The alarming trend of dwindling college acceptance rates creates pressure in every aspect of students’ lives. Because college admissions has become so competitive, students are led to believe that even something as simple as choosing which extracurricular activities to participate in may wind up being the difference between acceptance and rejection senior year. They stress about which extracurriculars will differentiate them as applicants and often wind up enrolling in too many. Do not panic! Picking activities does not have to be a burden.

Many students choose extracurricular activities based on what they think colleges want to see. They assume that colleges love football players who can play the violin, so they spend four years in a sport they do not love, playing music that does not interest them, only to be rejected by their top college. These students fail to realize that universities are much more interested in candidates who love what they do than in students who are only trying to look good on their applications.

A Plethora of Activities

More is not always better. Pick extracurricular activities that you enjoy and can contribute to in a meaningful way while still maintaining a competitive GPA.

This means the most important thing to remember is to focus on what interests you. There is very little sense in getting involved in an activity, possibly for the next four years of your life, if you do not enjoy it or find learning about it fascinating. Also, when it comes time to write about your achievements in your extracurriculars, admissions officers will be able to tell if you are not genuinely enthusiastic about your accomplishments.

If you are having trouble finding an activity that interests you, there is no need to worry. It may be tempting to simply join whichever extracurricular your friends are doing, but it is important to resist that temptation if your friends are your only motivation. A better idea is to start a new club, sport, or group. Creating your own position or club shows a lot of initiative and leadership. Perhaps all of your friends are in marching band, but you are not musically inclined. Instead of trying to learn an instrument, think about your strengths. Maybe you are excellent at constructing things and could design and build the marching band props. This would merge your two interests and create a new position that you could call your own. Later, when you write about your experience, you will be able to differentiate yourself from other applicants because you created your own leadership position.

Another thing to remember is that balance is key. Schools are looking for applicants engaged in a few activities in which they take on leadership roles or contribute to in meaningful ways. Participating in twenty different activities may seem admirable but gives the impression you are unfocused. Very few students can actively participate in twenty different organizations, so colleges wonder which clubs you actually belong to and which you just signed up for. On the other hand, having a single extracurricular, such as a sport, shows dedication but does not highlight time management skills or other aspects of your personality as they relate to your interests. Your best bet is to pick a few clubs and sports to dedicate yourself to. When doing so, be keenly aware of the amount of time each activity requires. Extracurriculars should not hurt your GPA.

Finally, an option that many high school students overlook is a part-time job. Part-time jobs are considered extracurriculars too and demonstrate to colleges that you are not afraid of manual labor. Working a consistent job means that you are a dependable, punctual, and responsible young adult who can work as part of a team. Colleges love to see part-time jobs on applications.

At first, the number of extracurricular options may seem overwhelming, but by following your interests and considering time commitments, you can narrow down the list to a manageable number of activities that will look good on your college applications. Do not let the fear of choosing incorrectly prevent you from joining a club; the most important thing is that you get involved with something starting freshman year. Whichever sports and clubs you decide upon, remember to maintain your GPA and keep things fun!

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