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Will Quitting an Extracurricular Reflect Poorly on my College Applications?

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For one reason or another, at some point in their high school career, many students find that they do not wish to continue with an extracurricular activity, whether this be because they just do not have the time for the activity, they no longer enjoy it, or they simply don’t feel committed.


Have you ever found yourself in this position? If so, you may be wondering how quitting an extracurricular will look to admissions officers when they review your college application. After all, we often hear about how important extracurricular continuity is, and how helpful demonstrating a clear passion in a given activity can be to your overall application.


So what are the benefits and drawbacks of quitting an extracurricular activity, and what does it mean for your chances of admission? In this blog post, we’ll look at the specifics of how quitting an extracurricular impacts your application in order to help you better understand just what leaving an EC behind means for you as an applicant.


What kind of EC are you quitting?


There are several considerations to keep in mind when determining whether or not you should drop an extracurricular activity. The first of these considerations is just what the activity is, and how it fits the overall narrative in your college application.


Throughout their high school careers, many students engage in a diverse variety of extracurricular activities that have varying degrees of importance. Let’s do a case study to demonstrate this. Let’s say that one student in their junior year of high school is involved with their school’s mock trial team, drama club, and Spanish. This student is a witness on the mock trial team, an officer of the drama club, and member of the Spanish club.


This student aspires to be an attorney, and spends hours developing case strategy with their mock trial team. Although they do not hold a leadership position, they’re passionate about the extracurricular and hope to move up the ranks.


This student has also been a member of the drama club for all three years, and has assumed an officer role this past year. In this capacity, they’ve been able to take on additional responsibilities and really develop their leadership abilities. Although drama does not necessarily align with their post-high school aspirations, they sincerely enjoy the club as an outlet for creative expression.


Finally, this student has been also been a member of the Spanish club for three years. They attend most meetings and events, but have never played a role in organizing these events. They enjoy spending time with the other club members, although they have not committed a great deal of their time or interest to the club despite their continuous involvement.


Now let’s assume that this student is feeling overwhelmed with the academic demands of junior year, and wants to drop one of their extracurricular activities in order to free up some time. Based on these descriptions, which club do you think you think is most prudent for the student to drop?


If you answered the Spanish club, then you’re right. The mock trial team directly aligns with the students academic and occupational interests, and is an activity the student is passionate about. This student holds a leadership position in the drama club, has displayed significant commitment to the group, and is able to explore their artistic interest through in. In contrast, although the student enjoys the Spanish club, it does not add much to their overall application. Thus, in terms of which extracurricular would be least damaging to give up, the Spanish club is the clear answer.


When determining which EC is safest to drop, we can think about a few main principles. First, you should think about how closely the extracurricular activity relates to your profile. In our case study, the mock trial team clearly aligns with the student’s profile as an aspiring attorney. It helps give credence to the student’s goals, and shows clear interest in the student’s intended field.


Similarly, if you are an aspiring journalism major, quitting the school newspaper probably won’t reflect well on your application. Extracurricular activities are one of the most direct ways a student can reflect clear interest in a given field or career path, and can help colleges better contextualize what you will do at their school and beyond. Thus, you should think twice about dropping activities that help flesh out your interests and closely tie into your profile.


You should also consider how much time you’ve devoted to a given activity before deciding to quit it. If you’ve already invested a great deal of time and effort into an organization, you may want to think twice about quitting it. The energy you’ve devoted to the group can translate to great essay topics, strong recommendations from advisors and other individuals you’ve worked closely with, and other significant perks. Giving up such benefits may be doing yourself a disservice when it comes time to apply to college, seeing as you have already put in much of the effort that goes into an extracurricular activity. You may be selling yourself short by failing to capitalize on that effort.

When should you quit the activity?


On the other hand, quitting won’t be as significant for activities that aren’t closely tied to your field of interest, and in which you only had a small role. For example, the student in our example likely wouldn’t face any negative ramifications due to quitting the Spanish club, seeing that it did not necessarily align with their profile and that they did not invest a great deal of time and effort into the group.


If quitting the Spanish club allows this student to devote more energy to their academic success, other extracurricular activities they feel more passionate about, or their overall wellbeing, this is a prudent trade off.


Additionally, if you find your time is limited because of the demands of college applications during your senior year, you may quit an EC and likely won’t be penalized very much, as long as it was not one of your major extracurriculars. College admissions officers are aware of the various extraneous circumstances that may prompt one to drop an extracurricular activity, and will more often than not be understanding of those circumstances.


As a general rule of thumb, if you do not enjoy an activity or feel particularly committed to it, there’s no reason to stay in it. Colleges can usually tell if you are only doing something for the sake of putting it on your applications, so it is better to make room for things you genuinely like and enjoy.


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Lydia Tahraoui
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Lydia is a Social Studies concentrator at Harvard University who is deeply committed to helping guide students through the college admissions process. In addition to writing for the CollegeVine blog, Lydia enjoys analyzing Middle Eastern and North African politics and keeping up with all things pop culture.