Are Extracurricular Activities important?

Posted on 3rd November 2021

Extracurricular Activities

We’re all familiar with the image of the US college campus from films and TV: the dorms, quads, and dining halls filled with students studying and taking part in sport and activities together. Although it is part of popular culture, this view of campus shows how US colleges see themselves not as purely academic institutions, but as communities that foster various aspects of students’ daily life and development.

As such, high school extracurricular activities carry far more weight on applications to US universities than those to UK ones. That’s not to say that if you’re thinking about applying to the US you should suddenly sign yourself up to every activity going, though: US colleges like to see applicants who are committed to two or three activities that are meaningful to them, that they have been involved with over a long period of time, and in which they have taken on leadership roles. (For leadership, this need not be something official like serving as head of a society or team captain: it can be something like helping younger years in your sport of choice, taking on pastoral responsibilities in your boarding house, or helping organise an event or fund-raiser.)

US colleges also want to see students engaging in activities that they are genuinely passionate about. So if you assess your activities and feel you need to get more involved, don’t be alarmed! Think of it as an opportunity to reflect on things that intrigue and inspire you, that you enjoy doing and feel are rewarding and connected to what you value in life. Once you have a list of a few things like that, look at the opportunities you have around you to explore these further. Could you start a coding society? Join a sustainability committee at your school and brainstorm a new project for it?

What you do doesn’t have to be an organised activity, so if those sorts of activities are less appealing to you, create your own activity to do in your own time! For example, if you enjoy baking, you might buy a new cookbook that inspires you, and bake your way through the whole thing; if you enjoy running and the outdoors, you might sign up for some 5Ks with your family. Additionally, things like religious and cultural activities, working part-time, or caring for a family member are all just as valid as being in the school play or on the local sports team. Whatever your activities of choice, you’ll want to show universities your depth of engagement by means of specifics: years/hours spent on an activity, outcomes, positions of responsibility, and impact (on you personally, on others, or on the community).

Students often ask us whether there are certain activities that are ‘best’ for a US applicant. As with many things regarding US universities, ‘it depends!’. However, activities that show the qualities mentioned above, as well as intellectual vitality and initiative, tend to be viewed in a positive light by admissions officers. For example, taking a part-time job in a local coffee shop can show admissions officers that you have qualities like responsibility, flexibility, and accountability, and that you can get along with a range of different people. As such, depending on the college and its values, that kind of employment experience may carry more weight than doing a one-week work experience at a prestigious company owned by a family friend, where you shadowed a high-level executive.

Additionally, you want to think about your overall US application as a cohesive story. The activities you do should make sense with the other elements, like your academic credentials, recommendations, and essays. For example, a student who strongly values nature as a result of growing up in the countryside may be involved in a sustainability committee, volunteer at an animal shelter, run cross country, and be the founding member of a hiking society at their school. If a student with this profile suddenly joins a science society, starts playing squash, and joins the school newspaper in year 12 when they decide to apply to the US, their story begins to become a bit less cohesive! It’s always fine to join new activities if and when they pique your interest, but deepening and extending your current interests tends to be a better choice than a more scattershot approach of doing activities purely for the purpose of filling up your activities list.

Due to COVID, most students will have a time in their application when it wasn’t possible to continue with activities in the way that they had been. Admissions officers will be understanding of this; however, you want to avoid looking like you used the pandemic as an excuse to watch Netflix and do little else! Make sure to mention things you did during this time, like watching lectures online or taking online classes, reading outside your schoolwork, adapting your workout routine to the new situation, or caring for younger or unwell family members.

The way your activities will be presented in your application is through an area of the application portal in which you will be asked to list them. When listing, you want to start with your most impressive activities first: these will be those activities that you’re still currently doing, that you’ve done over a long period of time, that are competitive, and that show leadership and/or community involvement. In the Common Application, the main US application portal, there is space for 10 activities and a description of each, with a maximum of 150 characters per activity. So, you will want to make every word count here! Don’t worry about writing well-crafted, complete sentences: pack specific, active information into concise, energetic phrases. The College Essay Guy has a great resource on this here.

Activities and their importance are one of the biggest benefits of US universities. By taking the time to think through, explore, and participate in activities that express your passions now, not only will you have a more impressive application, but you’ll also start a lifelong healthy habit of taking time to do things you love and value, which will benefit you and your mental health throughout your life.

If you need help developing your activities profile, UES’s college counselling service is here to guide you. Get in touch with today!

Back To Blog »
Site Map | Terms | Safety | Privacy | Covid-19Web Design By Toolkit Websites