What do colleges like to see for extracurriculars?
Hi, sophomore here. I’m really confused about how colleges look at ECs. I do a lot of volunteering at the hospital, I’m in student council and I’m thinking about doing track in the spring but I’m not sure if it’s worth it. Obviously I want to do ECs based on whether I like them or not, but I also want to make sure I’m using my time productively. Like if I can do an EC I like but also help my college situation then that’s like literally better, right?
Anyway, I’m just confused as to how colleges think about ECs. Thanks and sorry if this was a bit rambly!
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No worries, IMO your question wasn’t rambly at all! :)
Colleges care about ECs when they have too many applicants who are qualified academically. Imagine being an admissions officer and thousands of applications with really good SAT/ACT and GPAs… but you can only accept a few hundred. How would you choose between them?
Realistically, the answer is that you’d want to look at factors outside of academics. This is why the more competitive a college is, the more likely they are to really care about qualitative factors like ECs, essays, rec letters, etc.
Now imagine trying to evaluate the ECs of thousands of applicants with strong academics -- how would you go about doing that? Well, you definitely would come up with some sort of criteria, right?
The criteria looks something like this:
1. How impressive is the activity? Usually they’ll look at what you’ve achieved, whether that’s through awards won or leadership. More awards + more leadership = better.
2. How unique is the activity? If you’re a professional racecar driver that might catch the eye of the admissions officer more than if you’re a member of the Model UN club. Nothing wrong with being in the Model UN club btw -- esp. If you have leadership (see #1).
3. How “cohesive” are your activities as a whole? This one is harder to judge, but basically do your ECs fit together to form a story versus do they seem random. Imagine if Student A has 10 math ECs versus Student B who is more well-rounded. Depending on what the college is looking for at that moment in time, they might prefer A over B. Again, this one is a lot harder to measure.
I would recommend you list out your ECs and evaluate them using the Tier system in this blog post: https://blog.collegevine.com/breaking-down-the-4-tiers-of-extracurricular-activities/
I think colleges care more about your dedication to your extracurriculars than what they are or how many you have. Focus on doing what you love, because you'll be able to put in more effort and have a greater impact on it.
I think doing track would be great, but I don't think you should do it just because you think it'll look good. If you want to do it, though, go for it!
Another big thing is showing leadership( for example, being an NHS member versus starting a new NHS committee to do something for the community) .
It's also better to do the same extracurriculars consistently for a longer period of time than to have a huge number of extracurriculars that you only did for a short time.
Overall, colleges are trying to see that you have a passion for something, and that you're willing to put time and effort into that thing. They want to understand who you are and what you care about, and they'll get a better picture of that if you spend time doing things that you do actually care about.
How you write about extracurriculars on applications will also be important- try to keep track of what you do with specific numbers. It's better to say " I raised 1,000 dollars for this specific food pantry" than " I helped raise money for a food pantry."
I hope this helped!
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