Get the extra edge with extracurriculars

Know how to use your activities to boost your college applications

Get the extra edge with extracurriculars

Extracurricular activities aren’t just “extra” anymore on your college application. Years ago, good grades, solid SAT scores and a quality writing sample were often enough to gain admission to many colleges and universities. 


Today, college admissions officers read thousands of college applications and essays from prospective students. That’s why initiative and leadership ability can set you apart from other applicants. One of the best ways to demonstrate these characteristics is by highlighting your participation in extracurricular student activities. 


Going beyond high school groups

High schools offer plenty of student activity opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. But the extracurriculars at school aren’t the only ones that count. If you are a talented artist or dancer and you have taken classes outside of school, share this information on your application. Include how many years you have studied and what you have accomplished in these areas, such as summer workshops, studying with well-known teachers, exhibiting or performing. 


Volunteering is an excellent way to get involved and to show your commitment to an interest. Better yet, if you can volunteer in an area that is related to your intended major, you are also showing your dedication to a subject, which can make you a more competitive applicant. If you plan to study nursing in college, you could volunteer at your local hospital. Or if you want to be a teacher, volunteer in an afterschool program or at a daycare center. 


Show commitment

It’s important to show continual commitment to at least one activity. Having a list of dozens of extracurricular activities during your senior year of high school doesn’t look as good as having one or two activities that you have shown a continual commitment to.Plus, many scholarships—both from the institution or private sources—are available for students who participate in certain extracurricular activities. 


Tell your story

Colleges want to know the real you. Revealing who you are is part of what can make your college application unique. Beyond showing that you are a good student with a strong academic record, you can take your application to the next level by helping admission officers imagine how you would fit in their campus culture with your distinctive interests and talents, which are reflected in your extracurriculars. It could give you an edge in becoming part of the next freshman class at your top-choice college. 


Ways to highlight your extracurricular activities to get an edge

• Discuss one of your student activities in your admissions essay

• Include a list of activities and highlight leadership positions and accomplishments on your resume

• If an extracurricular opportunity you are interested in doesn’t exist at school, create it yourself. 


Elaina Loveland is the author of Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians, and Writers and Creative Careers: Paths for Aspiring Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians, and Writers. Learn more about the book at


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