Getting involved in extracurricular activities can be a difficult concept for high school students to understand. What you do outside of the classroom plays an important role in holistic admissions and can be a determining factor in the college application process. In other words, extracurricular activities matter, not just for personal growth, but for college admissions as well. 

When faced with the task of choosing which extracurricular activities to get involved in, most students face one of two dilemmas. They either do not know which extracurriculars correspond to their interests or they are struggling to decide which extracurriculars to join. 

Feeling lost about your passions and interests is common in high school, but luckily there are ways to begin identifying what motivates and intrigues you through some self-awareness. Some students suffer from the opposite problem: they have trouble choosing which extracurricular activities they want to partake in. When you have a wide range of interests, it is easy to end up with a laundry list of extracurriculars that make you look superficial and uncommitted to colleges. Whichever end of the spectrum you fall on, there is a means for you to show meaningful involvement to colleges while enjoying yourself along the way. 

Picking your extracurriculars is not about finding the ‘best’ or ‘hardest’ activities, it is simply about identifying what you can do outside of the classroom that enriches you and reflects your unique interests. By following these steps, you can choose extracurriculars that help you grow personally and get into top colleges.

1. Identify your interests

Most students, especially those early in high school, only have a vague idea of what they are interested in. In order to choose the right extracurriculars in high school, you should take the time to get to know yourself and your passions.

A good exercise to begin identifying interests is to think broadly about what motivates you or makes you happy. Does helping others spark a sense of joy? Does physical activity feel rewarding? Does reading bring you peace? Think about what classes you like, what daily activities you enjoy doing, or a subject you want to learn more about. 

Once you have done some brainstorming, write down a list of things you want to learn or values you want to have once you complete high school. Having a strong idea of who you want to be will help guide you in picking extracurriculars. Think of the steps you will need to take to be that person and then identify what extracurriculars can foster that type of behavior. If you want to learn to code, maybe join a computer science club. If you aspire to be healthier, perhaps join a running team. If giving back to your community is important to you, try volunteering at a nonprofit or starting your own club. This type of mental activity can help you pinpoint your interests and ensure your extracurriculars align with your goals and interests.

2. Assess your options

Many students fall into the trap of overcommitting themselves to multiple extracurriculars. Before you sign up for that club or join that team, make sure you can dedicate enough time in your schedule to that activity. 

Take the time to learn what exactly the extracurricular activity entails. Will it require studying, physical activity, or time from your weekends? Also ask yourself who else will be participating in the extracurricular. 

While it is never advised to do something simply because your friends do it, joining an extracurricular where you can foster existing friendships or build new ones is always an added positive. Thinking critically about how much time and effort you will be committing, along with what you will be gaining, before joining an extracurricular activity can save you time and stress in the long run.


3. Go outside of your comfort zone

While it is easy to join an extracurricular you have experience in or one that your friends are in, it is recommended that you go outside your comfort zone with at least one extracurricular activity. This does not mean you have to do something you do not like or stick with something that doesn’t make you happy. We recommend trying something new because it can positively impact your personal growth and perspective. 

If you love STEM, try joining a book club. If art is your passion, consider CrossFit or bicycling once a week. Adding something different to your routine can help improve your mood and displays a willingness to explore. Not only will trying something new diversify your college application narrative, but it can also help you make new friends and expand your skillset and open your mind to new knowledge or possibilities.

4. Look for ways to grow your involvement

If you have been a member of a club, team, or organization for a year or two, you should begin to look for ways to grow your involvement or assume a leadership role. By taking on more responsibility, you can show that you are committed to the extracurricular activity you’re engaged in. 

Not only that, but becoming more involved also helps you build important skills such as time management, teamwork, and leadership. Juniors and seniors who show investment in an extracurricular activity are often viewed as community leaders and team players. By growing your involvement in an extracurricular activity, you’re displaying the motivation, eagerness, and maturity that colleges will be looking for in potential applicants.

5. Assess how you have changed

Remember how we discussed identifying the person you wish to become back in step one? Hopefully the extracurricular activities you decide to join will guide you in that direction. If that is the case, you should assess how participating in these extracurricular activities has helped you change for the better. 

Did you build better time management and leadership skills? Did you learn something new which changed how you think? Whatever the outcome of your extracurricular was, you should consider communicating this growth to the colleges you apply to. Colleges want to see how you have personally and academically grown and challenged yourself in high school because odds are that trend will continue into college. 

Think critically about what you have learned through your extracurricular activities and how to best communicate this information to college admissions teams.

While choosing the right extracurricular activities in high school can be difficult, remember to prioritize what makes you feel happy and engaged. Activities that motivate you will be naturally enjoyable and inspire you to get more involved. By being consistent and growth-oriented with your extracurricular activities, you can build a college admissions profile that is unique to yourself and that accurately reflects your interests and values.