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How to Balance Fun and College Goals Through Activities

By Rachel, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

We know that in the college admissions process, there can be a big emphasis placed on extracurriculars. When an applicant meets the academic expectations of a university, the admissions officers then turn to the student’s list of clubs and activities to learn more about them and understand the impact they’ve made on their communities. In fact, it’s often the extracurriculars that set applicants apart.

But, with all this emphasis on what you do outside of the classroom, is there room for any activities that are just for fun? How do you determine the best ways to spend your time?

Identifying Personal Interests

The first step is to differentiate what is just for fun versus what is more in line with your passions and college plans. It’s important to have both. You should pursue opportunities that further your interests and make time for things you enjoy that may not be relevant to your college career.

For example, if you’re interested in political science, you might get involved with Model UN at your school and, later, look for opportunities to intern with a local representative. These are great examples of what colleges will want to see from prospective students. But what if you also have an informal movie club with your friends? Or build ham radios? Or get a chicken sandwich with your best friend at the same place every Saturday afternoon? Hold space for this kind of fun, too.

The key here is balance; it shouldn’t be 100% one or the other. Applicants have ten spots on the Common App to report activities: six or more should align with your college plans. The movie club or ham radio tinkering could have a place on your activities list. Chicken sandwiches won’t make the list but could make for a great short-answer essay. More and more colleges are asking questions about what brings you joy. With this in mind, the things you do for pure fun could have a place in your college application.

Planning Out Your Extracurriculars

Take advantage of the start of each semester to reevaluate activities. The beginning of sophomore year is a great time to think about why you do what you do and whether or not you’d like to keep doing it.

If you play a sport, for example, but aren’t interested in playing in college, should you continue to devote so many hours to it each season? It’s up to you! A case could be made either way. Maybe you’ve done gymnastics your entire life, and you feel like you’ve peaked and you’re ready to be able to do other things with your life. Or, on the other hand, maybe you’ve just gotten into cross country running and, although you don’t intend to do it competitively forever, it’s good for your mental and physical health. The point is to bring some intention to your activities, and the start of a new school term is the perfect time to think about how you want to spend your time.

Senior year is a big deal. So much happens! Your classes are likely the most challenging they’ve ever been. On top of that, you are working on your college applications. In the activity realm, colleges will also hope to see some leadership from students by this point. Leadership may come with a title like “Captain,” or it could be something like bringing a guest speaker to meet with your club.

Seek Out Leadership Opportunities

When evaluating your clubs and activities, think about what kind of leadership opportunities there might be or how you could make an impact. If there are one or two activities where you could elevate your involvement, that’s great. But remember, you don’t have to be the captain of everything! Ideally, the clubs or activities in which you would have leadership roles are related to your plans for college.

One thing that helps make navigating clubs and activities a little easier is committing to what genuinely interests you. This will help you determine how to spend your time and will be immensely beneficial for when it is time to write your college application essays or interview with the admissions office.

There is rarely room for “should” in the conversation about extracurriculars. Don’t join Key Club because you “should” do it because you want service opportunities. Colleges want to get to know you through the admissions process, and your activities are a big part of that.

Avoid building your application around the person you think you “should” be and, instead, use your time to learn more and do more with what you enjoy. This could still mean pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, but, in the end, hopefully, you’ll look at your completed activities list in the Common App and feel proud of the person it represents.

At IvyWise, our team of expert counselors work with students to help them identify and develop their interests. Contact us today for more information on how we can work with you to explore your interests and activities – no matter where you are in the college prep process!

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