How Participation in Extracurricular Activities Affects College Admission
When it comes to college acceptance, most college admission boards aren't as interested in what you do in your free time as much as they are in the extracurricular activities and accomplishments that demonstrate your level of initiative, commitment, accomplishment, and leadership. It's perfectly fine to spend hours on your favorite hobby (i.e., video games, crochet, etc.) but it's important that you schedule time on a regular basis to be involved in extracurricular activities that showcase who you are and the direction you're headed.
How much is enough to get into college?
The answer to this question is, "it depends". The required level of participation in extracurricular activities depends on what college you want to attend, on your academic performance in high school, and whether or not you're looking for a scholarship. When it comes to extracurricular activity, highly competitive colleges, such as Yale and Harvard–with admission rates right around 8%–are going to have much higher expectations of applicants than schools like Kansas State University, which accepts virtually everyone that applies. If you graduate summa cum laude, have an academic GPA of 4.0, and complete several AP classes in high school, having a stellar record of extracurricular achievement will probably qualify you for various scholarships but isn't necessary for admission to college. If you have a GPA of 3.5 and want to attend a top ranked college, then demonstrating ability and accomplishment through participation in extracurricular activities becomes much more important. For those seeking competitive merit-based financial aid scholarships, participation in meaningful extracurricular activities can be vital.
What college admission boards are looking for
When college admission boards evaluate an applicant's involvement in extracurricular activities, there are few specific things they're looking for:
Whatever extracurricular activities you're involved in, you want to demonstrate you were a committed and dedicated participant. College admission boards are much more impressed with depth than breadth. Belonging to 10 school clubs, where your level of participation did not extend beyond attending weekly meetings, is not nearly as impressive as belonging to 1 or 2 clubs where you were nominated president, put in charge of managing major projects, or made noteworthy and meaningful contributions to the success of the club.
Leadership is a vital skill and attribute in today's world. Every organization, whether commercial, non-profit, religious, educational or volunteer in nature depends on leaders. Colleges are looking for applicants with leadership experience and demonstrable leadership skills. If you can demonstrate through involvement in extracurricular activites that you're a leader, it will go a long way toward getting you into the college of your choice. More prestigious and selective colleges are going to carefully evaluate your leadership experience and potential. Getting involved in student government or taking on a leadership role in whichever club you choose is a great way to showcase your leadership ability.
Balance and Diversity
Colleges are looking for diverse, well-rounded applicants that bring something unique and original to the table. Getting involved with the drama club in high school can be just as powerful as playing on the football team when it comes to college admission–especially if you excel at drama but are only so so on the football field. Showing meaningful and commited volunteer work with scouting, church groups, community centers, boys and girls clubs, tutoring, etc. suggests to admission officers that your horizons extend beyond the academic.
Dedication and Involvement
Demonstrating hands-on involvement in extracurricular activities is key to the college admission process. Admission officers are adept at differentiating between the applicant who occassionally showed up to support the high school band and the applicant who spent every Saturday for six months organizing a science fair. Students who can demonstrate real involvement in extracurricular activities are much more likely to impress college admissions officers.
Being talented or unique always captures the attention of admission officers. It goes without saying that being a star quarterback on your high school foot ball team will take you farther than warming the bench for two years as the alternate. Well the same holds true for just about any extracurricular activity. Look for activities where you can excel or stand out from the pack. If you have a talent, develop it and show case it. Like playing the piano? Become the pianist for your church, school or a musical group. Have knack for business, start a home-based business. Entrepreneurship almost always impresses admissions officers–especially when you're successful. Remember, admission officers love seeing exciting and unusual activities on college applications. Step out of your comfort zone. Instead of getting involved with student government, becoming an editor for the high school newspaper, or a yearbook staff member, consider becoming a funk dancer, magician, or maybe even an application developer.