Extracurricular Activities: Less is More


By Karen Berlin Ishii
November 6, 2010

High school extracurricular activities offer students opportunities to relax, build friendships, camaraderie and skills, and develop ideas about potential careers. They also impress college admissions officers – a fact not lost on all the students who list activity after activity on their applications.

The Common Application has tacitly acknowledged activity inflation by reconfiguring its activities list this year. As described in a recent column in the New York Times, the extracurricular activities list and jobs list are now combined, allowing students more room to list all. So, does that suggest that colleges want to see a long, winding list?

Actually, no. When it comes to extracurricular activities, depth is better than breadth. At a recent panel on college admissions, Dr. Katherine Cohen of IvyWise admissions counseling in New York explained:

“It’s not about joining fifteen clubs or becoming a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, or what I like to call a “serial joiner.”… But you should find a few things that you love to do and that you do well and that make you happy, and hopefully you can be making that impact …the big buzzword is impact. It’s what you DO with your activities, what you DO in the classroom, how you make that classroom a more dynamic and interesting place and what you do in your high school community. That impact is so important.”

Important, too, is following through with your interests – whatever they are – and taking them as far as you can. That could mean rising to become an officer in your club, captain of your team, editor of your school publication, or organizer of your own community project. The bottom line is do what you love and involve yourself in it enough to excel. This is what colleges really want.