How to Choose Extracurriculars for the Common App

When you’re finally finished with a long and stressful school day, it can be great to go to one of your extracurricular activities and spend time with students whose interests are similar to yours. Whether you’re on the MUN Exec board, on a sports team, or even editor of the school magazine, extracurriculars (ECs) are a meaningful way to spend your time — not to mention, demonstrating a commitment to your ECs and taking on leadership roles within them can help you differentiate yourself to colleges.

As you go through the college application process, you may find that you’ll need to select one or two activities you’re involved in that stand out as especially meaningful to you. For active, engaged students, narrowing down their involvement in this way can be tricky. Here are some of our insights for such students! HOWEVER, if you haven't already, go check out post on the activity page of the Common App first! If have read that already, then go right ahead!

Why do I need to determine my most meaningful EC?

You might be wondering why you would need to determine which of your extracurriculars is the most important. After all, aren’t all extracurricular activities relevant in different ways? While it is true that every activity is meaningful in its own way, there are many reasons why you might be asked to rank extracurriculars or select one as the most important. First of all, if you end up applying to any schools that take the Common Application, you will be required to rank your different extracurricular activities in order. Some schools might even ask you which of your activities is the most important to you as a supplemental question. You might find yourself needing to rank your activities on scholarship applications as well.

Aside from the various applications that might require you to determine a “most important” activity, on both a personal and a professional level, it is a good idea to understand one’s own priorities and interests in a larger sense. After all, the better that you understand yourself, the more you can try to pursue opportunities within the fields that are most important to you.

How do I determine which extracurricular is most important?

1. Something That Relates To Your Interests/Career Path

In thinking about which of your extracurriculars is the most important to you, one of the first things you might want to consider is what you want your career to look like when you are older. That being said, it is totally okay if you don’t know what field you want to go into as an adult. It might help you to think about what you might want to major in once you get to college. If you’re unsure about what that might be, you could also think about the academic subjects you have been interested in throughout your high school career.

If your lifelong goal is to become a doctor, and you’re president of the medical volunteerism student society at your high school, chances are that this is your most meaningful activity. If you plan on majoring in comparative literature and your ultimate goal is to become a writer, talking about your experience as editor of your school’s yearly magazine is probably a good idea.

Colleges want to see students who are dedicated to the things that they are passionate about, and if you’ve taken concrete steps towards activities that relate to your interests and future goals, then you should definitely be sure to highlight this on your applications. That being said, it’s totally okay if you don’t know or if you are undecided — plenty of high school students are, and even more of them change their minds once they get to college!

2. Showcase Things You’re Passionate About

Just as activities that relate to your career goals are important, so too are activities that are personally meaningful to you. These activities may not necessarily be something that you’ll end up doing for a living, but perhaps they’ve been important to you for the majority of your life or perhaps you find yourself dedicating a particularly large amount of time to them. 

If community service is important to you and you’ve been volunteering at a local soup kitchen for all four years of high school, then this is probably worth mentioning. If you play on the school team for a sport or if you have been horse riding since you were seven years old, then this also is probably something you should consider talking about. Again, colleges want students who are passionate and motivated, so backing up your passions with concrete actions is an effective way to convince admissions counsellors that you’d be a great addition to their school.

3. Something That Has Required A Major Time Commitment

If you choose to list something as your most important extracurricular, then it is important for you to have demonstrated a long-term commitment to this activity.  There needs to be heart in the work you do. While passion can show in a week long volunteering trip, if you convert that into a term doing commitment, it shows how you wanted to work for a sustained amount of time. Additionally, having a leadership position or taking on a lot of responsibility within this role will look even better, since colleges are looking for students who are responsible and have strong leadership skills.  

Overall, the EC that you choose to list as most important should be something that is meaningful to you, something that you are passionate about, and something that has taken up a significant amount of your time throughout your high school years. If a particular activity came to mind when reading this post, then chances are this is probably the activity that you should list! We hope this blog entry is of use to you. The activities page is one tricky beast to work with. Good thing that we 17 years of experience in this field! Come have a chat with us! Stay tuned for a new entry on how to write a description for your activity entries.