If you're looking to enjoy more opportunities after high school, it's important to think beyond just grades. Participating in extracurricular activities like clubs, sports, or a job can foster new interests and help you discover more about yourself. Admissions committees also review the extra-academic activities listed on your college application to help decide whether to give you an offer of admission.
High school is a time to try new things, learn new skills, and develop new passions. While grades and test scores are important, colleges also want to see the person you're becoming and the skills you've learned outside of class. They want to know what makes you unique, and the extracurricular activities you participate in will help you stand out.
What Extracurricular Activities Are Best for College-Bound Students?
The best extracurricular activities will be pursuits that already match your interests and passions. Rather than joining many different groups or the most prestigious clubs, focus on the ones that spark your talents. After-school activities offer a fun way to explore interests and develop friendships. This may be one reason why more than 80% of adolescents ages 12–17 take part in at least one extracurricular activity. The following list of extracurriculars for college covers the main categories of options.
School-sponsored extracurriculars are school-supervised programs based on an activity, goal, or purpose. While they're not part of regular curriculum, they can certainly be educational. Most high schools offer an array of programs, including:
- Sports teams
- School newspaper or yearbook club
- Student government
- Special-interests clubs, such as drama club
- Competitive academics, such as math league
Think of school-sponsored activities as a way to complement your regular classroom studies. If you like a specific subject or aspect of a class, chances are your school offers a related program. For example, joining the school newspaper if you enjoy writing or math club if you have a knack for algebra. Admissions officers like to see school-sponsored activities on applications because it shows that you're interested in a field of study beyond the classroom.
Community groups and organizations may have programs available for high school students looking to engage in their community in a meaningful way. Some options that could be available in your community include:
- Community service
- Local clubs and sports teams
- Political activist groups
- Community arts or music groups
- Volunteer work
Getting involved with community issues, political discussions, or leadership opportunities can show admissions committees that you're passionate about making a difference. It also shows them your values and if they're aligned with the college’s values. Participating in these organizations long-term can demonstrate your commitment level and work ethic, which is an important skill to have.
Volunteering for a local group or non-profit is a great way to showcase what you are passionate about as well. For example, if you're interested in veterinary technician programs, volunteering at an animal shelter will demonstrate your passion for helping animals and increase your chances of being accepted to a veterinary technician program.
You can also participate in activities at home that help develop your skills outside the classroom. Some of these include:
- Taking specialized online courses, such as coding
- Engaging in related hobbies, such as painting or building
- Learning new skills, such as computer software programs
- Hosting an online podcast
- Starting a small business
Your choice of independent extracurricular activities shows your creativity, passion, and commitment to learning. Colleges like to see your willingness to learn. After all, learning is what college is all about. Showing admissions committees that you're curious and are willing to work hard for what you want is a great way to stand out from other applicants.
Work experience—whether it's full-time, part-time, or freelance—is another extracurricular worth adding to a college application. Even if the job is not related to your area of study, it can really impress college admissions committees. Roughly one in three high school–age teens will have a job at some point in a year.
Balancing work with high school studies shows that you have good time management skills and are excited about developing job skills early on. A job commitment also helps you learn the importance of teamwork, reliability, and work ethic. If you work up to a managerial position at your summer job or internship, this shows admissions committees that you are capable of sustained commitment and excellence.
How to Get Started With Extracurricular Activities
It's ideal to start with extracurricular activities as early in high school as possible. This shows a long-term commitment and gives you time to potentially earn a club leadership role, which looks great on college applications. That being said, it's never too late to get involved with extracurricular activities.
You can begin your search for activities by:
- Joining clubs or groups that your friends belong to
- Checking your school’s website for clubs and opportunities
- Reaching out to local organizations, such as a church, community center, or town hall
- Checking national organizations’ websites, such as the YMCA, Girl or Boy Scouts, or Junior Achievement
- Searching online for specialized courses of interest or visiting your local community college
When choosing extracurriculars, keep these factors in mind:
- Career paths you're considering
- Your intended college major or minor
- Any passions or hobbies you already enjoy
Still can't find anything? You can always start your own club, group, or business.
The following students were all involved in an extracurricular activity that profoundly impacted their lives. As their stories show, extra-academic activities can introduce you to a lifelong passion, give you new perspectives, and help prepare you for college.
How to Get Started
Katie Discovered Her Perfect Major
Katie, a high school senior, loved participating in her school’s drama club so much that she decided to pursue that interest in college. She has enrolled in a college program for technical theater, where she will hone her skills to work behind the scenes bringing plays to life.
Kelsey Expanded Her Cultural Horizons
Kelsey, a college junior, says that her activity shaped her into the person she is today.
In high school, Kelsey joined a community-based club that focused on female empowerment. She spent time with group members from diverse backgrounds, which led her to open her mind to people who are different from her. Taking on leadership roles within the organization also helped Kelsey build her confidence. “The program gave me the opportunity to learn about myself in a positive environment,” she says.
Ben Learned He Could Make Things Happen
Ben, a first-year college student, says that his experience made him “realize that the world is full of possibilities.”
Ben started a charity golf tournament to raise money for a local hospital when he was just 10 years old. By the time he graduated from high school, the event had raised more than $1 million.
Making extracurricular activities a part of your high school experience can enrich your life now and set you up for success in the future.