Extracurricular Activities: A comprehensive guide with 400+ examples, ideas, and opportunities (2024)

On average, American students spend about 1195 hours per year in the classroom (with some variation from state to state). Assuming you’re spending about 8 hours a day sleeping (which, ideally, you are—your brain needs it), that leaves about 4645 hours in a year outside of school and sleep.

That’s a lot of time. (Maybe more than you thought?)

We’d highly recommend spending some of it doing extracurricular activities. (Which, considering how broad that term is, you already do.)

But since questions about extracurricular activities are some of the most common we get from students and families—for example, how do colleges evaluate extracurriculars, or are some “more valuable” than others, or even just “What are my options?”—we wanted to build a comprehensive guide for you.

So here it is.

“Extracurricular activities” is an umbrella term used to describe pretty much anything a student does with their time outside of coursework, minus a few exceptions, like chores, errands, or essential life functions. Sometimes you’ll see them written as “co-curricular activities” (meaning that they’re pursued alongside coursework as part of a typical high school experience) or “after-school activities.” But they all basically mean the same thing: areas of recreation or engagement or responsibility outside of your classes.

Most U.S. high schools don’t actually require students to participate in extracurricular activities (minus community service hours, which are a part of many high schools’ graduation requirements). That said, most high school students— 60-80%, according to various national surveys— are involved in at least one extracurricular activity. The most common are athletics/sports, the arts, school-based clubs, and community service, but these are just really scratching the surface when it comes to the ways you can spend your time as a high school student (either in or out of school).

And, no, cleaning your room, riding the bus to school, brushing your teeth, or sleeping are not extracurricular activities. (Though I’ve definitely seen a few college applications that have cheekily tried to frame this as such)

If you’re trying to figure out if something you do with your time “counts” as an extracurricular activity, ask yourself these three basic questions:

  1. Is it a part of my high school classes?

  2. Is it a normal and/or essential human function that’s required for me to stay healthy and alive?

  3. Is it something that I do infrequently or in a one-off manner, and that isn’t a clear form of community service/volunteering? (I.e., planning a friend’s surprise birthday party isn’t an extracurricular activity. Volunteering once for a local blood drive is.)

If the answer is “no” to each, congratulations: you may have an extracurricular activity on your hands!

(Of course, some people with a flair for the dramatic may say things like “I’d be dead if I couldn’t play soccer,” but so long as you keep the hyperbole reigned in, the simple formula above will serve you well).

To get a little more granular, here are the 27 categories that the Common Application (aka the application used by 1,000+ U.S. colleges) include as part of their Activities section (click on each to zoom down to the section discussing it)

Most of these categories might look familiar, based on your own high school’s offerings, but if not, don’t worry—we have a whole section of this blog that explains each of these categories and provides oodles of examples.

And really useful side note: check here if you want an in-depth how-to guide to the Common App.

The United States’ approach to higher education is pretty unusual compared to the approach in other parts of the world. For most students who attend a four-year college or university, there’s an expectation that they are contributing to a residential community beyond solely taking classes and getting a degree.

What makes this residential community attractive, fun and fulfilling for students? Well, all-you-can-eat dining halls, pretty buildings covered with ivy, and, er… “weekend social activities” can certainly play a role.

But extracurricular activities are the primary way that U.S. college students find peers with common interests and identities, exciting and enjoyable recreation outside of their classes, and a sense of belonging on their college campus.

Colleges—particularly more selective ones—often voice that they are not solely admitting students. They’re admitting community members who can contribute to their campus community in meaningful ways. (For more on what colleges look for in students, check out that guide + analysis.)

Thus, students who’ve demonstrated engagement with activities outside of their classes and share those with colleges as part of their application are more likely to be attractive candidates.

Here’s some data that provides some insight into how much extracurricular activities “weigh” in a student’s college application process:

What does this data tell us?

That the vast majority of colleges and universities in the U.S. see extracurricular activities as “moderately important” to their admissions process. Also, these numbers haven’t changed much over the 10-or-so years NACAC has been conducting this survey, meaning that there isn’t necessarily exorbitantly more pressure for students to stack their resume as the admissions landscape continues to evolve (despite myths and misunderstandings about the application process you may hear).

Colleges are, first and foremost, tasked with admitting academically qualified students who are able to complete their degree requirements and graduate on time. Thus, it’s important to remember that extracurricular activities can’t replace or “make up for” an academic record that a college deems non-competitive.

That said, it’s pretty clear that they still make a difference in a student’s application process, and are something worth folding into your high school experience if you want to have the widest range of college options available to you.

In particular, a student’s extracurricular profile can impact admissions at highly selective colleges.

The small sampling of colleges that see extracurricular activities as “considerably important” in their admissions process—that 6.5% in the data above—are more highly selective colleges, according to David Hawkins, Chief Education and Policy Officer at National Association of College Admission Counselors (aka NACAC).

These are schools where, on average, 80% of the applicant pool is academically admissible. Thus, standing out through other means—like a high-impact extracurricular profile—is good to be thinking about if you’re targeting these types of colleges.

The Common Application’s Activities section has historically provided students with space for 10 extracurricular activities. Given this, it may be tempting to think you have to be involved in 10-or-so activities to be a competitive college applicant.

Not true!

According to the Common App themselves, the majority of applicants include 5-7 activities in their application.

While even that number can seem pretty high on the surface, keep in mind that this figure includes past activities (things that a student may have stepped away from after their 9th or 10th-grade years to focus on things they cared more about) and/or “one-off” activities (summer programs, camps, trips, leadership institutes, etc.).

In our experience, we’ve found that the most successful college applicants are usually involved in 3-4 “core” extracurricular activities.

For instance, a typical high-achieving student might be involved in

  • a fall and spring sport

  • the annual school musical

  • a community service club (where they do most of their service work on the weekends)

  • a handful of one-off activities (research or a self-directed project during their junior year summer, a leadership institute for one week during a school break, etc.)

Another student might

  • write articles for the school newspaper

  • work a part-time job

  • lead their school’s Black Student Union, and

  • attend (and eventually become a counselor at) summer camp each year

These are “doable” extracurricular schedules that many admissions officers are used to seeing and won’t siphon away too much time away from your studies, which you’ll need to prioritize first and foremost to be a successful college applicant.

Key takeaway: Focusing on 3-4 long-term activities—and perhaps a few isolated short-term ones like research, internships, and self-directed projects—will help you develop many of the valued qualities that colleges hope to see in applicants: initiative, impact, consistency, and commitment.

Spreading yourself too thin and trying to “stack your resume” with a lot of activities for the sake of “impressing colleges” may result in you feeling burnt out, struggling to prioritize your academics, and unable to carve out opportunities to demonstrate leadership (which many colleges highly value).

And we’re not the only ones offering this advice—check out what MIT has to say about their Activities section, which only includes 4 spaces:

As you move through high school and develop more clarity around what you value and how you want to prioritize your time, keep this “core 4” philosophy in mind. Doing so will not only allow you to have the most fun and gain the most satisfaction from your activities—it’ll also provide you with the extracurricular profile that most colleges are eager to see.

Transitioning from middle school to high school involves quite a learning curve—academically and otherwise. One area that’s both fun and maybe intimidating is choosing extracurricular activities, which are usually much more plentiful and varied on the high school level.

Many younger students are often involved in activities—such as a sport and/or music or art lessons—that were influenced and/or organized by their parents. High school is the time to take a little more ownership and independence when deciding how to spend your time, or balancing commitments you need to prioritize (such as work and/or family responsibilities) with ones that excite you and leave you feeling fulfilled.

While every student’s high school journey is unique, here’s some general guidance—organized by grade level—with some suggestions that can help you approach your extracurricular planning with ease, purpose and joy:

Ah, high school. The bodies roaming the halls are bigger. The locker room is (probably) smellier. And everything just seems… more.

Getting adjusted to this big, bad new world is your primary job as a bright-eyed 9th grader. Once you start to get your footing with your new academic schedule and culture, shifting your focus towards some of the ways you can get involved outside of class, start to make new friends, and identify like-minded peers will help you feel more at home in your new environment.

Now, what exactly does “the year of the dabble” mean? It means it's time to explore. Think of yourself as an extracurricular explorer, venturing into the unknown territories of clubs, sports, arts, and beyond.

To start your dabbling first, ask yourself: What did I enjoy most in middle school outside of my classes (or unstructured recess)?

  • Did you love tinkering with machines in the robotics club?

  • Or maybe you found your rhythm in the school band?

  • Whatever it was, consider continuing with those activities and finding parallel opportunities at your new school (or potentially with out-of-school opportunities).

At the same time, high school might provide the symbolic “closing of a chapter” you’ve been waiting to step away from.

If you’ve found yourself, for instance, “peaking” and feeling uninspired by the piano lessons you started as a 9 year old, maybe it’s time to leave those keys behind and unlock something new. This is a particularly mature viewpoint if you don’t find yourself enjoying the activity all that much AND you don’t see yourself rising to the level of a top contributor to a music ensemble, sports team, or the like. Spending countless hours for the sake of consistency—and at the sacrifice of more exciting possibilities that you’ll inevitably learn a lot more from—is not typically an “order of operations” or decision-making matrix we recommend.

Lastly, many high schools offer an upperclassman “buddy” type of program (such as Link Crew) for you to learn more about the nuances of your high school: from course offerings, to favorite teachers (very “don’t sit in the front row of Ms. Traeger’s class!” vibes), to, yes, extracurricular opportunities.

Be sure to take advantage of the wisdom of these older students, who have volunteered their time to be a resource to you (yes, we know it can be intimidating sometimes to talk with the big bad seniors, but the more you can learn to advocate for yourself and leverage resources available to you, the easier your high school experience—and life—will be).

In addition, you may also want to see if you can meet with a school counselor or a homeroom teacher/advisor to share more about yourself, your interests, and ask for recommendations about ways to get involved.

Key takeaways:

  • Stay in exploration mode

  • Learn from the experiences of others

  • Take advantage of resources you have available to understand your options

Congrats, you’ve got one full year of high school under your belt!

Speaking of belts: you may be thinking something like “hmm… I’m starting to feel like my middle school goal of getting my black belt in karate is way less exciting than auditioning for Jean Valjean in Les Mis.”

Cue 10th grade, AKA sophom*ore year, AKA the year of the filter.

After dabbling your first year, it's time to think about how you want to "filter" your activities down. The goal here is to avoid spreading yourself too thin and instead, aim for consistency and depth in your high school experiences.

Ideally, you want to narrow it down to 3-4 long-term activities (If you missed it, see the “How many high school extracurricular activities should I participate in?” section above for more on why).

And, as you filter through your extracurricular options, keep in mind the importance of rising in leadership roles. By junior and senior year, aim to take more of "the reigns" in at least one of your chosen activities. This not only demonstrates your commitment and growth but also provides invaluable leadership experience.

While you’re filtering through your extracurricular array, consider what activities truly light you up.

  • Did you find yourself losing track of time (in a good way) during debate club meetings?

  • Or maybe you discovered a hidden talent for painting in art class?

Whatever it is, take note of those passions and interests, as well as the advice of those who have been there before. Upperclassmen, counselors, and teachers can offer valuable insights and guidance as you navigate the wide array of activities available.

But don't be afraid to keep dabbling, either. Maybe you've been curious about coding, but never had the chance to explore it. Or perhaps you've been itching to try out for the school play, but felt too nervous last year.

Sophom*ore year is the perfect time to push yourself and try new things.

Lastly, repeat after me: it's okay to step away from activities you did in 9th grade.

In fact, it's quite common, and college admissions officers understand and even value students who know how to prioritize balance (I know because I was one at Pomona). Colleges like MIT even list “the ability to prioritize balance” as a valued quality in their admissions process. So don't be afraid to explore new opportunities and let go of activities that no longer serve you.

So, here's to 10th grade: the year of the filter. Take the lessons learned from your freshman year adventures and use them to shape an even more focused and fulfilling high school journey.

Key takeaways:

  • Start “filtering” your activities down to 3-4 potential core, long-term activities

  • Ideally, at least one of those allows for leadership

  • And keep dabbling/exploring—it’s fine to let things from 9th grade go and explore new opportunities

You're waist-deep in high school now, and it's time to take your extracurricular involvement to the next level. You've dabbled, you've filtered, and now it's time to dive deeply into the activities that truly resonate with you.

As you navigate this pivotal year, ask yourself:

  • Of the activities I’m involved in, are there opportunities to take on more of a leadership role or broaden the influence of the activity?”

  • “Is there a curiosity I’ve developed—from my classes, my own learning, even Wikipedia or YouTube rabbit holes, Netflix documentary binges, or one of my activities—that I can explore more deeply through a self-directed project?”

Junior year is often the perfect time to dive deeply into one (or maybe two) extracurriculars and focus on showing initiative and impact. Reflect on your first two years and think about problems and/or opportunities you've noticed as a member, and create an action plan to help address those points as an emerging leader (regardless of what title you hold).

Maybe you're part of the environmental club and you've noticed a lack of recycling bins around campus. Take the initiative to propose a recycling program and lead the charge in implementing it. Or perhaps you're passionate about mental health awareness and you want to organize a school-wide event to destigmatize discussions around mental health issues.

Junior year might also be the time to consider starting your own club or activity if you feel like the school doesn't have something that aligns with your interests.

Maybe you're a budding entrepreneur and you want to start a business club where students can learn about entrepreneurship and even launch their own ventures. Or perhaps you're passionate about social justice and you want to start a diversity and inclusion club to advocate for marginalized communities within your school.

“Diving deep” can also refer to something you do independently—not necessarily an existing extracurricular commitment. Maybe, as an aspiring history major, you decide to uncover neighborhood histories by interviewing locals and sharing them on a Wix or Squarespace website. Or perhaps you research how to make some DIY gadgets—such as solar-powered chargers to fuse your curiosity for technology with your commitment to sustainability.

Our How to Build an Independent Research Project in High School guide is a great place to start gathering some inspiration and ideas around how to conduct one of these projects, which—from our experience—encapsulates exactly the type of drive that colleges are eager to see in applications.

Whatever you choose, junior year is all about diving deep into a budding intellectual or extracurricular interest, making a meaningful impact both on and off campus, or a combination of both.

Take the plunge. See where it leads you.

Key takeaways:

  • Dive deeper into one (maybe two) activities that allow you to demonstrate initiative and impact

  • Remember that building an opportunity for yourself can easily be as impactful/impressive for college apps as “regular” activities

As you embark on your final year of high school, it's time to reflect on the mark you want to leave on your school community.

Take a moment to think about the clubs and organizations you've been a part of throughout high school.

  • Are there things you want to accomplish in a particular club that you think would be great to "pass the torch" to future students?

  • Maybe you want to implement a mentorship program within your club to ensure continuity and support for incoming members?

  • Or perhaps you want to establish a scholarship fund to help future students pursue their passions?

Consider the traditions at your school. Are there traditions that you'd like to shape or be a part of during your senior year?

Maybe you want to organize an epic senior prank that will go down in school history (but please, keep it safe and respectful!). Or perhaps you want to start an arguably more “mature” new tradition, like a senior sunrise breakfast where the graduating class gathers to watch the sunrise together on the first day of school. After all, you’re old and wise now—it’s time to embrace the early bird special

And don't forget about your own personal final hurrahs. This is your last year of high school, so focus on the things that bring you the most joy, fulfillment, and have the largest capacity for making a difference. Whether it's leading the school play, organizing a charity fundraiser, or simply spending quality time with friends, make sure to wrap up your high school journey in a way that feels meaningful to you.

Our final piece of advice? Be selective with how much you extend yourself, because 12th grade—especially the fall—is a time that is dominated by college applications for many students.

This often requires more time than students anticipate, so practice the art of saying “no” and establishing boundaries. Yes, your legacy is important, but so are your mental health and future goals—and trying to cram college planning into a suitcase overflowing with academic and extracurricular trinkets galore will make it impossible to thoughtfully plan out your new epic trip: your best-fit college.

So, here's to 12th grade: The year of the legacy.

Make it count, leave your mark, and take care of yourself as you prepare to embark on the next chapter of your life.

Key takeaways:

  • Reflect on the impact you want to leave behind

  • Remember that the autumn of senior year is super busy—set yourself up for balance and health

While we hope our above guidance around choosing extracurricular activities provides a helpful roadmap, our team has worked with many students and families who (understandably) feel like they are swerving all over the road while trying to figure out which extracurricular activities are “the best.”

Many feel overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of opinions, misinformation, and mixed messages online around how extracurricular activities impact a student’s admissions chances.

Sometimes this can lead to some unhealthy choices that not only limit student autonomy and enthusiasm, but can also backfire and lead to a less successful admissions process. So…

Here are the “seven deadly sins” to avoid when considering your extracurricular activities:

1. Having the “what’s most impressive to colleges?” mentality define your entire extracurricular approach

There is often a gross misalignment between what students and families think are the most coveted extracurricular experiences by colleges versus ones that admissions officers would actually prefer to see.

For instance, some students and families are surprised to learn that being a member of something like National Honor Society (NHS)—which students are eligible to join based on their academic performance in high school—does virtually nothing to increase your chances of admission, given how commonplace it is on a student’s resume.

Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t join something like NHS if it’s available to you—after all, it’s a great way to (potentially) develop leadership skills and make an impact on your local community through service endeavors.

But just remember that designing an extracurricular profile solely for the sake of impressing someone else can make it really difficult for you to feel as excited about the ways you’re spending time outside of class.

One key thing to keep in mind: colleges are essentially always asking themselves “What’s in it for us?” As in, how do you show that you’ll contribute to the college community? Having a laser focus on an activity that has no benefit to anyone else generally doesn’t carry a lot of weight in college admissions.

2. Thinking that a formal leadership role or title is the only way to demonstrate leadership

Many students think that you need to be president (or monarch, or czar, or oracle, or [insert name of other real or made-up leadership role]) of multiple clubs, organizations, and teams to be a competitive college applicant.

Not true.

While a title can communicate a certain degree of responsibility, there are actually many students leading lots of great initiatives and having their values guide their involvement within a certain activity without any title at all.

For instance, one of our CEG college counselors recently worked with a student who wrote about pushing for a gender-inclusive formal wear policy for her soccer team (since they were previously asked to wear dresses on game days) in her college essays. The kicker (lol, because, soccer)? She wasn’t the team captain.

Other examples that clearly demonstrate leadership without a title (and do so better than a title does):

  • A student who organized an in-school food bank distributing unused food to food-insecure students to take home, and grew the project from one school to a district to the state.

  • A student who noticed that autistic students ate in a separate lunchroom. He asked if he could eat with them and soon brought others with him—and eventually the segregation ended.

  • A student who played his violin at senior centers to entertain the residents. He realized that many of them were former musicians and he started bringing instruments and organizing ensembles. He created an organization of students doing this at different residences. They brought music back to so many lives—by engaging, not just entertaining.

  • A student who created a simple mental health curriculum for middle schoolers after giving a TEDx talk at a school assembly. A group of interested students gathered and they got funding and worked to bring the program into schools.

You get the idea.

The moral of this story: leadership is certainly a valued quality among many colleges, but titles and roles are not the only way to achieve this.

Your college essay(s) can be a great way to share a little bit more about the real-deal work that you’ve accomplished as part of your activities, whether you had a title or not. High school can be a rather political place at times, and there are certainly instances where the students doing a lot of the “heavy lifting” within certain activities don’t get the credit they deserve. Let your college application be that place!

3. Solely prioritizing activities based on their pedigree, prestige, and/or selectivity

Many summer programs held on college campuses fall into this category.

Students and families chasing after elite colleges (including Ivy League schools and other extremely selective colleges, like MIT, Stanford, and Caltech) often think “doing a summer pre-college program at Harvard will definitely impress college admissions officers, because… well, it’s Harvard.”

But summer programs along these lines often have no connection or relationship with the admissions office, and were developed as a way to make use of a more sparse/empty campus and bring in short-term revenue during the summer months.

That’s not to say these programs can’t be valuable additions to your college process, and/or your life—but only doing them because you think they “look good for college” can leave you feeling uninspired and unsatisfied.

If you’re doing some of these programs, great. But as you do them, be sure to spend time reflecting on why the experience is important to you, what you’re learning, and how you’re growing.

4. Sticking with activities you’ve come to loathe in order to show commitment and consistency

Our team has worked with many students who mention that they’ve only pursued certain activities—like an instrument they’ve played since they were 5 years old—because they were afraid to step away from these long-term commitments.

Of course, achieving a certain level of expertise and excellence in a certain area can be wonderful to share with colleges, but this should never take precedence over your own long-term mental health and wellness.

If you find yourself dreading every meeting, practice, or rehearsal of a certain extracurricular activity, it could be a sign that stepping away from it will allow you to prioritize other things that bring you more joy and satisfaction.

True, the prospect of stepping away can maybe be stressful and intimidating (especially if you’re continuing the activity out of family obligation or pressure), but doing this will allow you to feel more engaged and excited by your activities, which leads to a happier life overall.

If you need help sharing news like this with your family, talk to a trusted adult, family member, school counselor, and/or mentor, who can guide you through that conversation and possibly mediate and/or join in.

Valuable side note: essays about stepping away from activities like these—and the power of saying “no” and having healthy boundaries—often show vulnerability, maturity, and self-awareness to colleges, and can be wonderful stories to share amidst an application full of accolades.

5. Not exploring activities and opportunities outside of your own high school

While many high schools—particularly in more affluent school districts—are chock full of a range of clubs, volunteer opportunities, sports teams, and arts ensembles, there are many others that don’t have as many offerings (especially costly ones, like robotics).

Additionally, because so many high schools offer similar “categories” of activities, solely focusing your extracurricular life within the confines of your school can lead to your application looking rather “familiar” to admissions officers.

In the age of the internet, there are seemingly infinite ways for students to occupy their time outside of formal school activities. Of course, some of these aren’t really seen as extracurricular activities (sorry, Minecraft four nights a week doesn’t count).

But online communities around a shared interest or identity—even ones hosted on more “casual” platforms, like Discord—can show colleges that you’re the type of person who likes to bring people together and share your enthusiasm and/or curiosity around a certain topic.

Beyond online communities and MOOC courses (e.g. Stanford’s free online courses), consider activities and societies available to high school students from your hometown, like

  • a teen writer’s section of your local paper

  • Scouts

  • 4H

  • religious communities

  • or a youth advisory board

  • club sports teams (which are usually tryout-based and available to top athletes from high schools all across your area)

Things like these are all great ways to spread your wings, meet peers from different walks of life, and pursue something that may not be available—or isn’t at the degree of competition or difficulty you’re ready to take on—at your own school.

Plus, if you’re looking to make an impact through your activities within your community, collaborating with other schools—or like-minded peers who share your vision from across your hometown—can help you develop lots of meaningful skills and qualities, like teamwork, collaboration, and drive.

Important side note: Colleges view work (as in, your job at a coffee shop) or family responsibilities (as in, you help care for your siblings because both your parents work) as very valuable uses of time.

6. Shelling out lots of money for expensive “pay-to-play” programs (such as paid research opportunities) to stand out

There are many companies that offer pricey experiences—from immersive travel opportunities (many of which include a community service component, which can be problematic and tone-deaf) to research programs where your project is guaranteed to be published and/or peer-reviewed—that claim to yield higher acceptance rates at highly selective colleges.

It’s important to evaluate these opportunities with a grain of salt and not view them as a “silver bullet” in the admissions process. In fact, many admissions officers are turned off when experiences repeatedly appear to be bought—versus earned or self-directed—in a student’s application. Here’s what one former Ivy League admission officer (who requested to remain anonymous) had to say to ProPublica about paid research programs:

“The business of churning out high school research is a] fast-growing epidemic… The number of outfits doing that has trebled or quadrupled in the past few years… There are very few actual prodigies. There are a lot of precocious kids who are working hard and doing advanced things. A sophom*ore in high school is not going to be doing high-level neuroscience. And yet, a very high number of kids are including this.”

Some programs are great—for example, as the article above mentions, Pioneer Research is accredited by Oberlin College.

But if you stumble upon a program that looks exciting and interesting, but you aren’t sure whether it’s reputable, you can ask your school counselor for advice.

Better yet: you can email regional admissions officers at some of the colleges you may be interested in to get their take! Bonus: your email will count as demonstrated interest, which is an important aspect of many colleges’ admission process (more than extracurricular activities, in fact!), and two, you’ll gain perspective straight from “the source.”

7. Modeling your extracurricular path after another student who was admitted to top colleges

Now, don’t get us wrong: sometimes it’s great to lean on the wisdom of older siblings, family members, neighbors, friends, or mentors while navigating the college application process.

However, emulating or recreating someone else’s extracurricular or academic profile—and/or assuming that those were the things that “tipped the scale” for that student—can lead to both a frustrating high school experience and a lack of personal motivation.

For one, selective colleges have institutional priorities that play a heavy hand in their admissions process.

These priorities are very fluid and variable from college to college, and from year to year at the same college, and students are admitted, yes, because of their hard work in high school—but it’s also very possible there was an edge or “hook” that influenced their process that you may not know about.

Moreover, most colleges do not actually tell students why they were admitted beyond generalized, vague language about their academic excellence and/or accomplishments in an acceptance letter.

Thus, it’s even possible that that student you’re inspired by was admitted to fulfill pressing priorities, and their extracurricular profile was deemed just “fine” or “satisfactory” by the admissions team. So, yes, lean on the wisdom of older students—but don’t try to be them.

Because there’s only one you, and you’re pretty dang amazing in your own right!

The sections below will help you understand how to categorize activities when creating your college application, while offering examples to illustrate each Common App category.

Without further ado, here are many (many) examples and a brief(-ish) explanation of the 27 different Common App activity types (plus the oh so mysterious “Other Club/Activity” category):

“Academic” is a pretty broad term for anything outside of your normal classes that is academic, intellectual, or scholarly in nature. Academically-oriented extracurriculars can be a great way to develop an intellectual interest that you’ve stumbled upon through your high school classes, or perhaps a Wikipedia or YouTube rabbit hole.

These are also a way to provide evidence of your academic interests to colleges—what have you done to explore beyond classes? How has your intellectual curiosity driven you to learn more about your interests and aptitudes?

The great thing about pursuing these interests as part of a club or competition-based team is that you can connect with like-minded peers who share your geeky enthusiasm for black holes, Medieval literature, and/or everything in between—and, along the way, you can develop critical skills like teamwork, active listening, and discipline.

Many high schools offer formal opportunities like QuizBowl, Mathletes (side note: for some peak early 2000s nostalgia—aka probably before you were born—and a glimpse of the cutthroat world of math competitions, check out this iconic “aha” math moment from 2004’s Mean Girls), or Academic Decathlon as a way to flex your delightfully nerdy side (which, trust us here, colleges absolutely LOVE, even if the stereotypical 80s movie jock villain may not) and put your brain power to the test in a competitive setting.

Academically-oriented summer pre-college programs or enrichment programs, like the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, can also serve as ways to explore your academic interests beyond school, especially during the summer months (if you just CAN’T FATHOM parting from school for that long).

It’s usually a good category to select when you browse through the preexisting list and don’t see a specific designation for your academically-inclined activity—which may more closely connect to something like Art, Computer/Technology, Debate/Speech, Foreign Language, Research, or Robotics.

Examples (General):

Math Competitions/Programs:

English Competitions/Programs:

  • National High School Essay Contest - Sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace, this contest encourages students to write essays on peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

  • Scholastic Art & Writing Awards - A prestigious competition recognizing exceptional writing in categories such as poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic script.

  • Library of Congress Letters About Literature - A reading and writing contest where students write letters to authors about how their books impacted them.

  • National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Achievement Awards in Writing - Recognizes outstanding high school writers.

Social Studies & History Competitions/Programs:

  • National History Day (NHD) - A research-based competition where students present historical topics through papers, exhibits, performances, documentaries, or websites.

  • We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution - A competition that enhances students’ understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

  • United States Academic Decathlon - Includes social studies as one of its ten events, with a specific theme each year.

  • National Geographic GeoBee - A geography competition testing knowledge of the world’s regions, cultures, physical features, and more.

Language Competitions/Programs:

  • National Latin Exam - A test offered to Latin students to assess their knowledge of Latin language and Roman culture.

  • National Spanish Examinations (NSE) - Recognizes high achievement in Spanish language skills.

  • Le Grand Concours - The National French Contest for students of French, testing knowledge of the language and culture.

  • National Classical Etymology Exam (NCEE) - Tests knowledge of Latin and Greek derivatives and their usage in English.

Science Competitions/Programs:

  • Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) - One of the largest pre-college science competitions globally.

  • Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) - Recognizes high school seniors for their scientific research and is one of the oldest and most prestigious science competitions in the U.S.

  • USA Biology Olympiad (USABO) - Aims to develop young biologists and select U.S. teams for the International Biology Olympiad (IBO).

  • Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology - Recognizes outstanding science research projects by high school students.

  • International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) - Selects the top high school chemistry students to represent the U.S. in an international competition.

Art is a graduation requirement in many U.S. states, but it’s not just a class—it’s a creative calling!

Students often have opportunities like Photography Club or Art Club to continue expressing their creativity (no matter the medium) within their high schools. Beyond this, art can also be something students pursue through outside lessons, independently at home (in your home “studio,” aka that corner of the basem*nt that’s not occupied by those broken lamps you’re not sure why your mom is saving), or even through online communities.

In an age where technology intersects with creativity, even students who never felt like they excelled with their preschool finger paintings can leverage AI as a means to expand their artistic horizons. You should feel empowered to explore digital art tools, experiment with generative algorithms, and push the boundaries of traditional mediums.

Art can also be a powerful vehicle to elevate social issues, personal challenges or experiences, or causes near and dear to your heart: You may want to consider spearheading murals in your community to showcase the diversity of your city, or creating digital art around a personal challenge you've worked to overcome—like body positivity—and share your work widely on a (soon-to-be) viral Instagram account.

But art doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor—it thrives in collaboration. Consider joining forces with fellow artists to embark on collaborative projects that amplify your collective voices and visions.

For those with a competitive streak, art competitions offer a platform to showcase your talents and vie for recognition. Whether it's the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the Congressional Art Competition, or local exhibitions, these competitions provide an opportunity to shine on a broader stage.

And for upperclassmen considering art school, start preparing materials for National Portfolio Day and other portfolio reviews early. Curate a collection of your best work, seek feedback from mentors and peers, and showcase your artistic evolution with pride.

Examples:

You get the idea.

For students with exceptional athletic talent, it may be wise to consider joining an out-of-school club team to compete on a level that is more on par (hehe, sports) with your skills.

Many U.S. cities have a spectrum of club sport options for a wide range of athletic opportunities—from soccer, to swimming, to even more niche sports like squash.

The benefits of joining a club sport are that you can continue to develop your athleticism if you’ve “peaked” within your high school. Additionally, club sports are the primary mode through which high school athletes are recruited to play sports in college, which can significantly improve your admissions chances at a wide range of colleges and universities.

If you’re one of the star players on a varsity team as a freshman or sophom*ore, love your sport, and could see yourself playing even more of it—and being inspired by teammates from around your state or local area—look into your club sports options. You also may find that many students have begun playing club sports in middle school, or sometimes even earlier! No matter when you enter the club sport “pipeline,” there’s a place for you, so long as you make it through the tryouts.

One potential downside of club sports is that they often require a lot of time and investment from students and families—from games and showcases all across your state, to grueling weekend practices. Given this, it can be difficult for students pursuing club sports to have a more robust extracurricular life within their high school or local community in non-athletic areas.

Because of that, it’s important for students to communicate the number of hours and sacrifices their club time has involved somewhere in their application. Admissions officers are certainly familiar with the commitment, but it’s often a powerful reminder when students outline, for instance, their practice schedule and the sheer lack of “free time” they have to do other things.

Examples:

  • AAU

  • US Club Soccer

  • Equestrian Club

  • Ultimate Frisbee Club

  • LAX

  • Club softball

  • Gymnastics

  • Dance

  • Karate/other martial arts

  • Cycling

  • Rock climbing

  • Swimming

  • etc.

Most sports offered in U.S. high schools are broken up into two primary difficulty or skill levels: Junior Varsity (JV), which is usually for more basic and/or intermediate athletes, and Varsity, which is for the most advanced athletes.

Depending on your high school’s distinct culture, there can be a lot of cultural capital and social status associated with what team you end up on—with varsity athletes being seen as the “Queen Bees” of the pool, court, or field. We’ve worked with lots of students who’ve expressed disappointment and/or embarrassment for “only making JV” within their sport.

Here’s the kicker there:

Most admissions officers truly do not care much about the athletic level you’ve achieved, as both options—JV and varsity—represent a commitment to physical health and wellness, and the development of crucial life skills like teamwork, discipline, and time management. As a general rule, level of sports involvement only truly impacts admissions chances if you’re being recruited to play at the college. (Also, have you tallied up the bad sports puns in this blog yet? They’re kind of a serve…). 😉

Admissions officers are typically not assessing your application for athletic talent. The same goes for students with exceptional talent in the arts, as colleges often offer program-based auditions or supplemental submissions to have their faculty or program directors make that judgment call. Because most colleges that offer competitive sports—whether those are Division I, II, or III—have an athletic recruitment process that is managed by the coaching staff and the college’s athletic department, that’s. Additionally, it’s pretty rare for admissions officers to “flag” certain students who have an extensive athletic resume for recruitment potential, as they already have a list of students provided to them by the coaches.

Does that mean you should just quit your high school sport entirely? Certainly not!

For many students, high school sports can serve as their primary social network, a mode to express school spirit, and, as we’ve previously mentioned, an enjoyable yet challenging way to develop valuable skills, qualities, values, insights, and interests that colleges admire.

The bottom line: high school sports, both JV and varsity, are valuable additions to your college application, as they show commitment and contribution to your high school and many other valuable skills. Just take the pressure off or yourself to feel like you have to have a laundry list of All-American awards or trophies to report, because, unless you’re planning on pursuing athletic recruitment and playing that sport in college competitively (which we have a podcast all about for more information), it’s not something you’re being evaluated on with a high degree of scrutiny!

Small side note: some high schools may even have teams specifically for freshmen, in which case you can still select “Athletics: JV/Varsity” (since it’s the category most closely linked with “in school” sports).

Examples:

  • Pickleball

  • Cycling Team

  • Bodybuilding

  • Fencing

  • Martial Arts

  • Badminton

  • Baseball

  • Basketball

  • Cheerleading

  • Cross Country

  • Dance Team

  • Field Hockey

  • Flag Football

  • Football

  • etc.

And keep in mind things like

  • Team manager

  • Team stat keeper

  • Emphasizing other special roles like team captain

Some students grew up performing surgery on their Barbies (or maybe even their Shopkins if they had, like, the most precise scalpel work ever known to humankind).

Or maybe they were flexing their budding legal prowess by arguing with their parents over why their weekly allowance should be increased from $5 to $50 (because inflation).

Whatever the case, “Career Oriented” clubs and extracurricular activities can be a great way to further clarify whether or not that emerging professional interest is, indeed, something you want to pursue.

Unlike Academic extracurriculars (see above), which tend to focus on core academic subjects (like English, math, social studies, language, and/or science), Career Oriented extracurricular activities are trade- and profession-focused, meaning they’re meant to expose you to what it’s like to work in a particular industry/“the real world.”

Within your school, you may have options like HOSA-Future Health Professionals, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), or DECA (a club for emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management) to explore these various paths.

Examples:

Community Service extracurriculars are like stages for showcasing your superhero cape—minus the spandex.

But far more important than your Mr. Incredible/Elastigirl moment in the spotlight, they’re often where you can work to make the world a better place, one good deed at a time. And just like how we all have different flavors of ice cream we swear by, there are tons of community service experiences to choose from based on causes or populations you are most eager to support.

A big piece of advice we like to share when it comes to community service: remember the impact of your actions, even if they can feel small (cue iconic Carrie Underwood song).

You're not just volunteering at the local animal shelter—you're the guardian angel for those fluffy companions, dispensing belly rubs and treats like a pro. Or perhaps you're tutoring younger students, wielding your knowledge like a magic wand to banish confusion and summon clarity.

Ever found yourself rallying the troops for a good cause, like organizing a bake sale to fundraise for charity? That's not just baking cookies; it's baking smiles and hope into every bite. And if you've ever donned a pair of gardening gloves to plant trees or clean up parks, you're not just getting your hands dirty; you're cultivating a greener, cleaner future. (But side note: be a little wary of getting super flowery/hyperbolic with your Activities List descriptions, unless you can clearly make it an obvious joke.)

By diving into these community service adventures, you're not just ticking off boxes on a to-do list—you're mastering skills that would make Captain America proud. Empathy? Check. Leadership? Double check. Communication? Nailed it.

These experiences aren't just about giving back: they're about becoming the best version of yourself.

Admissions officers aren't looking for caped crusaders or masked vigilantes (although that would be pretty cool). They're looking for everyday heroes who make a difference, whether it's through a single act of kindness or a long-term commitment to service. So, whether you're the Robin Hood of fundraising (maybe don’t steal, though) or the Jane Addams of tutoring, own your community service journey with pride.

Examples:

Computer/Technology extracurriculars—as they’re labeled on the Common Application—are where digital diehards can showcase their skills with ones, zeros, and a whole lot of late-night keyboarding.

They’re where coding, gaming, and gadgetry allow students to flex their innovative spirits and unabashed geekery (serious, colleges LOVE anything geeky). So, grab your favorite energy drink and let's dive into the matrix of computer-centric extracurriculars.

First up, we have things like coding and computer science (CS) clubs within your high school. Some have national and international reach, like Girls Who Code, while others are more home-grown (or home… programmed?). Hackathons are another great way to take the skills you’ve learned in these clubs to the next level, often solving real-world issues through tech ideas and innovations. These can help you build up the entrepreneurial skills that many college STEM programs are hoping to see in applicants. Whether you're crafting elegant algorithms or slaying bugs like a digital exterminator, coding and CS clubs offer a space to hone your programming prowess. You get bonus points for mastering the art of debugging without pulling out your hair.

But wait, there's more.

Gaming tournaments and Esports teams are not just about crushing your opponents in pixelated combat (though that's definitely a perk). They're about strategic thinking, teamwork, and mastering the art of button-mashing without breaking a sweat. So, whether you're a seasoned pro or a casual gamer, gaming tournaments—whether those are in-school, online, or further afield—offer a chance to level up your skills and forge new friendships in the digital arena. We wouldn’t necessarily say that this is a highly sought-after extracurricular priority at most colleges (as in, most don’t have varsity Esports teams where you’d be recruited to play), but they can certainly be a fun part of your high school experience. Balance is key!

Of course, let's not forget about tech internships, which can be a great way to put skills you’ve developed through classes, clubs and competitions to the next level. Whether you're interning at a startup, a tech giant, or a local business looking to improve their work through artificial intelligence (AI), tech internships can offer a glimpse into the fast-paced world of Silicon Valley and valuable opportunities to network with industry professionals. There’s an “Internship” section on the Common App to “properly” label these experiences by the time you start applying to colleges—but that’s a more technical detail. And hey, we (and you) love all things technical.

And last but not least, we have independently-pursued tech or computer projects. Whether you're building your own app (or maybe even a computer), designing a website (maybe for a local non-profit?), or hacking your way through a cybersecurity challenge, self-directed tech projects offer a chance to unleash your creativity and leave your digital footprint on the world.

Who knows, your next project could be the next big thing in tech—and it’s sure to show colleges that you’re able to solve complex problems and make something out of nothing.

Whether you're coding like a boss, battling robots like a futuristic gladiator, or hacking your way through cyberspace, computer-centric extracurriculars offer a chance to geek out and make your mark on the digital world.

Examples:

Hackathons:

Updated list: https://hackathons.hackclub.com

Cultural extracurricular activities are spaces where you can celebrate your heritage, explore your identity, and connect with communities that resonate with your cultural roots. It's more than just a checkbox; it's an opportunity to embrace diversity and showcase the rich tapestry of who you are.

Think of affinity groups like the Black Student Union or Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations as your cultural compasses, guiding you through the maze of high school life and beyond.

These groups provide a supportive community where you can share experiences, celebrate traditions, and amplify your voice. Whether it's hosting cultural events, organizing discussions on social issues, or simply hanging out with like-minded peers, affinity groups offer a space to feel seen, heard, and valued.

But don't stop there.

Outside cultural organizations are another avenue to explore and expand your cultural horizons. Whether you're participating in traditional dance groups, attending language immersion camps, or volunteering at cultural festivals, these experiences offer a window into different cultures and perspectives. Plus, in today's interconnected world, you can connect with cultural communities online, whether it's through social media groups, virtual events, or online forums.

Now, let's address the elephant in the room—the fear of writing about your culture or race on college applications, especially given the recent changes to admissions due to the SCOTUS decision in 2023.

Here's the truth: colleges don't just accept diversity—they celebrate it and believe it makes the college (and students’ college experiences) better.

In fact, sharing your cultural experiences and involvement in cultural activities can enhance your application and showcase your unique perspective. So, whether you're a dragon boat enthusiast, a member of an indigenous tribal group, or part of an Asian American affinity group, don't hesitate to highlight these experiences and how they have shaped your character and values.

They're not just extracurricular activities—they're a reflection of who you are and what you bring to the table.

In summary, the "Cultural" section of the Common Application is your canvas to paint a vibrant portrait of your cultural identity and heritage. So, embrace your roots, celebrate your diversity, and share your story with pride. Because in a world that values inclusivity and diversity, your cultural journey is not just a footnote—it's a masterpiece waiting to be unveiled.

Examples:

  • Spanish Club

  • French Club

  • German Club

  • Japanese Club

  • Portuguese Club

  • American Sign Language Club

  • Chinese Club

  • Latin Club

  • Pacific Islanders Club

  • Russian Club

  • South Asian Student Society

  • Latino/a Students’ Association

  • Muslim Students’ Association

  • Greek Club

  • Foreign Language Club

  • Endangered Languages Club

  • International Food Club

  • Black Students’ Union

  • BIPOC Students’ Union

  • Asian Students’ Union

  • Cooking a certain ethnic food

  • Cultural dances

  • Cultural music

  • Culture-related instruments

Through Dance activities, you can pirouette, pop, and plié your way into the hearts of audience members and admissions officers alike. Whether you're a ballet prodigy, a hip-hop aficionado, or a cultural dance enthusiast, there's a spot on this dance floor for everyone.

First up, let's talk about dance extracurriculars at your school. Whether it's joining the dance team, participating in the school musical, or taking dance classes as part of your physical education curriculum, these opportunities offer a chance to showcase your talent and passion for dance while connecting with classmates who share your love for movement.

If you're serious about dance, consider staying engaged and committed through an outside dance studio. Whether it's a local studio or a prestigious academy, outside dance classes provide specialized training, professional instruction, and performance opportunities that can take your dance skills to the next level. Plus, it's a chance to meet new friends and expand your dance community beyond the walls of your school.

Cultural dance opportunities also count in the "Dance" section of the Common Application. Whether you're performing traditional Indian, Chinese, Irish, or any other cultural dance, these experiences offer a unique window into different cultures and traditions. Not only do they showcase your versatility as a dancer, but they also celebrate diversity and promote cultural understanding.

Now, let's talk about that selective college dream.

If you've got dance talent, many selective colleges allow you to submit a dance supplement or portfolio as part of your application. This is your chance to strut your stuff and show admissions officers what you're made of. Whether it's a video of your latest performance, a choreography reel, or a written statement about your dance journey, a well-crafted dance supplement can enhance your application and showcase your artistic potential. Just be sure to look up whether these opportunities exist at the colleges you may be applying to, and only submit what they welcome you to submit (in the format they ask for). We know your “following directions” skills are en pointe!

Examples:

  • Juntos Collective

  • Hip Hop

  • Jazz Dance

  • Irish Dance

  • Contemporary / Modern Dance

  • Latin Dance

  • Interpretive Dance

  • Swing Dance

  • African, West Indian, African-American Dance

  • Ceremonial Dance

  • Tap Dance

  • Classical Dance

  • Cultural Dance

  • Ballroom Dance

  • Ballet

Debate/Speech extracurriculars are a battleground of words where arguments are forged, ideas clash, and eloquence reigns supreme. But before we dive in, let's clear up a common misconception: the term "forensics."

While it might conjure images of crime scenes and CSI detectives, in the world of speech and debate, forensics refers to the art of public speaking and argumentation. So, put away your magnifying glass and don your rhetorical armor—we're about to embark on a journey of persuasion and advocacy.

Participating in debate and speech activities can be a game-changer for students. It's not just about honing your ability to craft a convincing argument (though that's certainly a big part of it). It's also about developing critical thinking skills, mastering the art of persuasion, and learning how to articulate your ideas with clarity and confidence. Whether you're engaging in Lincoln-Douglas debates, extemporaneous speaking, or interpretive events like dramatic interpretation, the skills you learn in debate and speech are highly transferable to a very wide range of majors and fields—not just law and politics.

But to truly excel in debate and speech, you need more than just a silver tongue. You also need to master the performance side of the equation. That's where taking a drama class can come in handy. Drama classes offer valuable training in vocal projection, stage presence, and emotional expression—skills that can take your speech and debate performances to the next level.

If you're serious about debate and speech, consider exploring outside-of-school opportunities and aiming for national competitions. These experiences not only provide a chance to test your skills against top competitors but also offer valuable networking opportunities and exposure to different styles and approaches.

Finally, consider finding a coach to help lead your debate or speech team. A coach can provide guidance, support, and expertise to help you reach your full potential. Check out resources from organizations like the National Speech and Debate Association for tips on getting started and finding a coach in your area.

Examples:

Whether you're passionate about sustainability, conservation, or climate activism, there's a place for you in Environmental extracurriculars.

First off, let's talk about in-school environmental clubs. These clubs are like green think tanks, where students come together to brainstorm, plan, and implement initiatives to make their school (or local community) more sustainable. From recycling drives to energy conservation campaigns, in-school environmental clubs are a hub of green innovation and action.

But here's the secret sauce: partnerships.

Partnering with local organizations and grassroots nonprofits can amplify your impact and bring your environmental efforts to the next level. Whether it's collaborating on community clean-up events, advocating for policy changes, or launching conservation projects, partnerships provide resources, expertise, and support to turn your green dreams into reality.

Speaking of advocacy, don't underestimate the power of your voice.

Advocating for changes in your own school—like reducing single-use plastics in the cafeteria, implementing recycling initiatives, or promoting “meatless mondays”—puts your green dreams to work on the local level and sets an example for others to follow.

Colleges are also highly impressed with students who get involved in policy advocacy and lobbying efforts to drive big changes on the city, state, or even national level. Take a page from activists like Greta Thunberg, who are leading the charge for climate action and environmental justice on a global scale.

And let's not forget the great outdoors—exactly what you’re trying to preserve! Trail maintenance, beach clean-ups, and community gardening are not only good for environmental health, they're also a great way to get outside, enjoy nature, and connect with like-minded individuals. So lace up your hiking boots and grab a trash bag—it's time to make a difference, one clean-up at a time.

Looking for even more opportunities to dive deeper into environmentalism?

Consider joining college or independent summer programs themed around environmentalism, like the Washington Youth Summit. These programs offer a chance to meet other sustainability-minded high school students, learn from experts in the field, and gain hands-on experience in environmental advocacy and leadership.

And if you're feeling ambitious, why not start a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for your own self-directed projects around sustainability? Whether it's building a community garden or launching a renewable energy initiative, crowdfunding can help turn your eco-friendly dreams into reality—because let's face it, money doesn’t grow on trees (... like the ones you’re going to save).

Examples:

Family responsibilities aren’t necessarily a “formal,” school-based extracurricular activity, but this is where the unsung heroes of the household shine—the students who juggle school, extracurriculars, and the weight of family responsibilities on their shoulders.

Let's start by emphasizing that family responsibilities are a completely valid extracurricular. Oftentimes, it's low-income students who carry the heavier burden of these responsibilities, and colleges recognize and appreciate the invaluable contributions they make to their families and communities.

Family responsibilities can encompass a wide range of duties, from driving younger siblings to and from school or their activities, to babysitting for extended family members. For many immigrant families and communities, caring for younger relatives is a common practice—a testament to the strong bonds of family and community support.

Some students take on the role of primary caregiver for a grandparent or other family member, especially if they have health-related needs. Others may find themselves in charge of grocery shopping and meal planning, particularly if they have parents working night shifts or long hours to make ends meet.

Sometimes, these family responsibilities extend beyond what meets the eye. For instance, if a parent loses their job, a student may have to step away from other extracurricular commitments to help support their family. This was especially common during the pandemic, when many low-income students found themselves shouldering additional responsibilities at home.

If you find yourself in this situation, don't hesitate to provide additional details about your family responsibilities in the "Additional Information" section of the Common Application. Colleges want to understand the context of your experiences and the challenges you've overcome, and sharing this information can provide valuable insight into your life outside of school.

And here's the good news: colleges admire the sacrifices and commitment to family that students exhibit through these responsibilities. They understand that family comes first, and they value the resilience, maturity, and leadership skills that students develop as a result of their family obligations.

Examples:

  • Childcare/babysitting of siblings or relatives

  • Care of a family member with a disability or illness

  • Employment to support family

  • Religious obligations

Bienvenue to the global gamut of Foreign Language extracurricular activities!

Here, we celebrate the richness of linguistic diversity. Whether you're dipping your toes into a new language or diving headfirst into multilingual mastery, there's a world of opportunities awaiting you.

Let's start with in-school language clubs, such as French, Mandarin, American Sign Language, or Spanish Club. These clubs offer a low-commitment way to explore a language and culture with peers, all while indulging in delicious culinary delights. It's like a mini cultural immersion experience right in your own school, where you can practice your language skills, learn about traditions and customs, and maybe even pick up a few traditional dance moves along the way.

Beyond school offerings, self-studying with apps like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, or other MOOCs can help take your language learning journey to the next level. Whether you're brushing up on your conversational skills or tackling grammar concepts, these digital resources offer flexibility and convenience, allowing you to learn at your own pace and on your own schedule.

For those aiming for linguistic excellence, language honor societies are worth considering. Organizations like the French Honor Society (Société Honoraire de Français), Spanish Honor Society (Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica), and Chinese Honor Society (Zhongwen Xueshe) recognize students who demonstrate outstanding proficiency and dedication to their chosen language.

But let's not forget about the real-world opportunities available, both in your community and at community colleges.

Using another language in community service or employment is often very impressive to app readers (for example, a student volunteering or doing an internship in a dental clinic serving Spanish-speaking farm workers).

Community college courses with extensive practicum opportunities provide a unique chance to learn a language with people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life. Plus, you'll have the opportunity to step outside of your high school bubble and immerse yourself in a multicultural learning environment.

If you're fascinated by the inner workings of language, consider exploring opportunities in fields like linguistics and cognitive science. Competitions like the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO) offer a chance to put your language skills to the test and dive deep into the fascinating world of language structure and evolution.

If you're torn between selecting "Cultural" or "Foreign Language" for an activity on the Common App, don't sweat it. Choose the category that best represents the primary focus of the activity. If it's predominantly focused on learning and practicing a language, "Foreign Language" makes sense. If it's more comprehensive, like an identity-based affinity group, "Cultural" is probably the way to go. Ultimately, what matters most is highlighting your passion for language learning and cultural exploration on your college application, the values you’ve developed, and (potentially) the impact you’ve had.

Bon voyage!

Examples:

Ready to embark on a summer adventure that's both educational and entertaining? Internships—either paid or unpaid—are your ticket to real-world experience, and come with a side of valuable skills and a sprinkle of career exploration.

Internships are like skill-building power-ups. They teach you practical skills that can’t be found in any textbook.

From learning how to navigate office politics to mastering workplace technologies (and maybe even the classic coffee run Hollywood trope, if you’re lucky), you'll gain a toolkit that's essential for adulting in any career. Plus, internships provide a sneak peek into different industries, helping you decide if you want to be a tech titan, a healthcare hero, or something in between.

Internships come in all shapes and sizes, and colleges are not necessarily actively looking for certain company names or “big ticket” items when reading your application.

You could find yourself crunching numbers at a local accounting firm, whipping up marketing magic at a digital agency, or even wrangling pandas as a zoo intern (seriously—my sister actually did that). Don’t limit yourself—see what internship flavors tickle your taste buds.

In particular, summer break isn’t just for sunbathing and Netflix marathons (though those are important too). It's the perfect time to embark on a summer internship adventure. With fewer classes and more free time, you can fully immerse yourself in the experience, soaking up knowledge like a sponge.

If internships are like full-time jobs, then job shadowing is like a sneak peek behind the curtain. It's your chance to play detective and observe professionals in their natural habitat in a less structured way, or with less responsibility. Whether you're interested in solving medical mysteries or cracking legal cases, spending a day shadowing can help you decide if you're ready to join the ranks of the pros.

So, how do you land that dream internship?

The guide linked just above gets into detail, but start by exploring online resources like Internships.com, LinkedIn, and Indeed. Many companies also post internship opportunities directly on their websites, so be sure to check out your favorite companies’ career pages. Don’t underestimate the power of personal connections—reach out to family friends, teachers, and local professionals to inquire about internship opportunities. And remember, a well-crafted resume and a compelling cover letter can go a long way in securing an interview.

Examples:

  • NIH Summer Internships

  • Bank of America Student Leaders

  • Internship at local hospital

  • Job shadowing

  • Laboratory internship

  • Law firm / legal internship

  • Healthcare internship

  • Media internship (newspaper, magazine, T.V., publication)

  • Museum junior docent / internship

  • Environmental / Sustainability internship

  • Political science internship (campaign work, for example)

  • Community health internship

  • Theatre/drama internship

  • Research-based internship

Internship search sites:

  1. CareerOneStop's Student Jobs: This website offers a section specifically for high school students, providing information on finding internships, apprenticeships, and part-time jobs.

  2. Chegg Internships: Chegg offers internship listings for high school students, along with resources for resume building, interview preparation, and career advice.

  3. Internships.com: This website has a dedicated section for high school students to search for internships by location, industry, and keyword. It also provides tips for landing internships and advice on gaining experience.

  4. WayUp: WayUp offers internship and entry-level job listings for college and high school students. Students can create profiles, upload resumes, and apply directly to internships.

  5. Idealist.org: Idealist lists internship opportunities with nonprofit organizations, NGOs, and social impact companies. High school students can search for internships related to causes they are passionate about.

  6. Local Chamber of Commerce Websites: Many local Chamber of Commerce websites list internship opportunities with businesses in the area. Students can check their local Chamber of Commerce website for internship listings.

  7. Student Opportunity Center: This website aggregates internship, research, and scholarship opportunities for high school and college students. Students can search for opportunities by category, location, and deadline.

  8. Youth Opportunities: Youth Opportunities provides listings for internships, scholarships, competitions, conferences, and workshops for young people worldwide. Students can filter internship listings by region and category.

  9. TeenLife: TeenLife offers resources for high school students, including internship listings, summer programs, volunteer opportunities, and college prep resources.

  10. CollegeVine's Internship Finder: CollegeVine's Internship Finder allows high school students to search for internships by location, industry, and duration. It also provides advice on finding and applying for internships.

Words have the power to inform, inspire, and ignite change.

Whether you're penning articles for the school newspaper, crafting stories for your blog, or reporting for your local newspaper, there's no shortage of opportunities to make your voice heard and your words matter through Journalism/Publication activities.

Let's start with the classics: school newspapers, yearbooks and literary magazines (aka litmag).

Most high schools offer these avenues for budding journalists to flex their writing muscles, hone their interviewing skills, and master the art of persuasive communication. From crafting compelling headlines to conducting in-depth interviews, working on the school newspaper or yearbook is a crash course in journalism 101.

But it's not just about the words—art direction and design play a crucial role in journalism and publication as well.

On a yearbook or school newspaper staff, there are usually multiple roles, including editors, reporters, and layout designers. These roles provide ample opportunities for collaboration and creativity, as students work together to design eye-catching layouts, select photos, and create visually engaging content. Colleges highly value this spirit of collaboration, as it reflects teamwork, communication, and creativity—essential skills for success in any field.

But why stop there? Consider branching out beyond the confines of your school to write for local newspapers or publications.

Platforms like Medium offer opportunities for aspiring writers to share their perspectives and insights with a wider audience. And if you're passionate about a particular topic or niche, why not start your own independent blog? It's a chance to explore your interests, hone your writing style, and build a portfolio of published work.

Looking for more hands-on experience? Summer programs and internships with companies or colleges can provide invaluable opportunities to gain real-world journalism experience.

For example, Princeton University offers the Princeton Summer Journalism Program (PSJP), a prestigious program exclusively for low-income students interested in journalism. It's a chance to learn from industry professionals, sharpen your reporting skills, and immerse yourself in the world of journalism on one of the nation's most prestigious campuses.

In a world where holding people's attention is increasingly challenging, the skills you develop in journalism—interviewing, copy editing, crafting attention-grabbing headlines, and art direction—are more in-demand than ever. So whether you're writing for the school newspaper, contributing to a local publication, or launching your own blog, seize every opportunity to hone your craft, amplify your voice, and make a difference with your words and visuals.

Examples:

Hut! Welcome to the world of Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC), a federal program sponsored by the United States Armed Forces in high schools across the nation and at US military bases worldwide.

Whether you're drawn to the call of duty or simply seeking to develop valuable life skills, JROTC offers a unique blend of education, leadership training, and military discipline.

In a typical week, JROTC cadets experience a diverse blend of activities. Two days are dedicated to academics, where cadets delve into military history, leadership principles, and citizenship education. These sessions provide a foundation of knowledge about the armed forces, instilling a sense of duty, patriotism, and respect for the military profession.

Additionally, two days are allocated for physical fitness activities, focusing on improving strength, endurance, and overall fitness levels. Whether it's running, calisthenics, or team sports, physical training plays a vital role in developing cadets' physical well-being and instilling a commitment to personal health and fitness.

Another day is designated for uniform days, where cadets don their military attire and practice marching, drill, and ceremony. These sessions emphasize discipline, precision, and teamwork, as cadets learn to move and act as a cohesive unit—a skill set essential for military service and leadership roles.

According to the National Defense Act, the goals of the JROTC program are manifold. They include developing citizenship and patriotism, fostering self-reliance and responsiveness to authority, improving communication skills, instilling a commitment to physical fitness, and cultivating respect for the role of the US Armed Forces in supporting national objectives. Additionally, JROTC aims to impart knowledge of team-building and basic military skills.

Participating in JROTC for one to three years grants cadets the ability to rank higher should they pursue a military career. However, even if military service isn't in your immediate plans, JROTC can still be immensely beneficial. It's an excellent way to develop disciplined habits, enhance leadership skills, and learn the importance of both leading and following—a skill set valuable in any career path.

Many colleges recognize the value of JROTC experience and offer scholarship opportunities for cadets. Additionally, there are opportunities to participate in Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs at the college level, spanning branches such as Naval ROTC, Army ROTC, and Air Force ROTC. These programs often lead to lucrative career paths, with fields like naval engineering offering substantial earning potential.

Moreover, JROTC can serve as a stepping stone for those interested in applying to prestigious military academies such as West Point (United States Military Academy), Annapolis (United States Naval Academy), and Colorado Springs (United States Air Force Academy). Attending these academies not only offers a world-class education but also opens doors to elite military careers and a lifetime of service to the nation. Being in JROTC opens a special category of nomination: The Vice President can nominate U.S. citizens without geographical restrictions, while the Secretary of the Army, Navy, or Air Force nominates members of regular military, reserve components, and participants in the JROTC.

JROTC can offer a pathway to personal growth, leadership development, and exciting career opportunities in the military and beyond. Whether you're inspired by a sense of duty or simply seeking to challenge yourself, JROTC equips you with the skills and mindset to succeed in any endeavor you pursue.

Examples:

LGBTQIAA+ extracurriculars are vibrant and inclusive spaces where students can come together to celebrate identity, promote inclusivity, and advocate for change. Whether you identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community or simply want to be an ally, there are numerous ways to get involved and make a difference.

A great first step is to join or start a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at your school. These groups provide a supportive environment for LGBTQ+ students and allies to come together, share experiences, and organize events.

For example, one high school’s LGBTQ+ student group was called GLOW: Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever—a name meant to capture the inclusive nature of the group. GSAs often host a variety of programming, from queer-themed socials and proms to movie nights featuring LGBTQ+ films like "But I'm A Cheerleader'' and RuPaul's Drag Race viewing parties.

But GSAs are more than just social clubs—they're also platforms for activism and advocacy.

Students can use their GSA to raise awareness about important LGBTQ+ issues, both locally and globally. This could involve advocating for LGBTQ+ rights in states where they are under threat or pushing for more inclusive policies within their own school, such as gender-neutral bathrooms.

Volunteering with outside organizations like the Trevor Project or participating in peer hotlines are other meaningful ways to support LGBTQ+ causes beyond the school walls. Students can also take the initiative to organize community events such as drag shows, library reading events, or inter-school gatherings to foster a sense of community and promote visibility.

It's important to remember that LGBTQ+ extracurricular activities aren't just about activism—they're also about building connections and finding support. For students navigating their identities, these groups can be invaluable resources for finding acceptance and belonging.

As you explore LGBTQ+ extracurricular opportunities, remember that resources are available to support you every step of the way. College Essay Guy has two podcast episodes dedicated to resources for LGBTQ+ students (thanks to Campus Pride Index) and transgender students, offering valuable insights and advice for navigating the college search process with confidence and authenticity.

So whether you're looking to join a GSA, volunteer with LGBTQ+ organizations, or organize community events, know that you're not alone—and that your voice and your contributions matter.

Examples:

  • GSA

  • GLSEN

  • The Trevor Project

  • Diversity Club

  • Pride March

  • Pride High School Event or Program

  • Gender and Sexuality Awareness

  • Volunteering at an LGBTQ+ Center

  • Trans Rights Advocacy

  • LGBTQ+ Youth Peer Support Group

  • LGBTQ+ Rights Advocacy

  • Trans Youth Rights Advocacy

  • Other LGBTQ+ Advocacy, Program, Work, or Activity

Welcome, music enthusiasts, to the harmonious realm of instrumental music!

Here, we'll explore the symphonic milieu of opportunities available to high school students keen on tuning their talents and orchestrating their extracurricular pursuits.

First on our scorecard are the in-school music ensembles, ranging from orchestras to jazz bands to concert bands. Each ensemble offers a unique blend of instruments, musical genres, and levels of commitment.

Whether you're drawn to the classical elegance of an orchestra or the improvisational flair of a jazz band, there's a stage for every instrumentalist to shine. And while titles like 'first chair' and 'section leader' may carry prestige within the ensemble, remember that colleges look beyond these accolades to gauge your true musical potential on-campus (more on that in a second).

For those seeking a cadence of camaraderie and school spirit, marching bands and pep bands offer a rousing crescendo of musical involvement. These spirited ensembles not only foster teamwork and discipline but also infuse pep rallies and halftime shows with an infectious energy that resonates throughout the school.

But the melody doesn't end within the school walls.

External orchestras and community ensembles beckon, providing opportunities to collaborate with musicians from neighboring schools or even seasoned adults. These extracurricular ventures not only broaden your musical horizons but also showcase your versatility and adaptability as a performer.

And let's not forget the virtuosos who hone their craft through private lessons. While these one-on-one sessions demand time and dedication, they offer a personalized approach to musical growth that complements the ensemble experience. Whether you choose to continue outside lessons or focus solely on school-based opportunities, remember that your dedication and passion will always strike the right chord with admissions committees.

Speaking of admissions, aspiring musicians should consider composing a musical supplement to accompany their college applications. From websites and YouTube videos to recordings and recitals, showcasing your musical prowess can strike a resonant chord with highly selective colleges, potentially harmonizing your way to admission.

Be sure to check specific supplement instructions on individual college's websites. Some use Slideroom and give specific specs. Some don't want visual/perf arts materials from students not majoring in the subject (e.g. BU). Others warn against sending materials if you are not AMAZING (hi, Yale). Others will give music scholarships to non-music majors (Bucknell)! "Talent" is not equally weighted.

And a heads up: while colleges don't necessarily prefer certain instruments over others, the most common do tend to be piano or violin, so just know that there are usually less pressing needs for that musical talent (from an institutional priorities standpoint) on a college campus. Whereas French Horn or stand-up bass or bassoon are way harder to find. Ultimately, top talent in any instrument is valued, and orchestra directors can recruit just like athletic coaches.

For those setting their sights on conservatories, early preparation is key. Familiarize yourself with audition requirements and repertoire expectations to ensure you're in tune with the demands of these specialized programs.

So whether you're fine-tuning your flute solos or perfecting your percussion prowess, embrace the melody of possibility and let your passion for music resound loud and clear on your college application.

Examples:

  • School of Rock

  • National Youth Orchestra

  • Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp

  • Music Creation and DJ Club

  • Pep Band

  • Jazz Band

  • Church Band

  • High School Band

  • Duo, Trio, Quartet, etc.

  • Other Instrumental Music Group

  • Music Appreciation Club

  • High School Orchestra

  • Community Orchestra or Symphony

  • Community Band

  • Songwriting Workshop

  • Music Summer Camp or Program

  • Tri-M Music Honor Society

Greetings, songbirds!

Whether you've already found your voice or are just starting to discover its potential, there are various avenues through which you can nurture your talent and engage with others who share your passion for singing.

Within high schools, opportunities like chorus, chorale, and/or glee club offer structured settings for honing your vocal skills while collaborating with fellow singers. These ensembles typically perform a diverse repertoire, providing valuable exposure to different musical styles and techniques.

Beyond school walls, consider joining community choirs, church choirs, or a cappella groups. These extracurricular activities can provide additional performance opportunities and networking connections within the broader musical community.

While private voice lessons may seem like a solitary pursuit, they offer personalized instruction tailored to your unique vocal needs. Consider incorporating what you learn into broader musical endeavors, such as participating in solo performances or sharing your talent through online platforms like TikTok or YouTube.

Collaborating with instrumentalists to form a band can be a rewarding way to showcase your vocal talents in a different context. Whether it's a rock band, jazz ensemble, or pop group, bands provide opportunities for creative expression and live performances.

Keep an eye out for colleges that offer opportunities to submit a vocal portfolio as part of the application process. Some institutions also have specialized recruitment programs for talented vocalists, including scholarships and participation in prestigious vocal ensembles.

By actively engaging with these opportunities, you can not only refine your vocal technique but also develop valuable skills in teamwork, communication, and performance. Whether you aspire to pursue music professionally or simply enjoy singing as a hobby, high school is an ideal time to explore and cultivate your musical talents.

Examples:

Welcome to the diverse world of Religious extracurricular activities!

Here, we celebrate the rich tapestry of faith traditions: from Sunday prayers to Friday Jumu'ah and everything in between. Whether you're deeply rooted in your faith or simply curious to explore, there's a wealth of opportunities awaiting you.

For many students, religious extracurriculars extend beyond the walls of their high school. Whether you attend a religiously-affiliated school or not, there are ample opportunities for faith exploration outside of class. From Bible study and fellowship groups to youth activities and worship services at your local temple, mosque, church, or other house of worship, there are countless ways to deepen your spiritual connection and engage with your faith community.

But why limit yourself to just one tradition? Interfaith opportunities offer a chance to learn from students of diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Colleges value students who embrace religious and spiritual diversity, so don't hesitate to explore beyond your own faith tradition.

Understandably, many students and families worry whether or not a student’s religious identity (and extracurricular involvement) has a role in their college application process—especially given the sometimes polarizing and political associations with religion in some aspects of U.S. society.

It’s important to remember that colleges don’t just welcome but want students from diverse backgrounds, including those with strong religious identities. Even colleges that are considered more progressive, and therefore have a less religiously-affiliated student population, still welcome and value those voices and insights on their campuses and in their classrooms, since engaging with diverse viewpoints is fundamental to a good education.

All this to say: you should feel empowered to share this aspect of yourself in your college applications. It's an integral part of who you are.

Now, as RuPaul would say: “can I get an amen?”

Examples:

  • Fellowship of Christian Athletes

  • Jewish Student Union

  • Muslim student groups

  • School Youth Group or Club

  • Christian Student Organization (CSO)

  • Church Youth Group

  • Missionary Work

  • Church Choir or Band

  • Church Outreach

  • Church Mentorship Program

  • Bible Study

  • Sunday School Instruction

Welcome, aspiring Einstein!

Ready to take a deep dive into the world of research, even if it means getting lost in a sea of textbooks and scientific journals? Fear not, intrepid explorer. Research in high school can be as exciting as discovering a new planet—and just as rewarding.

First off, let’s debunk a myth: you don’t need a fancy lab or a swanky company to do research.

Seriously.

All it takes is an idea you’re curious about and a bit of grit. The internet is your playground, filled with resources to kickstart your research journey.

Want to investigate the effects of music on concentration? Go for it. Curious about sustainable farming methods? Dive in. Your project can be as simple or as complex as you want. The sky’s the limit (and maybe not even that—space research, anyone?).

However, even the greatest explorers need a map and a guide. This is where a mentor or collaborator comes in.

Think of them as your Gandalf or Yoda. They can provide guidance, feedback, and maybe even a few shortcuts through the maze of research. Mentors don’t have to be professors—teachers, librarians, or even knowledgeable family friends can help. And if you prefer to go solo, online forums and research groups are great places to find collaborators.

Now, let’s talk about the perks. Engaging in research prepares you for college-level skills and independent studies. You’ll learn to manage your time, handle data, and think critically—essential tools for any college student. Plus, when admissions officers see that you’ve conducted research, they’ll know you’re serious about learning.

So, you’ve done the work—what’s next? Publishing your research as a high school student is like hitting the jackpot.

Start by looking for student research journals or local science fairs. Even local university journals are good places to start. And don't forget about competitions like the Google Science Fair. Remember, the goal is to share your findings and get feedback, so don’t be shy!

But, a big caveat: be careful with “pay-to-play” research and publication programs (for detail, see #6 in the “How NOT to pursue extracurricular activities” section above.).

In summary, research in high school can be your ticket to becoming a mini-expert in something you love. With an idea, a mentor, and some perseverance, you can start delving into the scientific world before you even get to college. So, grab your notebook, channel your inner Sherlock, and go explore some mysteries!

Examples:

  • Pioneer Academics

  • Summer Research Program

  • Independent research project

  • Research for course credit

  • Research-based internship

Hey there, WALL-E wizard!

Ready to jump into the world of gears, circuits, and code? Robotics isn't just about building cool machines (though that's a huge perk). It's a fantastic way to showcase your skills and interests, especially if you’re aiming for a STEM major in college. Let's break it down like a robot disassembly guide, shall we?

First off, robotics shows colleges you’re serious about STEM—especially engineering. Whether you’re programming an autonomous vehicle or designing a robot to rescue rubber ducks, you’re honing skills that align with majors like computer science, mechanical engineering, and even physics. It’s like putting a big, flashing “I LOVE STEM” sign on your college application.

Now, let’s address the elephant (or rather, the robot) in the room: robotics can be expensive.

Not all schools have the budget for a robotics club, which can feel like hitting a brick wall. But here’s where you can turn lemons into lemonade—consider fundraising or petitioning to start a robotics club at your school. This shows initiative and impact, qualities that make admissions officers swoon. Organize a bake sale, launch a crowdfunding campaign, or partner with local businesses for sponsorships. You’re not just building robots—you’re building a legacy.

Once you’ve got your club rolling (pun intended), it’s time to think about competitions.

Competitions offer a chance to showcase your skills and network with other tech enthusiasts. Some popular ones include FIRST Robotics Competition, VEX Robotics Competition, and Botball. These events aren’t just about winning; they’re about learning, innovating, and having fun. Plus, they can look amazing on college applications (depending on what schools and majors you’re applying to).

And don’t keep all the fun to yourself—share the love!

Invite younger students to join workshops or mentor them in building simple robots. This not only inspires the next generation of innovators but also highlights your leadership and community spirit.

So grab your toolkit, power up your creativity, and let’s build the future—one robot at a time.

Examples:

Greetings, future spirit leader! Ready to unleash your inner cheerleader and transform your high school into a hub of enthusiasm and joy?

School spirit activities are the heartbeat of any school, bringing students together and creating unforgettable memories. Plus, they’re a blast and can look great on your college application. Let’s dive into the world of school spirit with the same energy as the most extra peppy rally you can think of.

Unlike other extracurriculars that might take you off-campus or across the state, school spirit activities are all about your home turf.

These activities are deeply tied to your school, making them unique in a sense. Think student council, pep rallies, homecoming dances, and fundraisers.

The student council is usually the powerhouse behind these events, organizing everything from bake sales to prom. Other activities, like cheerleading and pep band, can also fall under this category, depending on how serious they are at your school (you may want to label them “Athletics” or “Music: Instrumental” on the Common App, for instance, but again—admissions officers won’t care about the semantics too much here).

School spirit activities are often light-hearted and perfect for students with dynamic personalities who love bringing people together and spreading cheer. If you’ve got a knack for creativity, planning Spirit Week is your time to shine. Themes like Pajama Day, Twin Day, or Throwback Thursday can turn the school halls into a vibrant runway. And who doesn't love a good old-fashioned students vs. teachers competition? These events are not only fun but also foster a sense of community and inclusivity, which colleges highly value.

Speaking of inclusivity, don’t forget to involve everyone in your school community, from custodial staff to cafeteria workers.

They are vital parts of the school and including them in events can create a more united and happy school environment. Some schools even have a house system (yes, much like Hogwarts), where students compete in fun challenges throughout the year. Being involved in house leadership can be a great way to enhance school spirit and showcase your leadership skills.

School spirit activities can often overlap with student government, which focuses more on the serious stuff—like school policies and procedures. But remember, both are valuable.

Student government is the “work hard” side of the coin, while school spirit is the “play hard” side. Together, they create a balanced and memorable high school experience. Colleges want to see students who can work hard but also know how to have fun and bring joy to their communities. So, bonus points if you like double-dipping (oh, come on… everyone secretly does it…).

If your school doesn’t have a strong school spirit presence, why not start something?

Organize a new club, plan events, or even create a friendly competition with neighboring schools. Fundraising can help cover costs if your school’s budget is pretty tight. Think car washes, bake sales, or even a GoFundMe campaign. Your initiative will not only boost school morale but also impress college admissions officers.

Diving into school spirit activities is a fantastic way to make high school memorable while building skills and experiences that colleges love. So, grab your pom-poms, rally your classmates, and let’s make your school the happiest place on Earth (sorry, Disney).

Examples:

  • Pep Band

  • Campus Tour Guide

  • Student Ambassadors

  • Cheerleading

  • Spirit Squad

  • Student Council

Hey there, Norma Rae.

Ready to make a difference in the world and show colleges that you care about more than just your grades? Social justice activities offer a means of demonstrating your passion, commitment, and drive to advocate for a better world.

Let’s dive into how you can champion social justice causes during high school, one rally at a time.

First, let’s clarify a common misconception: social justice and community service are related but distinct.

While community service often involves direct action like volunteering at a soup kitchen or cleaning up a park, social justice is about advocating for systemic changes. It’s the difference between feeding the hungry today and fighting for policies that end hunger tomorrow. Social justice clubs focus on issues like income inequality, educational inequity, BIPOC rights, LGBTQ+ rights, climate change, and more. They aim to tackle the root causes of social problems, pushing for lasting change.

In high schools, social justice clubs sometimes overlap with cultural affinity groups. If your club is more about celebrating traditions, it’s leaning towards cultural appreciation (and would probably warrant the “Cultural” category on the Common App). But if it’s about advocating for policy changes and raising awareness on justice issues, you’re in social justice territory.

Getting involved in social justice can start with joining or forming a club at your school. Organizations like the ACLU offer fantastic resources and ideas for young activists. You could plan a rally, organize a peaceful protest, or host a panel discussion on issues you’re passionate about. These activities show colleges that you’re not just aware of social issues, but are actively working to address them.

As you move up in high school and gain more clarity about your skills and interests, consider merging your academic passions with social justice.

Love filmmaking? Create promotional videos for local nonprofits or justice organizations. Skilled in graphic design? Design posters or social media campaigns for advocacy events. This fusion of talents and activism not only enhances your extracurricular profile but also makes a tangible impact.

Remember, social justice activities are a fantastic way to show colleges that you care about the world beyond yourself. They highlight your leadership, empathy, and dedication to creating a better future. Plus, they offer a powerful narrative for your college essays, showcasing how your high school experiences have shaped your worldview and aspirations.

Examples:

Ready to make your mark in the world of Student Government and Politics?

Getting involved in student government is a fantastic way to showcase your leadership skills, drive for change, and passion for making a difference. Plus, it often looks stellar on your college application. Let’s explore the ins and outs of student government and political clubs, and how they can help you leave a legacy at your school.

First, let’s talk about the core of student leadership: student government. This is where the primary school leadership roles are housed, and there’s a role for every skill set.

Are you great at dreaming up grand visions and interfacing with administration to push for sweeping school reforms? Student body president might be your calling. Are you a budgeting wizard? The treasurer role is perfect for you. Got a knack for organization and keeping people accountable? The secretary position could use your talents. And if you’re in tune with the needs of your immediate peers, running for class president is a fantastic way to make a direct impact.

Student government can enact policies that improve the school experience, like implementing recycling programs, advocating for mental health resources, or pushing for changes in school policies (like gender-neutral uniforms) to better reflect student needs and desires. If you’ve frequently been told you have innate leadership abilities and you want to leave a legacy, student government can be your platform.

Beyond student government, which helps keep your school running smoothly and ensures that student voices are heard, your school may also offer clubs like Model Senate and Model UN. These give you a taste of other political systems, like the US Senate or the fascinating world of international diplomacy. You’ll debate, draft resolutions, and develop a deeper understanding of political processes.

There are also Young Democrats or Young Republicans, where you can connect with students who share your political ideology, bring in speakers, and organize activities to better understand the U.S. (unofficial) two-party system. These clubs might host debates, participate in local political events, and even organize voter registration drives.

Outside your school, there are countless ways to get involved in politics.

Volunteering or interning for a local political campaign is an excellent start. It’s pretty much always election season somewhere, whether it’s local, state, or federal. You can phonebank, canvass, or help with campaign events.

For those highly motivated to pursue politics or political science in college, consider programs like the Senate Page program or your state’s youth senate. These offer hands-on experience in the political arena and are incredible additions to your resume.

Whether you’re organizing a school event, advocating for policy changes, or volunteering on a political campaign, you’re showing colleges that you’re committed to making a difference.

Examples:

Hey superstar.

High school drama clubs offer a fantastic platform to develop meaningful life skills—both on and off the stage.

Most high schools have a drama club that puts on a mix of straight plays, musicals, and other big performance events. These productions require a variety of roles, each contributing uniquely to the magic of the theatre.

Acting helps develop public speaking skills, confidence, empathy, and the ability to think on your feet. Whether you’re playing the lead in a musical or a supporting character in a play, you’ll learn how to express emotions, memorize lines, and work as part of a team.

Stage managers are the unsung heroes of any production: coordinating rehearsals, managing backstage activities during performances, and keeping everyone on schedule. This role hones organizational skills, leadership, and problem-solving.

If you’re interested in lighting, sound, or set design, the tech crew is your domain. These roles involve setting up and operating technical equipment, designing stage sets, and creating the visual and auditory atmosphere of the production. Skills developed here include technical proficiency, creativity, and attention to detail.

If you have a vision for the whole show, consider directing or producing. These roles involve overseeing the entire production, from casting to final performance. They develop leadership, project management, and creative vision.

Beyond your high school drama club, many towns and cities offer additional theatre opportunities.

Local theatres often welcome high school actors to audition and participate in productions alongside adult actors, giving you a taste of more professional theatre. If you’re interested in film and television, consider starting to build a reel or audition for local productions (or maybe even commercials) to gain experience and exposure.

It's important to remember that being in a show requires a significant commitment. Rehearsals often take place after school and can run for several hours each day as the performance date approaches. This means balancing your academic responsibilities with your passion for theatre. But despite the time and energy required, the thrill of bringing a character to life or contributing to a successful production makes it all worthwhile.

If you’re considering taking your passion for theatre to college, there are several paths to explore.

Some students choose conservatory programs, which are highly specialized and focus intensely on the performing arts. These programs can be incredibly competitive, so it’s important to research and prepare thoroughly.

For those interested in more traditional college experiences, many liberal arts colleges offer robust theatre majors and programs. Even if a school doesn’t have a conservatory program, your involvement in high school drama can still boost your candidacy.

When applying to colleges, consider putting together a portfolio of your work. This can include footage from different plays, highlighting your range as an actor or your skills in other areas like directing or stage management. A strong portfolio can be a powerful addition to your application, showcasing your talent and commitment.

Break a leg!

Examples:

  • Thespian Society

  • Community theatre programs

  • Community theatre workshops or summer camps

  • Renaissance faires

  • Historical reenactment programs

  • College-level drama courses

Paid work opportunities are a fantastic way to gain real-world experience, boost your resume, and even help your family financially. Plus, contrary to popular belief, colleges value work experience just as much as traditional extracurricular activities.

Let’s dive into the world of high school jobs with the enthusiasm that comes with getting a first paycheck!

Paid work isn’t just about earning money (though, let’s be real, that’s a big perk). Jobs across different industries help you develop crucial skills and qualities.

Whether you’re flipping burgers or freelancing online, you’ll gain time management skills by balancing work and school, responsibility from showing up on time and completing tasks, customer service skills by interacting with customers, and teamwork through collaborating with colleagues.

Worried that colleges prefer traditional extracurriculars over work experience? Well, fear not, my friend.

Many students need to work to support their families, and colleges understand this. In fact, working demonstrates maturity, commitment, and a strong work ethic. If work commitments limit your involvement in school activities, use the Additional Info section on the Common App to explain your situation. It highlights your dedication and resilience.

Work can take many forms.

For example, websites like UpWork offer freelance opportunities in writing, video editing, graphic design, and more. These gigs allow you to work flexible hours and build a portfolio of professional work.

Don’t overlook traditional jobs, like retail, which is perfect for learning customer service and sales skills, or hospitality, which is great for building communication skills and handling high-pressure situations.

Tutoring is ideal if you excel in a particular subject and want to help others while earning money. These roles offer flexible hours, making them manageable alongside your schoolwork. (Bonus: recruit some friends and demonstrate your dedication to community by starting a tutoring group for younger students?)

So, roll up your sleeves, find that perfect part-time job, and start cashing in on experience and earnings!

Examples:

  • Landscaping/lawn cutting

  • House sitting

  • Pet sitting

  • Service industry, e.g. restaurant, coffee shop, fast food

  • Babysitting

  • Grocery store

  • Book store

  • Construction

Hey there, omnipotent… “other clubber?”

If you happened to read through all 26 prior sections of these Common Application extracurricular activity categories—congratulations, you deserve a certificate of completion. You may also be thinking: “hey, what about the Fondue Club that I started last year?”

Well, what I’m thinking is… why wasn’t I invited?

Cheesy jokes aside (teehee), there are many activities that fall outside of the purview of the Common Application defaults.

From speciality clubs and student societies— anything from Video Game Club to your side hustle reading the morning announcements for the school office—there may be niche, interesting ways you spend your time that you can conveniently label “Other Club / Activity” if need be.

That doesn’t make it any less legitimate!

In fact, non-traditional activities and personal hobbies—from coin collecting, to juggling, to getting your pilot’s license–are often a nice palate cleanser for admissions officers, who often read applications from students doing similar clubs and activities in high school.

Now, that doesn’t mean the traditional activities are bad. Far from it! We’re just taking a moment to legitimize any of these “other” activities you may find yourself getting totally immersed in.

Independent hobbies and self-directed projects are a great way to really lean into an intellectual curiosity or academic interest you may continue to develop throughout high school.

For instance, one of our college counselors previously worked with a student who self-produced his own podcast all about ants. We’d say that’s a perfect example for this type of category.

One piece of advice we’d like to close with is potentially thinking about sharing the wealth of a personal hobby you may have that’s a little less “traditional teenager.”

So, for instance, trying to start a club at your school to share your interest with your immediate peers. That’s a great way to layer collaboration and teamwork onto an existing way you’re already spending your time.

Sharing is caring, after all—especially when fondue is involved. Bonus points for inclusivity if you fold in a non-dairy alternative.

As with our other entries, we’ll close things out with a few examples to help you get inspired and embrace the other.

Example:

  • Mental Health Club

  • Chess Club

  • Dungeons and Dragons Club

  • Documentary Film Club

  • Game Club

  • Broadcasting Clubs

  • School TV or Radio Station

  • Running your own podcast

  • CPR Certification

  • First Aid Certification

  • Boating License

  • Pilot license

  • SCUBA certifications

Special thanks to Tom for writing this post, and to Renee & Susan from the CEG College Counseling team for contributing.

With contributions from:

Extracurricular Activities: A comprehensive guide with 400+ examples, ideas, and opportunities (2024)

FAQs

What is the best example of extra-curricular activities? ›

Hobby or Interest-Related Extracurriculars
Reading ClubModel Railroad ClubEmbroidery Club
Juggling ClubMime ClubPodcast Club
Video Editing ClubCurrent Events ClubFantasy Sports Club
Financial Literacy ClubFishing ClubKaraoke Club
Meditation ClubNature ClubMarvel Club
26 more rows
Jun 7, 2024

How to answer extracurricular activities? ›

To sell yourself to the recruiters focus on the things that you learned during extracurricular activities. These can be skills like public speaking, task-management, or time-management, etc. In detail, explain how that experience helped you to develop those skills.

Is 4 extracurriculars enough? ›

Though 5 – 6 is the most ideal amount, that's not to say that some students don't do well with fewer activities – sometimes significantly fewer!

What is the most popular extracurricular? ›

Sports are the most common extracurricular activity for kids in the United States. 3 Sports opportunities through clubs, community recreation departments, and school teams include: Swimming.

How to write hobbies and extracurricular activities in 500 words? ›

500 Words Essay On Hobby. Everyone has a pastime that they enjoy, and for me, that pastime is playing cricket. Cricket offers numerous health benefits, including enhancing physical endurance, sharpening reflexes, and improving agility and overall physical fitness.

What qualifies as an extracurricular activity? ›

An extracurricular activity is anything that falls outside the scope of a regular curriculum. It typically doesn't carry academic credit but can be related to school. For example, athletics and student clubs are considered extracurricular activities.

What is an example sentence for extracurricular activity? ›

Examples from Collins dictionaries

Each child had participated in extracurricular activities at school. The money he made from these extra-curricular activities enabled him to pursue other ventures.

What are examples of activities? ›

Seeing a movie, art or sports game, sightseeing, driving, caring for pets, playing a video game, reading a book (including a comic) as a hobby, playing a musical instrument as part of club activities - Activities done as a hobby, such as confectionery-making, are included in this category.

Should you use all 10 activities on the Common App? ›

Only fill out all 10 if you've made significant efforts in each of those activities listed.

How to write a personal statement for extracurricular activities? ›

Some tips for including extra-curricular activities in a personal statement include choosing activities that are relevant to the program or field, emphasizing leadership and teamwork skills, providing specific examples and achievements, and showing the impact that the activities have had on the candidate's personal and ...

Is 3 extracurriculars too much? ›

Many people agree that three is a good maximum. If a child is at that maximum and wants to add a new activity, then ensure that they drop one. Build in space for downtime.

Is 7 extracurriculars too much? ›

There really isn't a limit to the number of ECs you do--but as many others mentioned above, quality is always regarded over quantity. Show admissions officers how committed you are to certain clubs (leadership positions, etc.)

Is it OK to have no extracurriculars? ›

While extracurriculars are beneficial, they are not the sole determining factor the admissions committee will consider. If you have other outstanding qualities and a compelling application, you will still have a chance of getting into your dream school!

What is a Tier 1 extracurricular activity? ›

Tier 1 extracurriculars are like hitting a home run in the eyes of admissions officers. They're rare and exceptional, showcasing outstanding achievement or leadership.

Should parents force their child to do extracurricular activities? ›

Extracurricular activities improve social skills, commitment, and health. However, pushing a child to do something they don't like might cause resentment and a negative association. Parents should encourage their kids to explore new activities, but the kids should decide.

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