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How to make extracurricular activities stand out on a college app

by Marketing & Communications,

Students singing

Activities outside of class are still the best way to help your college application stand out — even if your extracurricular activities have been interrupted or haven’t been allowed.  

Admission counselors realize the past few years have been full of adaptation and change. A smaller list of extracurricular activities won’t be held against you, but noting your prior involvement and interests is still important, says Dean of Admission Sue Corner

“We still want to hear about what’s meaningful to you and the activities that round out your life,” she said. 

Even if you don’t think certain activities count, such as part-time employment or caring for family members, don’t leave it out — 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 three or four balanced interests over a sustained period of time are the most well-received. But not everyone fits that mold, and that’s fine. 

Students who have singular passions are still impressive, as long as they can show they’ve pursued it in a variety of ways — like a baseball player who played for a club team, volunteered to coach Little League and ran a summer clinic for neighborhood children, said Corner. 

“Some colleges even view a singular focus as more appealing because the passion really comes through,” she said. 

If you feel you don’t have any activities or they’re not traditional enough, check again. Church involvement, part-time employment, mentoring other students or caring for family members is relevant. If you attend a high school that doesn’t offer many activities — or you’re not president of a club — that’s OK, too. The most important thing to do is note your involvement.

Failing to recognize your extracurricular work on an application can give the wrong impression to admission officers — at worst, that students are lazy — and also misrepresents crucial aspects of your life. 

“Demonstrating leadership and passion in other ways gives us tremendously important context to understanding who they are,” she said. 

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.  

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