What Extracurricular Activities You Do Matters

Source: Flickr user compactflc.

You know well that what you do outside of the classroom is important to colleges, but are all extracurricular activities created equal? Do colleges care what you do? Are some activities better than others?

I would argue that more than colleges care WHAT you do, they will care HOW you do it.

Let’s take, for example, Key Club, a large national service organization. Key Clubs across the country do good work, but there are a LOT of college bound students who count themselves among Key Club members. To be honest, Key Club membership is pretty commonplace and not very unique. So, the fact that you may be in Key Club isn’t very impressive–so are many other students. But, what you do with that membership can very well be impressive.

Simply claiming membership in a club or organization or on a team doesn’t really tell any college admission officer very much about you. It’s the contributions you make to that organization that reveal much more about who you are.

Key Clubs tend to organize a fair number of events. Did you have a significant part in one or more of those events? Were you instrumental in any particular activity? Students often fail to communicate their particular contributions and accomplishments, and this is a big missed opportunity.

Your contributions may not always fit into a nice neat mold (President, VP, secretary, etc) but that doesn’t necessarily make them any less important or valuable.

I once had a student who was part of a club that provided companionship to developmentally delayed students. She did all of the requisite club activities with her companion (bowling, pizza party, etc.), but she also ate lunch with him several times each week because she knew how happy it made him and how it helped build his social skills. It was easy for her to convey this on her college applications by simply stating the facts.

I once had a student who was the president of the school’s recycling club. The name of the club is reasonably descriptive, so I have a pretty good sense of what he did, but as he talked about his involvement, he described increasing the volume of materials recycled at the high school substantially. As he quantified for me the increased volume of materials recycled, I was a bit blown away. By simply inserting some facts about his work with the club, the colleges reading his admission applications will have a great sense of his enthusiasm for his work with the recycling club.

Whatever your club/activity/sport of choice may be, the fact remains: The details of your involvement–what you actually did–is much more important than your simple participation.

So, my advice to you is to make some very basic notes of what you do as you do it. Describe your participation, find some adjectives to help someone who’s never met you understand the scope of the work that you do. Doing this gives your reader incredible insight.

Failing to include the details might lead your reader to think that you joined activities, but they’ll wonder, “what did you actually do?”