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What Counts as an Extracurricular Activity for College Admissions?

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Marching Band

Marching Band

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Question: What Counts as an Extracurricular Activity for College Admissions?
Answer: Extracurricular activities are simply anything you do that is not a high school course or paid employment (but note that paid work experience is of interest to colleges and can substitute for some extracurricular activities). You should define your extracurricular activities in broad terms -- many applicants make the mistake of thinking of them solely as school-sponsored groups such as yearbook, band or football. Not so. Most community and family activities are also "extracurricular."

The Common Application as well as many individual college applications group together extracurricular activities with community service, volunteer work, family activities and hobbies. The list below provides some examples of activities that would be considered "extracurricular" (note that many of the categories below overlap):

  • Arts: theater, music, dance, painting, photography, creative writing and other creative endeavors.
  • Church activity: community outreach, helping the elderly, event planning, community suppers, church-sponsored music and athletic programs, teaching or organizing for summer camps and retreats, missionary work, and any other activity run through the church.
  • Clubs: Chess club, mathletes, mock trial, debate, animé club, role playing club, language clubs, film club, skateboarding club, diversity/minority groups and so on.
  • Community activity: community theater, event organizing, festival staff, and many other activities that are organized through the community, not the school.
  • Governance: Student government, student council, prom committee, community youth board (see Sophie's essay), advisory boards and so on.
  • Hobbies: Be creative here. Read these articles on how Rubik's Cube or Collecting Free Stuff can be transformed into an extracurricular activity. Also, colleges are interested in your passion whether it be rocketry, model railroads, collecting, blogging or quilting. These interests show that you have interests outside of the classroom.
  • Media: local television, school radio or television, yearbook staff, school newspaper, literary journal, blogging and online journaling, local newspaper, and any other work that leads to a television show, movie or publication (online or print).
  • Military: Junior ROTC, drill teams and related activities.
  • Music: Chorus, band (marching, jazz, symphonic, concert, pep...), orchestra, ensembles and solo. These musical groups could be through school, church, the community or your personal group or solo efforts.
  • Sports: Football, baseball, hockey, track, gymnastics, dance, lacrosse, swimming, soccer, skiing, cheerleading and so on.
  • Volunteer Work and Community Service: Key Club, Habitat for Humanity, tutoring and mentoring, community fund-raising, Rotary, church outreach, hospital work (candy striping), animal rescue, nursing home work, poll worker, volunteer fire department, creating hiking trails, Adopt-a-Highway, and any other work that helps the world and is not for pay.
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