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Should I Drop Some of My Extracurricular Activities?

Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? What do I need to do in order to stand out to college admissions officers? These are the questions that high school students often ask themselves, and their counselors, when they’re confronted with the fact that colleges care just as much about what they’re doing outside of the classroom as they do about what students are doing inside.

There can be a lot of anxiety that surrounds choosing and participating in extracurricular activities. Some students pick activities and clubs that they think will “look good” to admissions officers, without realizing that this actually can be counterproductive as it can take time away from activities they truly enjoy. On the other hand, some students participate in too few or  no extracurriculars, only to load up on one-offs come senior year in order to pad their resumes. There’s a balance that students need to find and maintain in order to explore their interests outside of the classroom in a meaningful way.

For students participating in a number of extracurriculars, there comes a time when, in order to strike that balance for meaningful involvement, some activities need to be scaled back or dropped altogether. But how does one make the decision to lose one activity in order to focus on another? And how does it look to colleges?

Students should ask themselves these four questions in order to determine if they should drop one or more of their extracurricular commitments.

Why did I choose this activity?
What got you involved with this club or activity in the first place? Did it sound interesting? Were all your friends doing it? Did you think it would impress colleges? Evaluate why you’re doing what you’re doing. If it’s a true passion – great! You’re on the right track. Continue to pursue that activity and see what you can do to get even more involved. If you can’t answer why you chose it and you’re just going through the motions in order to keep the club name or activity on your resume, reevaluate your commitment. You need to know why you’re doing something and what it means to you in order to articulate that to colleges. If you can’t do that, then colleges will see that as a red flag.

Do I see myself pursuing this beyond high school?
Does this activity relate to your intended major? Is it something that you really enjoy that you’d like to continue in college? Or is it something that you’ve recently lost interest in, or is no longer a priority? Colleges want to admit well-rounded classes made up of specialists, so students who participate in activities that relate to their field of study, or activities that they want to get involved with once they get on campus, provide colleges with a clearer picture of how they will contribute to the campus community if admitted. If you don’t see a future with a particular activity, consider scaling back your involvement in order to accommodate activities that are true passions for you.

Am I making an impact?
It’s not enough to participate. Anyone can show up to meetings and do the bare minimum. Colleges want to see students making the most of their involvement in extracurricular activities and working to make an impact – whether it’s big or small. Impact doesn’t have to mean running the show and making big decisions – even though this is good, too. Impact can be as small as helping to manage the club’s budget or as big as making decisions that influence the entire community. The point of impact is to help advance that club or activity’s mission. If you’re just going through the motions, and not making an effort to take your involvement to the next level, consider taking steps to make your mark on this activity. If making a bigger commitment to an activity you’re not currently making an impact in doesn’t sound appealing, you might be in the wrong activity and it could be time to move onto something else you’re more invested in.

Is this taking time away from something else I enjoy more?
Many students load up on a number of clubs and activities in order to have a lengthy resume to present to colleges. It can’t be stressed enough that quality will always outweigh quantity when it comes to extracurricular involvement. Remember, colleges are looking for impact. It’s hard to have meaningful involvement in activities when you’re stretching your time among 10 different commitments. If you’re involved in four activities that you really, really love, and six that you only kind of care about, it might be time to consider dropping some of those extracurriculars that you’re not as passionate about in order to devote more time to the things you love. After all, isn’t it more fun when you’re doing the activities you enjoy, rather than spending your time involved with commitments that you’re not that excited about?

When evaluating your extracurricular involvement it’s important to remember that depth outweighs breadth. If you start out with 12 activities freshman year, and end up with four or five come senior year, colleges won’t fault you for dropping activities as long as you show that you had a sustained and meaningful involvement with those four or five. Pursue the activities you truly enjoy, and don’t worry about what clubs or activity names will impress admissions officers. Colleges will be moved by how you made the most of the extracurriculars that you’re truly passionate about – not what you did to try to fit into a certain mold.

At IvyWise we recognize that every student is different. We work with students to help them identify their true passions and interests, and develop those interests in a meaningful way. Our counselors work with students to get to know them and help them identify the courses and activities that will challenge them, give them the most enjoyment throughout high school, and, ultimately, help them stand out when applying to college. For more information on our college counseling services, contact us today.