Get Involved: Exploring Extracurricular Activities Colleges Want to See

Colleges understand that there is life outside of the confines of your high school, and they are very interested in what you’re involved in and what your interests are in the “real” world.

They are hoping that, if admitted, you’ll bring your interests with you and be actively involved on their campuses. What you do outside of school shows a dimension of you that might not appear anywhere else in the application.

Joining a club, choosing an activity, being a leader, volunteering in your community; this is not about “collecting” activities because you’ve heard that colleges like to see a long activity list or hours of community service. What you join should reflect your genuine interests. Involvement should span multiple years and, when possible, should demonstrate leadership on your part.

Colleges are looking for students who can demonstrate balance. They want the student who maintains great grades in tough courses while being involved inside and outside of school. The athlete who shows up for every game and practice, the oldest child with responsibilities at home, the student who’s interested in business and maintains a job or internship, and the artist who takes art lessons to improve their skills. In short, they want to meet interesting, active people who have learned the following:

• Ability to prioritize
• Time-management skills
• Motivation
• Responsibility
• Leadership qualities
• Consistency

It’s not about “doing it all” to the point of exhaustion. Often involvement is about dedication to one or two activities that are meaningful to you. It is about discovering what strengths you have by trying out a few activities in the beginning of your high school years and sticking to them.

I’m always amazed at how much students do and maintain their balance. I’ve often heard them say, “We like being involved; it keeps us focused and forces us to organize our time more productively.” Don’t forget to keep a record of all of your involvement from the very beginning. If you haven’t already done it, open up a page on your computer and document everything.


This article was written by Miriam Engel

Miriam Gardner-Engel is the Head High School College Guidance Counselor at American College Counseling, Inc. (ACCI), a nationally recognized college counseling company that guides students and families through all aspects of the college admissions process. Go to for additional information, or call 1-866-ASK-ACCI for a free consultation.

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