Explaining extracurricular activities during the pandemic

by Jennifer Johnson,

  • Willamette University

Activities outside of class are still the best way to help your college application stand out — even at a time when in-person contact isn’t advised or allowed.  

Admission counselors realize this year is unlike any other. A smaller list of extracurricular activities won’t be held against you but noting your prior involvement and interests is still important, says Senior Associate Director of Admission Caitlin Harper. Neglecting to provide that information misrepresents crucial parts to your life and can leave the wrong impression.  

Even if you don’t think certain activities count, such as part-time employment or caring for family members, you can still mention it because it more fully demonstrates who you are outside of class. If your interests fall in one specific area, explain how you’ve pursued it in a variety of ways — maybe you play guitar, perform in a band and teach lessons on the side. 

Generally speaking, students who demonstrate balanced interests over a sustained period of time are the most well-received. “Even when community involvement is limited, we still want to hear about what’s meaningful to you and the activities that round out your life,” she said. 

Identify and fulfill a need. Making masks, producing hand sanitizer or other personal protective equipment has been a popular way to help out communities during the pandemic. But just because it’s been done doesn’t mean it’s not an impressive way to show initiative. 

Lead through your interests. If you’re into theatre, direct a Zoom version and learn more about the process than you would as a participant. Did you attend meetings for church or a club  that still connects regularly? Offer to produce videos to broadcast to the community. Does music captivate you? Keep rehearsing. Some high school students are still meeting with their groups online and plan to compete at virtual competitions. 

Volunteer. Large group gatherings are not possible in many communities, but many organizations have adjusted to the pandemic and changed their operations. Food banks are offering socially-distant ways to get involved and the American Red Cross has opportunities to safely support blood donations, deliver community services or send media alerts from home. Online tutoring is also an option. 

Learn something new. Baking bread, painting by number, learning a new language — many people have picked up new activities and it’s an easy way to display your creativity and illustrate how you respond to idle time, said Harper. 

After you’ve identified your extracurricular activities, add it to a high school resume. It's a good format to list your relevant work and shows admission counselors you’re organized, can take initiative and are self-reflective. Send your resume to an admission counselor to demonstrate your excitement.  


Willamette University

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Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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