Most parents and high school students know that Grade Point Average (GPA) and SAT/ACT scores are at the top of the list of factors that colleges consider when evaluating applicants. But a student is much more than their data points, and colleges look at other elements, too. Extracurricular involvement is a presumed resume booster that can help set a student apart – but how much? And do all colleges care about it?
Let’s take a look at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) 2019 State of College Admission report, which uses data collected from two annual NACAC surveys, one of which is designed to better understand admission processes at US colleges and universities.
Here’s a summary of their findings regarding extracurricular activities:
Extracurricular activities were considered “considerably important” by 6.4% of colleges surveyed. That’s low compared to other factors ranked of considerable importance. The top five factors on the list of 16 considerably important factors were:
% of colleges reporting acceptance factor as of considerable importance
Grades in all courses
Grades in college prep courses
Strength of curriculum
Admission test scores (SAT/ACT)
Essay or writing sample
Extracurricular activities were ranked as “moderately important” by most colleges surveyed. In fact, of the 16 factors on the list, extracurricular activities came in number one of moderate importance, with 42.9% of colleges naming it moderately important. Close behind on the list of highest-ranked moderately important factors were:
% of colleges reporting acceptance factor as of moderate importance
Admission test scores
Essay or writing sample
Private colleges consider extracurricular activities more important. The survey showed that private colleges placed relatively more importance on a number of factors, including extracurricular activities (and the essay or writing sample, interview, counselor recommendation, teacher recommendation, student-demonstrated interest, and work).
So do selective colleges. Selective colleges also rate extracurricular activities as being of higher importance, along with the essay or writing sample, counselor recommendation, teacher recommendation, and work.
Some colleges don’t consider extracurricular activities at all. Believe it or not, 18.7% of colleges rated extracurricular activities as unimportant. As far as other factors ranked as not being important at all, this is number 11 out of 16, with the SAT II ranked as not important by 77.8% of colleges surveyed. The fact remains that most, but not all, colleges surveyed say extracurricular activities are important.
So, do extracurricular activities impress admission officers? They can, but how much they matter varies from institution to institution. As you can see, extracurriculars are one of several factors on a long list of considerations. Grades and test scores matter most, and NACAC reports that this has remained true for decades.
While extracurricular activities are important, keep this in mind:
Quality over quantity. Not every student has the financial means or the time to commit to eight extracurricular activities. What admission officers care about when it comes to students getting involved is that they are passionate and committed. If that means your teen does one or two activities and demonstrates that these activities have been impactful and a priority over an extended period of time, that’s best.
School matters most. You might have a future Division I athlete or Broadway star on your hands, but no matter what your teen’s dreams are, encourage them to make school a priority. If your teen plans to go to college, the first thing admission officers will look at is their academic performance. That will be the “foot in the door” more than an extracurricular activity.
Think of extracurricular activities as a way to bolster the resume, not dominate it. Your teen’s high GPA and strong SAT/ACT scores will speak volumes about their potential. That resume of activities is an excellent way to show that they are dedicated and hard-working (and perhaps have an aptitude for something like a sport, instrument, or future career path).
Your teen should get involved with extracurricular activities that are enjoyable and offer valuable experience. College admission officers will notice their effort, and it could tip the scales in terms of an acceptance decision. No matter what, doing well in school is most important.