, friends, and family members for ideas. Brainstorm activities you like to do, and look for something that matches up. Are you a creative writer? Enter some competitions geared to high school students or join a writing group. Want to work with kids? See if the local daycare takes volunteers. Love science? Apply to participate in National Youth Science Camp.
Check out How to Turn Your Interest or Hobby Into an Extracurricular Activity for more advice on making the most of your talents.
In short, you need to prioritize less-common activities that are particularly well-suited to your strengths over generic activities like student government and sports teams — if you need to choose between them.
While it is certainly fine to run for National Honor Society president or take on a similar role, and such positions will add to your application, don’t be discouraged if you don’t win the election; your time and energy are just as well spent on activities that are unique and more closely related to your particular interests.
To learn more about how to best target your extracurricular activities to your unique goals and interests, check out these posts:
Are you looking for help juggling all that you have in the air, but you aren’t sure where to turn for trusted advice from those who’ve been through it themselves? Consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.