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10 best extracurricular activities for college applications in 2024

05 Mar, 2024
10 best extracurricular activities for college applications in 2024

From impressive grades to stellar letters of recommendation, various factors impact admission decisions. One aspect that is sometimes overlooked is extracurricular activities. Far from simply resume fillers; they showcase interests and skills beyond academics.

In this blog, we'll explore the top 10 extracurriculars for college applications in 2024 to help you stand out from the crowd and boost your chance of acceptance at your dream school.

Table of Contents

What are extracurricular activities?

What are the 10 best extracurricular activities to get into a good US college?

How colleges in the United States evaluate high school extracurriculars

How to make the most out of your extracurricular activities

What are extracurricular activities?

Extracurricular activities play a pivotal role in students’ educational experience at schools and universities. These activities encompass a broad range of interests and talents—ranging from sports, music, and arts, to academic clubs, volunteer work, and internships. Not only do they enrich a student's life but they also enhance their resume, demonstrating a commitment to personal growth and community involvement.

Why extracurricular activities matter when applying to a US college or university

Universities in the United States place significant value on extracurricular involvement, recognizing the development of well-rounded individuals beyond academic achievements.

When it comes to college applications, and the college admissions process, extracurricular activities can be a great indicator of skills, such as time management, teamwork and leadership, also of personal interests, and the applicant's potential contribution to campus life.

US universities, particularly the top colleges, are looking for more than just scholars; they're seeking future leaders and innovators who can thrive within their halls.

What are the 10 best extracurricular activities to get into a good US college?

Here, we look in more detail at ten of the best extracurricular activities for securing a place at a good university.

1. Internships

Internships stand out as strategic extracurricular activities for students aiming to distinguish themselves in the competitive landscape of US university admissions. Interning with a nonprofit or local business can definitely raise your chances of getting into more selective colleges, including those in the Ivy League.

  • Through real-world experience, internships can demonstrate your proactivity and dedication towards your intended field of study. They provide tangible proof of your commitment, essential for standing out in a pool of academically accomplished applicants.
  • Furthermore, internships are a testament to your ability to apply classroom knowledge to practical challenges, showcasing adaptability and problem-solving skills that are highly valued by admission committees.
  • Participating in internships also reflects an understanding of professional environments, a maturity that can significantly bolster your college application.

2. Community service & volunteer work

Volunteering reflects initiative, leadership, and a strong sense of social responsibility—qualities that are highly valued in the academic circles of higher education. Opportunities for volunteer work are endless, with a host of options that could include helping at local food banks, working in a community garden, distributing food at a soup kitchen, or volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.

  • In particular it can provide practical experience and soft skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, and effective communication.
  • When students contribute to a cause that is meaningful to them, it not only benefits society but also fosters personal growth and maturity. These experiences when articulated on college applications, can distinguish you from a sea of applicants, illustrating a well-rounded individual prepared to contribute to life on the college campus.

3. Leadership positions

Demonstrating leadership qualities speaks volumes about your readiness for the challenges of higher education and being a future change-maker.

  • Admissions officers often look for evidence of these qualities because they are indicative of a proactive, responsible, and community-oriented individual.
  • Engaging in leadership roles can manifest in various forms, such as captaining a sports team, holding office in student government, being editor of the school newspaper or leading a volunteer project, for example.
  • These types of experiences allow you to develop critical skills such as team-building, problem-solving, and effective communication—attributes that are integral to success in both collegiate and professional settings.

4. Academic clubs

Organizations like debate clubs, chess clubs, and Model United Nations offer more than just a pastime; they serve as platforms for developing intellectual agility, critical thinking, and leadership abilities.

  • Beyond their appeal to college admissions, academic school clubs also offer immense personal growth opportunities, fostering connections with peers who share similar interests and ambitions.
  • Academic clubs can also help establish your commitment and interest in your prospective major; whether it's medical clubs for pre-med students, coding clubs for computer science majors, or psychology club for an intended psychology major.

5. Sports and athletics activities

Engaging in sports and athletics is not only a healthy lifestyle choice but also gives you an advantage when it comes to college admissions.

  • Participation in sports teams and leagues signals to admissions committees that you hold valuable attributes such as teamwork, leadership, and perseverance.
  • A strong sports background also blends seamlessly with the dynamic campus life, where student-athletes often become ambassadors of school spirit and collaboration.
  • Most colleges offer intramural, club, and varsity sports, so athletes are often able to keep pursuing what they enjoy at some level once they get to campus.

6. Competitions

Participation in extracurricular competitions such as Writing Contests, Science Olympiads, Math Competitions, and STEM Challenges can be a great way to achieve success in US college admissions.

  • Not only do these events showcase your expertise and passion for your subjects, but they also provide tangible evidence of determination, strategic thinking, and the ability to handle pressure—all traits esteemed by college admissions committees.
  • Engaging in competitions also often means teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving skills are put to the test, all of which align with the values and skill sets sought after by prestigious institutions.

7. Artistic activities

Artistic activities such as painting, drawing, theater, and music hold significant weight in the holistic review process of US college admissions.

  • Engaging in the arts demonstrates to admissions committees your commitment to creativity, self-expression, and continuous learning.
  • It showcases your ability to balance academic pursuits with personal growth and your capacity to contribute a diverse perspective to campus culture.

8. Science and technology

Participation in science and technology-based extracurricular activities stands out as a particularly influential component when it comes to college admissions.

  • Not only will these activities showcase your passion for these fields, often a prerequisite for specialized programs, but they also reflect critical thinking, innovation, and problem-solving skills that are heavily valued.
  • Engaging in activities such as robotics clubs, coding bootcamps, or science Olympiads can provide tangible proof of your abilities and commitment, effectively differentiating them in a pool of academically qualified applicants.

9. Cultural activities

Engaging in activities such as international film clubs or world music groups exemplifies a commitment to cultural exchange and a broadened world view, attributes highly regarded in an academic context favoring diversity and inclusivity.

  • By partaking in culturally rich experiences like cultural cooking workshops or establishing international pen pal relationships, you can demonstrate intercultural competence and the ability to thrive in a multicultural environment.
  • This not only enriches personal growth but also appeals to admissions committees by showcasing a drive to bridge cultural gaps and contribute to a dynamic campus community. Hence, participation in such activities strengthens your candidacy by evidencing adaptability, empathy, and an informed global perspective.

10. Part-time jobs

Having a part-time job during high school is a great way to impress US college admissions officers.

  • Not only does it show that you are responsible and disciplined, but it also enables you to develop important skillsets that can be beneficial for your future academic and professional pursuits.
  • Through work experience, you can also gain valuable skills such as time management, financial literacy, and communication skills that are vital for thriving in college and beyond.
  • Moreover, having a job demonstrates that you can balance your academic commitments with real-world responsibilities, which is a highly regarded quality by universities.

How colleges in the United States evaluate high school extracurriculars

Not all hobbies or recreational activities count as extracurriculars. For example, things like playing video games or watching films would not be considered an extracurricular activity. In most cases, hobbies qualify as extracurricular activities if you perform them in an organized or official capacity or as part of a club or team.

Generally speaking, extracurriculars need to involve some concerted effort and contribute to your personal development. Extracurricular activities should also take place with some regularity.

It doesn't really matter whether it’s an activity endorsed or provided by school, or if it's an activity you do independently or through another organization.

When evaluating high school extracurriculars admissions officers are likely to:

  • Look for patterns: when admissions officers review a candidate’s application, they look for noticeable patterns among the activities they have engaged in. Having some variety on your resume is certainly beneficial. Being able to list physical as well as intellectual endeavors can show balance, for instance. However, rather than getting involved in as many different extracurricular pursuits as possible, a better approach can be to focus on the few that foster your interests and talents.
  • Assess your commitment: universities admissions officers want to see that you are committed to the extracurriculars you choose. One way to showcase commitment is through the length of your participation in an activity. The longer you have been involved, the better it will look on your resume. It can be wise to leave out any very short-lived extracurricular activities as it may give the impression that you do not take club membership seriously or that you lack focus. Some exceptions could be pivotal one-time conferences, competitions or fundraisers.
  • Examine your community involvement: being involved in community groups is just as valuable as being involved in clubs at school. These outside activities can add to your abilities to pursue your passions, show deep commitment and identify leadership opportunities.
  • Gauge your leadership skills: the extent of your participation in extracurricular activities is equally important as the duration. It adds a competitive edge to your application if you held a special position or role in it which helped develop your leadership skills. Founding a club or organisation yourself can also be a standout factors it shows initiative as well as the ability to lead.

How to make the most out of my extracurricular activities?

Here. we look at how best to plan out extracurricular activities, with tips and best practices to follow.

What types of extracurriculars should you take?

When it comes to extracurricular activities, it can be difficult to decide which ones to pursue. But one helpful way to categorize them is by considering the three types: academic, community, and personal.

  • Academic activities: these types of extracurricular activities demonstrate an interest in furthering your educational growth and could include joining a debate team, participating in a science fair, or taking a writing workshop.
  • Community activities: these might involve volunteering at a local charity, participating in a clean-up day in your neighborhood, or joining a community theater group. Colleges value these activities because they show you care about other people and will likely contribute to the campus community.
  • Personal activities: these kinds of activities give college admissions officers an idea of who you are beyond your grades and test scores. They could include playing an instrument, practicing a sport or learning a new language or skill.

How many extracurricular activities should you do?

Generally speaking, quality is always more important than quantity when it comes to extracurricular activities.

Participating in dozens of extracurriculars is not necessary, and taking on too much has the potential to make your studies, and wellbeing, suffer.

Colleges aren't looking for an extensive list; they are more interested in how these activities shaped you as a person. While there is no perfect number of extracurriculars, the Common App only gives you ten tabs on the Activities List page.

How to get started with extracurricular activities?

It’s a good idea to maximise your high school experience by engaging in extracurriculars early, but it's never too late to get involved.

When selecting extracurriculars, consider:

  • Possible career interests
  • Prospective college major or minor
  • Existing passions and hobbies

To find activities, try the following:

  • Participate in clubs your friends are involved in
  • Look at your school’s website for listed clubs and activities
  • Contact local bodies like churches, community centers, or municipal offices
  • Visit websites of national groups like the YMCA or Scouts
  • Explore online for specialized courses or local community colleges
  • If nothing suits you, take the initiative to establish a new club or enterprise.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about extracurricular activities for college applications.

Q1. How many extracurriculars do I need?

You can list up to 10 activities on the Common Application. As a general rule, it’s better to have a shorter list of activities with more in-depth, long-term participation than a long list of activities with less meaningful and shorter-term engagement. You should aim to have a few substantial core activities, and a couple of additional activities.

Q2. How do I show commitment in my extracurricular activity?

The best way to show commitment and dedication, and subsequently impress colleges, is by participating in your key extracurricular activities for a decent amount of time; ideally a number of years in a row.

If you join your extracurricular and then rise to a leadership position within the club or committee or organization, this also shows dedication to the subject as well as personal development.

Q3. Are hobbies extracurricular activities?

In most cases, hobbies qualify as extracurricular activities if you perform them in an organized or official capacity or as part of a club or team. Extracurricular activities should also take place with some regularity.

Learn more about studying in the US

Through our Guaranteed Outcome programs, students begin a bachelor’s degree at one of our partner universities in Boston, New York, California, Oregon and Wisconsin.

They are supported extensively by our specialist on-campus teams as they adapt to US college life. They learn more about the US education system, improve their GPA, and gain a host of new skills and experiences, some of which are through valuable extracurricular activities.

After 2 years they are then able to transfer to a Top 50 or Top 100 university, from where they will graduate.

Our expert advisors will guide each and every student through the entire transfer admissions process from target university identification, course selection to transfer university applications. They are also focused on helping each student build their profile to become a 'Top 100 student'.

As part of Kings profile builder, students are supported in:

  • writing a great Personal Statement
  • improving interview skills
  • joining community and volunteering activities
  • choosing clubs and academic societies
  • maximizing available scholarships

If you would like to receive more detailed information about Kings and our university pathway programs, please get in touch with us at

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