Dec 1, 2021 |

What Do Colleges Look for in Extracurricular Activities?

By Gravitas

extracurricular activities

By Alyssa Orrantia Bieneme, Gravitas Director of Admissions and former Ivy League admissions officer

Extracurriculars are activities that students engage in outside of the classroom. Young people can do these activities simply for fun, to enrich their college and career preparation, or both. The bottom line is that your student’s chosen activities should be focused on areas that they truly enjoy. Colleges and universities want to know about your student’s extracurriculars in the admissions process because they will want to gain a sense of ways in which your student may get involved in and contribute to student life on their active and vibrant campuses. Following are a handful of pointers that will help you guide your student toward activities that are right for them. As a former university admissions officer with plentiful experience speaking to nervous applicants, I would often tell them to:

  1. Know Your Why. The activity does not matter if you don’t know why you’re doing it other than to fill free time. It’s important to be intentional about the activities you choose. If you’re doing something because you enjoy it so much that you lose track of time while doing it or it will prepare you well for a specific college program or career that you are interested in, that is great. If passion and purpose are absent, it’s probably time to try something else.
  2. Do YOU. Competitive colleges are not looking for cookie-cutter students. They want to get to know you- yes, you! There is no perfect extracurricular profile of activities that the admissions committee is looking for. Students should participate in activities that they love…period. In my experience, college applicants who are involved in activities that they are passionate about (rather than ones they believe will impress admissions officers) have been more compelling and successful.
  3. Remember- It’s Quality That Matters! Far-gone are the days of students needing to scramble and juggle dozens of activities in order to become “well-rounded.” Competitive colleges and universities are seeking students who know themselves, are curious, and have developed a passion for and commitment to one or more activities. Being yourself and homing in on the activities you enjoy and are most interested in is far better than mediocre involvement in a variety of resume-building activities. Admissions committees seek to build a well-rounded incoming class made up of individuals who are deeply involved and interested in specific activities.
  4. Think Outside of the Box. Public health crises and family responsibilities have changed many students’ access to traditional after-school activities. Hope is not lost if students develop a more flexible and creative understanding of what “extracurricular” means. Anything a student commits significant time to outside of their classes each week is considered an extracurricular activity. This includes a job, tutoring younger students, a small lawn-mowing business, creating art or conducting science experiments in the garage, and so much more. Whether the activity is a passion or merely an ongoing responsibility, if it takes up several hours per week, it is considered extracurricular. These days, dedication trumps formality and location.
  5. Stay the Course! Whatever the chosen activity, it’s vital that students stick with it. The key word here is “chosen,” of course. If a student tries an activity and cannot get passionate about it or find purpose in it, then it is okay to change course. However, once they find an alternative that they love, they should go long and develop their skill and, if applicable, their responsibility and leadership in that activity. There will be obstacles, but if the student is excited and committed, they will stay the course and grow from their experiences in this extracurricular over time.


Founded upon The Stony Brook School’s 100-year legacy of rigorous college prep and character education of students from across the U.S. and more than 80 nations, Gravitas brings to the virtual education space a new level of academic rigor, classroom engagement, and support. Gravitas students receive an outstanding prep school education in an intimate, inclusive, and supportive virtual environment. From its rigorous academics taught by expert instructors in live seminar-style classes to advisories, passion projects, specialized academies, and more, Gravitas offers a transformational, college prep and character education to students around the United States and the world. To learn more, contact us today!

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