The Importance of Extracurricular Activities in College Admissions

By Gary Keung

(Admissions Consultant at The Edge Learning Center)

Let’s face it, academics will always be at the top when considering the important factors in college admissions. According to the yearly NACAC Admissions Trend Survey, the top five items of importance are:

  1. Grades in College Prep Courses
  2. Grades in All Courses
  3. Strength of Curriculum
  4. Admissions Test Scores
  5. Essay or Writing Sample

Extracurricular Activities ranked 12th, with only 5.6% of the respondents considering it to have “considerable importance”.

So why the obsession with extracurricular activities?

It is important to keep in mind that colleges are communities, and they want a diverse class to add to the community. Furthermore, at the most selective U.S. colleges, academically qualified applicants are more than two to three-fold of the number of freshmen they can accommodate. The activities a student pursues, thus, culminate into an important differentiating factor.

Read more from Gary on How to use Social Media effectively in College Admissions. 

Students participating extracurricular activities for school.Now, students and parents will often ask what types of extracurricular activities they should choose. Often we would hear from parents saying “I heard volunteering is a must to get into XX University”. For them, they are trying to anticipate what colleges want to see. The good news and the bad news is that there is no right answer.

Why? To refer back to the idea that colleges are communities, they want students that will enhance that sense of community. If the students all had the same resume, same activities, same passion, and hobbies, a college would be a mighty boring place. Right?

Therefore, too often students are ill-informed in the decisions they make as to what activities they should focus on, why they should focus on those activities, and how best to manage their time while balancing life/school.

Part of the implied task of the college admissions office is to identify students who would contribute to various school clubs, interest groups, and other activities on and off-campus. As a result, the admissions officers look for Breadth and Depth when they read the student’s activity profile.

  1. Breadth – the student should have an interest in more than just one area of academics and extra-curricular activity, unless in a few special cases when the student is a world-class musician, athlete, or scholar.
  2. Depth – the student should invest at least a substantial portion of his/her weekly schedule in the activity, and preferably, the student receives recognition both inside and outside of the school for the activity.

We, therefore, ask our students to adhere to the principles of Thoughtful Leadership, Focused Diversity, and Reasoned Passion.

A lady won an award from participating extracurricular activities at school.

  1. Thoughtful Leadership. We demand students to not only participate in their favorite activities but also to become leaders rather than passive members.
  2. Focused Diversity. We advise our students to focus their efforts to allow the greatest chance of accomplishment and reward from their activities. Passive membership to 10 school clubs does nothing for the resume, while active leadership in a selected few activities tells the college admissions about the students’ passions.
  3. Reasoned Passion. We demand purpose to our “madness”. Why do we spend 3 hours a day, 5 days a week practicing basketball? Why do we run around, writing 100 pages proposals to raise funds for a particular cause? The admissions office wants to know not only WHAT we do with our spare time, but WHY we do what we do. We must have a firm reason for the choices we make, and these reasons cannot be simply “to get into college”.

The Bottom-line from The Edge: Start early, be passionate, stay committed, and lead the pack.

Consultation with Gary

About The Edge

The Edge Learning Center is Hong Kong’s premier Test Preparation, Academic Tutoring, and Admissions Consulting services, provider. Founded in 2008, The Edge has helped thousands of students improve their ACT and SAT scores as well as their IB and AP grades. The Admission Consulting team has just finished off a very successful year. Check out the latest Admissions Results!

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