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alt="trio of high school theater students acting in an extracurricular production of "Singing in the Rain""
Photographer: Kyle Head | Source: Unsplash

Figuring out your extracurriculars in college can be challenging, especially if you’re hoping for a career in a particular field. However, contrary to popular belief, your extracurriculars don’t have to be attached to your desired major or career path.

In this article, let’s discuss how colleges evaluate students’ extracurriculars, how your extracurriculars impact your candidate profile, and how you can choose extracurriculars that will help you stand out to Admissions Officers. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

Extracurriculars in the Holistic Review Process

Colleges use a holistic process to evaluate applications. They consider an applicant’s grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, essays, interviews, and other characteristics. These factors are all considered in the final admissions decision, but some carry more weight, especially at elite colleges and universities.

Extracurricular activities play an important role in holistic admissions. They help your application stand out and create a clearer picture of who you are beyond your grades and test scores. In evaluating extracurriculars, colleges look at a number of things. These include:

  1. How long has a student been involved in a particular activity?
  2. How has a student’s interest and involvement in an activity developed over time?
  3. What leadership roles has a student taken on in their activities?
  4. How do a student’s extracurricular activities reveal their motivation and skills?
  5. Do a student’s extracurricular activities connect in interesting ways that help tell the admissions committee who they are?
  6. What story do a student’s extracurriculars tell?

The final question is part of your overall “candidate profile.” A strong applicant profile forms the basis of any successful college application.

The Candidate Profile and Extracurriculars

Your candidate profile is a 1-2 sentence description of who you are, what you do, and why colleges should admit you. Write about that business you started as an aspiring entrepreneur, or the part-time lab job you held and your desire to study medicine. There’s no single right answer as to what your candidate profile should be — it just has to give Admissions Officers a compelling reason to admit you.

Unlike academics, which are often limited by your school’s offerings, extracurriculars are entirely up to you. This means that extracurriculars are a great opportunity to stand out in the application process.

Choosing the Right Extracurricular Activities

Often, extracurriculars cause stress for high school students, especially for students who don’t fully know what their interests may be. Students often fall into the trap of what they “should” be doing to further their goals, which gets in the way of what they genuinely want to do with their time.

Imagine you’re a high-achieving high school freshman who hopes to study medicine at an Ivy League school but who has also won several competitive dance competitions. As you refine your extracurricular activities, you may consider dropping dance for research positions and hospital internships — after all, isn’t that what a pre-med should be doing?

As it turns out, not necessarily. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with career-focused internships, they can certainly be helpful in the admissions process. However, colleges understand that students are not just one thing. Let your extracurriculars tell a compelling story and Admissions Officers will appreciate how your various interests make you unique. Being a spectacular dancer can be just as valuable as any internship, even for a student hoping to study medicine. Who knows, there may even be a way to combine these two interests in an essay or independent project!

This is not to say, however, that your extracurriculars should always be disjointed from your academic interests. Nor, moreover, can strong extracurriculars always make up for academic challenges. A student with Bs in their math classes and low SAT scores will probably struggle to get into an elite engineering school, regardless of impressive internships.

Essentially, it’s important to demonstrate creativity and consistency in your candidate profile. This means that your grades and scores are a reflection of your interests, and your extracurriculars show development over time.

Final Thoughts

As you curate your extracurriculars, remember to pursue your passions over resume fillers. Look for ways to increase your involvement in the activities that you love the most. You could start a club at your school, take on a leadership role, or compete in regional and national events.

Build your profile around the things you care about and foreground those in your applications. Don’t stress about the person you’re “supposed to be.” Instead, present the person you are to Admissions Officers in the best possible light.

Wondering how to use your extracurriculars to make your candidate profile the best it can be? Our team can help. Connect with one of CollegeAdvisor.com’s Admissions Experts to learn how to stand out to Admissions Officers.

This informational essay was written by Abigail Sage, Harvard ‘21. If you want to get help with your college applications from CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expertsregister with CollegeAdvisor.com today.