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How do you define extracurricular activities?

Extracurricular activities are things that you are involved in outside of your normal classes and high school curriculum.

Examples include clubs, band, sports, community art courses, and local internships or volunteering experiences. Family commitments are also great examples.

“There are many [students] who spend a great deal of time helping to run their household, preparing meals and caring for siblings or making money with a part-time job to help the household meet expenses.”
— William R. Fitzsimmons, Dean at Harvard University, NY Times

Why are extracurricular activities important?

Your grades and test scores show off your curricular abilities— your ability to study for an exam, be on time for classes and learn from your teachers.

In contrast, extra-curricular activities give insight into what you are interested in and what kind of a person you are. They point to qualities like leadership, flexibility and initiative. They can also alert the college to a student’s varied intelligences and provide great inspiration for your college essays.

How much do extracurriculars matter for “top” universities?

Many, many students apply to “top” universities with perfect test scores and flawless grades, so applicants need to differentiate themselves. Extracurriculars can help.

Furthermore, top schools are not only looking for students who are smart, but for students who crave challenges. Therefore, successful applicants will not simply be content to make perfect grades — they will also be school leaders who are active in the community.

How many extra-curricular activities do you need?

The number is not really important. However, as they say, quality is better than quantity.

An exhaustive list of activities will not impress an admissions committee. Whether you decide to list two or ten extracurriculars, make sure that they are all positive experiences that show something great about you.

What are the best extracurricular activities?

Students and parents are often concerned about which activities look the best to a university. Unfortunately, there is no one answer to this.

“Do things that you truly enjoy in high school rather than trying to out-guess an admissions committee.”
— Jeff Brenzel, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Yale University, CollegeBoard

Regardless of which activities (or how many) you choose, if you enjoy them then you will naturally progress at them. Your success will be evident in the passion with which you talk about what you do and the extent to which you get involved.


Maija Wallace is a freelance writer for college admissions blogs. Her website is located at

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