What Colleges Look for in Applicants’ Extracurricular Activities

By Huntington Learning Center

College is on the horizon, but your teen is looking to do more than just get in. He wants to set himself apart with an impressive resume, and possibly earn a few scholarships while he’s at it.

Grades and strength of curriculum are top of the list of attributes that colleges look for in applicants, but there is no doubt that admissions officers—especially at highly competitive colleges and universities—also appreciate that “something extra” in students. Extracurricular activities are a great way for teens to build leadership abilities and fuel their passions.

Your teen might be on a quest to identify the “best” extracurricular activities that will give her resume a boost. However, the reality is, college admissions officers aren’t partial to certain extracurricular activities. They’re simply looking to see that students are committed to those activities.

Here are a few attributes that colleges appreciate in extracurricular activities:

  • Passion – Above all else, colleges like to see extracurricular activities on resumes that demonstrate students’ excitement about something. So, whether your teen is an avid basketball player or a focused future engineer who founded the school engineering club, the key is that he is sincere about his enthusiasm for the endeavor. In fact, admissions officers would rather a student be committed to one or two activities than passively involved with six or seven.
  • Leadership – Admissions officers consider students with leadership aptitudes as positive contributors to campus life. Your teen’s involvement in a club or activity is much more meaningful when it is obvious how it made an impact—on the school, other students, the community and/or the world. Being a leader requires ardor, vision and values, which are qualities that make strong candidates for college admission.
  • Challenging – In reality, your teen isn’t likely to gain much from a club that doesn’t ask much of her. Instead, your teen should seek out activities that push her to be better, acquire a new skill or set a goal to strive toward. The student with a fear of public speaking who gets involved in debate club stands to grow a great deal.
  • Creative – There’s so much benefit in being able to explore ideas and think creatively, both in school and the real world. Colleges value commitment to lifelong learning, self-discovery and self-expression.
  • Career-Focused – Some students know from a young age what they want to do with their lives. If this sounds like your teen, encourage him to get real-world experience in the field in which he’s interested. If your teen goes to college with plans to major in biology and continue on in medical school, that volunteer work in the assisted living facility or part-time job as a nursing assistant will prove he’s serious.

What colleges especially want to see is that a student has selected certain activities for a reason. Encourage your teen to choose extracurriculars that mean something to her and dedicate her time and energy toward them.


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