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How to Make Your Extracurriculars Look Best on Your College Applications


You’ve probably been told all throughout high school to get involved and participate in clubs and extracurriculars. For many college admissions officers, seeing that you’re really committed to your activities proves that you’re responsible and you can manage your time well. Now that it’s college application season, it’s time to impress admissions officers with your extracurricular involvement. Here are a few tips get the most out of your clubs and make them look awesome on your college applications!

1. List your extracurriculars in order of importance

On the Common App, there’s space to list 10 activities. If you’re a super-involved student, this may mean having to weigh the importance of your clubs and cutting a few out of your application.

“It’s important to list things in order of importance and significant contribution,” says Donnaree Wynter Grant, assistant director of admissions events at Northeastern University.  For example, list being the captain of your debate team for four years over a single semester you spent playing JV volleyball. If you’re committed to an activity for longer, it’s probably more significant to you, and therefore should be listed before activities that aren’t as important in your life.

2. Make sure your descriptions are clear

Grant also stresses that it’s important to describe your clubs clearly enough so someone who is reading your application for the first time will understand what the activity entailed. “For example, don’t use acronyms for titles,” she advises. “I won’t know what the ‘ABC club’ is unless you explain what it is and your role within the club.” Make sure you spell out what the club is titled, what it involves and what your position is within the club.

Michael Parcella, the assistant direction of undergraduate admissions at UMass Boston, gives some similar advice. “Letting the college know more about how you were involved rather than just writing down the name of a club is a good a start to best presenting your information,” he says.

Keep in mind that admissions officers look at hundreds of applications from all over the globe, so they won’t always know what exactly you’re talking about. For example, don’t simply write “NHS” for the name of the organization and check off the years you were involved. Instead, call the organization by its full name, “National Honor Society,” give a brief description of what it is either in your own words or from the organization’s website (if possible) and then specify if you held a leadership position (like “president” or “treasurer”) and for which years of commitment. This will make it much easier for admissions officers to read through your list and gather an idea of what kinds of activities you were involved in.

3. Focus on what activities you participated in rather than how many

While you might think that you should list as many clubs and activities as possible, that’s not always the best choice. “It’s not about quantity as it is for the quality of the different activities a student has been a part of,” Grant says. “Some students want to have lengthy resume/activities sheet[s], but if there’s no depth in the things they have done, then it will not be as strong as they believe.”

Again, it’s important to choose the activities you’re most committed to. If you’ve been a member of a certain club for years or hold a leadership position, it’s more impressive than just listing a number of clubs you simply joined because you needed something to add to your application. If you’ve participated in more than the 10 activities allowed on the Common App, this should help you decide which to keep and which to cut.

Jane M. Crowley, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Boston College, agrees. “It’s not the number of activities, but the continuity of involvement that is important,” she says. “Leadership plays a role as well.”

The quality of an extracurricular activity depends on its importance to you, how long you’ve been involved, and whether or not you hold a specific position in the club. For example, if you’ve been a member of student council for all four years of school and are now the president, that should take precedence over another activity you’re less involved with and don’t hold a position in.

This “quality over quantity” concept can also be an advantage to those students who hopped on the extracurricular bandwagon a little late. Grant notes that “for a student who may have only a few things listed, but has done significant work within each of the different areas they noted, then that can speak volumes in the admissions committee.” So if you’re worried about not having a long list of clubs that other students may be including in their application, have no fear. As long as the few activities you committed to are impressive and meaningful to you, they’ll stand out on an application.

4. Demonstrate how these activities will help you succeed in the future

If you want to go the extra mile, show how your involvements in these clubs will somehow help you in your college career.

“Another way I have seen students present their extracurricular activities is through their essay,” Parcella says. Though the essay is a separate section on the Common App and supplement applications, there is a way to connect your activities to your essays. If a certain club or activity has always been a top priority in your life, find a way to center your essay or supplemental short answers around what you gained from it and how you’ll use that experience in your future.

For example, if you’re an active volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, consider reading over the prompts with the idea of volunteering in mind. If you see a prompt that may connect with your involvement with Habitat, it may be an opportunity for you to expand on that aspect of your application. “Connecting something you did with how you would succeed in college is a good way to present your past,” says Parcella.

Now that you’ve heard from the experts, clean up your applications! With these tips, you’re bound to get the “big envelope” in the mail.

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