Some sections of your college application are open to more interpretation than others. For example, your grades or standardized test scores are numbers that can’t be changed, and they will serve as concrete evidence of your academic achievement and potential. But other sections, like the extracurricular section, can involve a little more creative thinking as you craft them.
Of course, if you’ve been involved in a few high school clubs or played on a sports team, this section might be cut and dry. You have participated in obvious, structured activities that neatly fit under the extracurricular heading. But the line isn’t always so clear-cut. What happens when you’ve passionately pursued an outside interest, spending significant amounts of time and energy doing so? Or what if your family commitments take up most of your time outside of school hours? How can these activities be grouped into extracurriculars, and how will they stack up against those of a more traditional nature?
For high school students planning their college applications, the extracurricular section of the application can be very important. With admissions becoming more and more competitive, you need to shine both in terms of academics and extracurriculars.
If you’re considering how to mold your casual interest or hobby into an extracurricular that will truly shine on your college applications, this is the post for you. Here, we will review the working definition of what makes an activity an extracurricular, and then outline five specific ways that you can ramp up your participation to create a focused and meaningful extracurricular for your college applications.
What Is an Extracurricular Activity?
An extracurricular activity can be almost any hobby or interest that you pursue outside of school. In order to be considered an extracurricular activity, it simply needs to meet a few basic criteria.
First of all, it needs to be something that you participate in with some regularity over an extended period. Volunteering at the soup kitchen once doesn’t count because it isn’t something that you do regularly. Similarly, taking a weeklong Spanish class at the library also isn’t a great example, unless you do so every semester. Instead, it needs to be something that you participate in on a fairly regular basis. The longer your participation lasts, the more established your activity will appear on your college applications.
Next, it needs to be something that is not a part of an academic class at your school. For example, your advanced math classes at school don’t count, because they are already included in your grades and on your transcript. Even if a class is not technically a required one at your school, if you take it during school hours and it weighs into your grades, it is generally considered academic coursework rather than an extracurricular activity.
If, however, you took advanced math classes at a local community college or through your local library, those would qualify as extracurriculars, as they are something you have pursued in addition to your school work. Similarly, if you teach yourself a foreign language, that would also count, since you are doing so outside of your formal courses.
Finally, an extracurricular should be something that you care about. While this line is a little more blurry than the clear-cut examples above, you will have difficulty shaping an activity about which you care very little into a meaningful experience on your college application.
For example, if you mow your neighbor’s lawn once a week because your parents ask you to, but you do so grudgingly and need to be hassled to do it, listing this as Volunteer Neighborhood Landscaping would probably be a misrepresentation of what you’ve actually done. If, however, you make an arrangement with the elderly neighbors to mow their lawn and pull their weeds because you care about them and making their lives easier, it most certainly could be an activity that you expand on to create a meaningful extracurricular on your college applications. The spirit of your participation does matter.
How Do I Turn a Hobby or Interest Into a Strong Extracurricular?
Almost any hobby or interest can count as an extracurricular, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will, on its own, be a strong addition to your college application. There are a few key things you can do to turn a regular hobby or interest into a strong extracurricular. Here are our five favorites.
1. Join Others
There is power in numbers, and extracurriculars are no different. If you participate in your hobby or pursue your interest with others, you will learn from them, and your experience will quickly multiply. It’s likely that each person in the group will bring their own unique strengths and insights, so you will gain more collective knowledge by working in each other’s company.
Not only that, but participating together will mean you can potentially reach more people if you turn your activity or interest in a project. Maybe you are producing goods that can be sold or donated. Maybe you are sharing your skills with others. Whatever the case may be, pooling your resources will allow you to do more of it than you’d be able to do alone.
Finally, participating together will help you to hold yourself more accountable. There will inevitably be times when you feel too busy or stressed to devote much time to your independent extracurriculars, but if you know that others are counting on you to join them, you’ll be more likely to follow through on your commitments. The group context gives your activity some sense of formality.
2. Branch Out
Another way to expand your reach, aside from joining others in your pursuit, is to join or pursue other related, similar activities. For example, think of activities that are closely related or otherwise relevant to your interests that would reinforce your commitment to it.
If your hobby is creating visual art, consider taking an online art history course or organizing a school trip to the museum. If you teach computer skills at your grandmother’s nursing home, think about taking a programming class or rebuilding a computer.
By pursuing related activities, you reinforce your interests and show that you are committed to this hobby beyond the casual level; you’re invested in deepening your participation by branching out to related fields.
3. Quantify Your Participation
Putting a number on your participation or quantifying your results is an especially strong way to drive home your commitment. Particularly if you are participating in or pursuing this activity or interest independently, it’s important that you try to find a measurable way to count your work or progress.
There are many ways to do this. For example, if you’re teaching yourself a foreign language, enroll in an online class that will result in a certificate of completion or take a national language exam at the end of the year to measure your progress. This will serve as a concrete testimonial of your work. Similarly, if you’re creating visual art, start to keep track of the time you spend on it and the number of pieces you produce. If you’re teaching computer skills at a nursing home, keep track of how many “students” you instruct.
Being able to put a number or offer some other form of concrete achievement in relation to your activity will further legitimize it.
4. Incorporate A Service Element
Finding a way to give back through your hobby makes it more meaningful, and you can do so on your own or with others.
For example, if you’re creating visual art, consider donating artwork to a local hospital or volunteering as a youth art instructor. If you’re teaching yourself a foreign language, think about volunteering at a local clinic or shelter where a large population of native speakers seek services. Or if you’re teaching computer skills at a nursing home, start a fundraiser to buy some laptops or iPads to keep in the library there.
If you put your head to it, it’s possible to come up with a service angle for nearly any activity or interest.
5. Share Your Work
Another way to give back is through simply sharing the products of your experience or interest. Organize a night to share your skill with others by attending an open mic night, putting together an art show, or creating another opportunity to share your skill.
If you are teaching computer classes, set up drop in hours to create new email accounts for interested students. If you are teaching yourself a new language, host a foreign film night at your school and provide subtitles so that everyone in the audience can appreciate it.
By creating a formal event that showcases your work or highlights your new skills, you formalize your participation and interests in a tangible way.
Still wondering? Come chat with us!