How Many Extracurriculars Should I Do To Get Into College
Every student wants to know the KEY to get into a certain college as if there is a secret formula they just havent found yet.
There is no formula.
There is no secret.
There is no specific number or type of extracurricular activity that you need in order to be the perfect candidate.
What you need to do first is get this idea out of your head: the idea that having a certain EC or having a certain number of ECs under your belt will get you into your dream college.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING. If you have heard this somewhere, please understand that the person who said it didnt know what they were saying .
Most college applications are looked at holistically. This means that they look at EVERYTHING: your grades, standardized test scores, ECs, achievements, essays, and recommendation letters.
The reason for this is that there are a LOT of students across the nation who apply to college with really high grades. So, imagine having to choose 10 students out of 100 students who ALL have a 1570 SAT score and a 99% GPA, with some leadership roles in their schoolshow would they pick those 10 students?
Do you think they go, eeny, meeny, miny, mo?
Of course NOT.
They look at your essays, and achievements, and recommendation lettersand UNIQUE extracurricular activities, along with your specific background and circumstances.
So, stop trying to find something that you THINK will impress admissions officers and instead do things that you are PASSIONATE about.
Harvard Extracurricular Activities Other Than Student Clubs
There are so many student activities going on at every point of time thats not organized or hosted by a Harvard student club or group. Outside the classroom, here are some of the Harvard extracurricular activities I participated in or observed during my time at the university.
Student start-ups: Creating apps, executing business ideas, design projects and more.
Non-profit or community service work: Teaching underprivileged kids in in community schools in Cambridge or the larger Boston area becoming a volunteer by joining the Harvard mental health helpline number. These are the perfect Harvard extracurricular activities if you want to give back to the community.
Traveling: During summer vacation, spring break or winter holidays.
Internships: Independent summer internships.
TA/RA: Becoming a teaching or research assistant with professors, helping with lectures, course prep and grading.
On- campus jobs: Library jobs, research projects, co-authoring books with professors.
Exhibitions: Putting up on-campus art exhibitions or assisting professors with their exhibitions. These are great idea for Harvard extracurricular activities if you want to have something on your resume for job applications.
I pose next to my work exhibited at the Graduate Student Exhibitions during Harvard commencement ceremony, Graduate School of Design
Leadership: Competing for leadership roles in student government bodies for your school.
Natural History Museum, Harvard University
Establish A Club Or Nonprofit
Cant find any extracurricular activities at your school or local community that you want to join? Start your own! Everyone has unique interests and hobbies. Try to find something youre passionate about and start a club, program, or event. You might be surprised just how many fellow students share the same interests as you.
The great part of this strategy is that youre in charge of how things go. You get to build your very own extracurricular activity from the ground up. Throughout the whole process, youre putting together what just might become the most impressive aspect of your application. Starting your own club shows initiative, leadership, and creativity all skills that Ivy League admissions officers love to see.
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Mistake : No Extracurricular Focus
People think that colleges want to admit well-rounded students, Shemmassian says. So students join as many clubs and teams as possible and try to pursue leadership positions in each one.
In reality, Colleges are actually looking for student bodies that are collectively well-rounded, comprising a bunch of specialists who together are an incredibly well-rounded and diverse student body. Theyre not looking for students who do a little bit of a lot of things.
Instead of being Jacks of all trades, students should figure out what theyre really passionate about, then become a specialistwhat Shemmassian calls a Michael Jordanin that area.
But what if a student doesnt know what to specialize in? What if she doesnt feel she has natural talent in any one area?
It starts very small, Shemmassian says. So if the student is interested in art, they might start out with just doing their own artwork, maybe teaching other students in their community to paint, maybe its students from a low-income school that dont have resources or access to art classes and things like that. So you can see what your student demonstrates interest in and take that step. So youre exploring at the beginning.
What Colleges Want To See In Your Activities
Before we talk about exactly how many activities you need, lets discuss why extracurricular activities are important in the first place and what colleges are hoping to learn about you through your activities.
Extracurriculars are one of the most important ways that colleges can learn about who you are as a person and if you will be a good fit on their campus.
Why? These activities show admissions officers many of the intangibles that they are looking for in their students. For example, your extracurriculars show admission officers if you can balance your schedule, if you can commit to an activity, the extent to which you can lead or improve something, and what makes you tick.
There are three main things that colleges are looking for in your activities:
- Dedication: Instead of seeing you jump around from activity to activity, colleges would far prefer to see you dedicate a significant amount of time over an extended period to one particular activity. This shows your willingness to make a commitment and your passion for what you are doing.
Now that you understand what colleges are hoping to glean about you through your activities lets see just how many of them you need in order to show off these qualities.
Whats the ideal amount of activities youll need in order to impress admissions officers?
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An Intro To Harvard Extracurricular Activities
Extracurriculars on your resume may be one of the unofficial Harvard admission requirements, but even when you get to Harvard, theres plenty to do. Harvard has no dearth of extracurricular activities and student clubs. From academic events to art, music and other creative things to sports and athletics, there is something to do there for every type of student.
Harvard College in itself has more than 450 student organizations, and add to that what the graduate schools have, its nearly impossible to even count the amount of activities and university-wide student clubs you can be a part of. And lets not forget the unrecognized clubs or activities that are taking place all the time on campus.
I had taken up bottle painting during the weekends
Furthermore, there are multiple events, parties, mixers or lectures happening everyday that are open to all of Harvard community. Students are encouraged to join extracurricular activities or even create their own student clubs.
Even if youre not much into extracurricular activities before you get to Harvard, youll find yourself immersed in so many of them as a student of Harvard University. Personally, I never thought of myself as much of an extracurricular person either, but I participated in so much, from exhibitions to non-profit to creative projects to hosting cultural events. And now those activities are the fondest memories of my Harvard life!
Anyway, lets discuss all the Harvard extracurricular activities one by one!
Sports: Rowing Soccer Baseball Lacrosse Water Polo Sailing & More
Harvard takes its sports very seriously. Honestly, I cant think of a sport they dont play at Harvard. There are tons of gyms, fields, pools and other sports facilities on campus. And the Harvard-Yale football rivalry has more than a 150 year old rivalry and a Wikipedia page dedicated to it But anyway, when the game takes place at the Harvard stadium, everyone loves to come support the Harvard Crimson football team. Why, people like Theodore Roosevelt have attended these games!
Blodgett Pool is one of the top swimming facilities among all US universities and my favorite Malkin Athletic Center has plenty of recreational group fitness classes, including swimming, yoga, HIIT, water yoga, pilates, Zumba, and more. Students from all Harvard majors take up fitness activities.
Harvard Blodgett Pool Credits: The Crimson
Hemenway Gym, Harvard University
Here are only some of the Harvard University sports that students take up:
And also unrecognized sports games such as international cricket teams, in which students from different countries compete against each other, for example an India-Pakistan match in HBS. Plus, they even have a Harvard Quidditch team, I even saw their practice session once! Muggles cant even fly on broomsticks!
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A Good Extracurricular Is Hard To Find
If your only goal is to find an extracurricular or two that increases your chances of impressing people then virtually never join organizations that are open to everyone.
Clubs may show your personality but they will not impress anyone. Showing up to a club is super easy and anyone looking to compete for college can do it. Becoming a leader could help but even if you get the leadership role, youre not going to look too impressive.
If getting involved in the extracurricular is easy and straightforward then its not impressive.
Impressive extracurriculars usually come from:
- Personal or Family Networking
- Applying for competitive spots
- Being so good at something that you cant be ignored
This all looks a bit uncertain. How sure can you be youll get these exclusive opportunities? Anything impressive has to look that way. That is the key to it being impressive. Its obvious not everyone can do it.
If something is uncertain then how could you possibly use it to compete for a college spot? What if you cant compete? What if you apply and get rejected?
Here is the fundamental secret
Dont stop poking!
Just keep applying and talking and trying new things until you finally get something impressive.
Joining a single club will cost you hours and hours a week. Joining a sports team can take you many hours more each week. Most standard extracurriculars take forever. Skip them and apply for impressive extracurriculars.
Thats the key.
Mistake : Taking *all* The Tough Classes
Top schools are looking for students who challenge themselves academically, Shemmassian says, and of course the more AP classes or honors classes you enroll yourself in, the more its going to seem like you challenged yourself. So it makes sense, right?
But every one of those classes requires a great deal of study time outside of class. If course loads completely max out all of students available free time, it limits their ability to pursue other things. And those other things are ultimately what will make a student stand out to colleges.
Say youre applying to Yale for admissions, and the person on that admissions committee sees a ton of applications, mostly from students who are incredibly high achieving, so they have perfect or near perfect grades, they have perfect or near perfect SAT scores. So if youre that person, how could you differentiate among these candidates? Do you just close your eyes and put your fingers on a few names and admit them? No. Thats not the way it works, right? Theyre really looking for the superstars outside of the classroom. Now if youve enrolled in too many AP or honors courses, it takes away a lot of time that you would otherwise be able to devote to extracurricular activities.
Students are all hearing the same advice, so they, of course, end up looking like every other applicant.
So what should students do instead?
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Achieve At Least A 439 Gpa While Taking The Most Challenging Classes Available
Good grades are a must to get into UNC: the school considers class rank and GPA important to admissions decisions. Carolinas class of 2025 had an average high school GPA of 4.39 and 93% of the class had a GPA of 4.0. A GPA above 4.0 isnt accomplished without taking high-level courses, which is something UNC considers very important when evaluating your application. At a top-tier school like UNC, competitive applicants will have completed anywhere from five to 12 AP courses.
Top schools that receive large numbers of applicantsUNC received a record number of applicants for the 16th consecutive yearuse a tool known as the Academic Index to expedite admissions decisions. The Academic Index represents a students entire academic performance with a concise number that takes into account your GPA, test scores, and class rank. Meeting a colleges cutoff is important as it means your application will be read, whereas it might not be looked at if you cant reach the cutoff.
If your GPA is low and youre early in your high school career, check out our tips for increasing your GPA. If youre a junior or senior, its more difficult to increase your GPA. The easiest way to increase your Academic Index is to improve your test scores.
What Are The Best Extracurricular Activities To Have On Your College Applications
Many students worry that they have to play a sport to get into a good college, or that there are some specific extracurricular activities that college admission advisors consider an automatic admissions ticket.
If you have suspected that this kind of activity bias exists, I have good news: colleges do not really care which specific activities you choose to do.
However, they are hoping to understand certain things about you through your activities.
Your extracurricular activities show colleges aspects of your personality that your grades and test scores cant. Though admissions officers can also get to know about your intangible qualities through your essays and letters of recommendation, extracurriculars are important because they show that you walk the walk. Think you have leadership skills? Well, your extracurriculars are where you prove it.
There are a few specific things that colleges are always hoping to see in their students activities. They include:
- Passion. Your activities are supposed to be a reflection of you and what you care about. Admissions officers can usually tell when you’re just doing activities to pad out your resume. Colleges love students who are passionate because, more often than not, they are the ones who will stick with something through thick and thin and go on to change the world. You can show passion by focusing on a couple activities and dedicating a significant amount of time to them.
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Common Misconceptions About Extracurriculars
Theres no doubt that extracurriculars are essential and can even make or break a college application. However, that doesnt mean that theres some magic combination of Ivy league extracurriculars. In fact, choosing extracurricular activities should be a thoughtful and individualized process. Here are some of the most commonly held misconceptions about building your extracurricular profile.
Start Planning Early To Get Into The Ivy Leagues
You should have an understanding of the deadlines for the various core pieces of your application.
- final acceptance dates for recommendations
- and AP or IB Exams
However, not only should you know the dates when these various items are due, you should also have a plan for when you will do them.
Depending on where you live, certain tests may not be available in your country . For those countries which do have testing centers, there are only eight total testing days each year for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests internationally.
Map Out Your Application Timeline Well In Advance
You should decide ahead of time what your application timeline will be.
You should know whether you want to take the SAT or ACT and which tests dates you will aim for.
FAQ: How can I study for the SAT alone in a foreign country? Are there any online lessons for SAT?
The College Board partnered with the Khan Academy to develop an entire suite of online SAT prep materials, which you can access for free.
You should also have an idea of which AP Tests you will take and plan out those test dates as well.
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What If I Have Way More Than Ten Activities
If you have more than ten activities, you do not need to list all of them.
In fact, on this part of the application, you can make a good argument that less is more.
Instead of having a long list of activities, its much more important to be able to show significant involvement in a few activities.
Use the Common App to showcase what you consider to be your best activities. Choose the activities that you are most passionate about, have helped you mature and develop skills, have allowed you to make a lasting impact, and that you have spent the most time doing.
This will look different for every student. Some students are genuinely invested in several activities. If thats the case, then you should list them all. However, most students will only have a couple activities that they have really dedicated themselves to.
Keep in mind that colleges will care less about what you have done and more about why and how you have done it. When you’re choosing which activities to write about, focus on those that help tell the story of who you are.
This means that you probably dont have to mention the one time you worked backstage on the musical or the ten hours of community service you did freshman year and never thought about again until college applications rolled around.
Instead, just focus on those that show growth, leadership, and dedication.
If you think about it with that criteria, do you really have more than ten activities?