Photograph of a high school student in the marching band, representing a student who is involved in extracurricular activities

Source: Flickr user vpickering

A common conversation I have with prospective students and families is related to extracurricular activities. Parents will rightfully boast about their child’s involvement with this, that, and the other, while the student is worried that they either doing too much or not enough.

The latter thought from the student can become a troubling one as it causes a certain sense of anxiety, especially when the student is in their junior year and trying to figure out if they did or did not do enough.

Being involved in extracurricular activities

To the students, I say this: quality over quantity.

To my knowledge, there are no cookie-cut criteria from a college or university as to what they expect to see on your application as it regards to extracurriculars. What I can say is that College Admissions folks like to see something, and, more than anything, we want to see the quality of your involvement as opposed to the quantity.

Let me put it like this: let’s say you, as a student, apply and have 15 clubs/activities listed but you did one for a year, a few others for a few months, and a few others where you showed up for a meeting or two. This isn’t the type of involvement that College Admissions see as favorable. Because, it doesn’t show that you were committed or passionately involved in these activities. In fact, it might even indicate that you simply “joined” for the sake of adding them to your application. Remember, that as an Admissions Officer, I am tasked with evaluating students and selecting the ones that are not only a good fit for our institution, but who are also most likely to enroll, be successful and ultimately graduate. I’m looking for students who have demonstrated a certain level of commitment and stick-to-itiveness, if you will.

On the flipside, if you only have a handful of clubs or activities, but you have seen them through for over some time and/or have risen from being a member to a member of an executive board (Secretary, Treasurer, President), or have served in Student Government and risen through the ranks, this is much more ideal. It shows that you were not only involved, but actively involved to the point where you advanced the group and/or were given responsibilities within the organization.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. Schedules change, clubs cease to be for one reason or another, and there are a myriad of other reasons your involvements change, but remember always: quality over quantity.

So, if you are in your junior year of high school, for example, and worried if you have “done enough”, don’t automatically look to add more stuff to your resume. Instead, look for ways that you can become more involved in the activities where you already participate.

Parents’ role in extracurricular activities

To the parents, I say: support your child, encourage them, and emphasize that the benefits of being involved–aside from the fun and satisfaction that they may get from it–are the life skills they acquire, particularly time management, and the relationships that they build with their peers.

These opportunities are not only critical for personal development, but they send strong signals to colleges about a student’s level of commitment and involvement, as well as indicating which interests they are truly passionate about pursuing.

In essence, what Admissions Officers want to see is how the student’s extracurricular activities correlate with their academic performance, more specifically their GPA and strength of schedule.

Looking at the big picture, your child will want to be involved on their college campus and beyond that, will gain a new level of independence once they enter college, and the correlation between academics and extracurricular activities allows for a better determination of “fit” for the student.

The bottom line is that as a parent, you should encourage your student to choose at least a few activities and to pursue them in depth.

Closing thoughts on extracurricular activities

So, is more, more? Or, is more, less?

In this case, less can definitely be more. That’s not to say that less involvement is better than more, but fewer activities can be the right decision.

All in all, a student’s participation in extracurricular activities should be a natural extension of their personality and their interests. They should find what interests them and pursue it to the greatest extent that they’re able and willing. In almost all cases, this will lead to students being heavily involved and active in a few key clubs or organizations, and that involvement and dedication will be communicated in their college applications.