How to Write about Your Extracurriculars on a College Application
You’ve picked where you want to apply to. You’ve worked hard throughout high school to be able to get into one of your top choice universities. And now you’ve filled out your basic information and your grades. But then, you get to the extracurriculars. What do you include? What do you leave out? How many should you put? How much should you explain? When it comes to thinking about how to write about your extracurriculars on a college application or in an admissions essay, there are some do’s and don’ts you need to know before you start.
Before you even put pen to paper, put yourself in the admissions officers shoes. They are reading hundreds of applications each day. And even more than that, a lot of them probably look almost the same. Think about what sets you apart, and make sure to make that clear in your applications. Not only that, but an admissions officer has a limited amount of time to read each application. Make sure the most important skills and experience you have stand out in your application, so they don’t miss them.
Do: Be specific about accomplishments and milestones
Your hard work paid off, and maybe you were given an award, won a competition, organized a successful event or club, or were chosen for a role with a lot of responsibility. But the admissions officer doesn’t know you. They do not know anything unless you tell them. To write about your extracurriculars on a college application, you need to be specific about your accomplishments so that they fully understand.
Mention organization names when applicable, but remember that in many cases, application officers may not be familiar with the organizations in your area. Consider describing the organization instead unless it is a large, national organization. Include numbers when possible, because words like “successful”, “popular”, or “sold-out” are often vague.
Do: Demonstrate your growth
Colleges do not expect you to already be everything you want to be. Post-secondary education is a time for growth, both in terms of knowledge and experience, but also personally. What they are looking for is an applicant with potential to develop into the kind of student, and then alumnus, that contributes positively to the institution.
While it can be difficult to show potential, you can consider how to write about your extracurriculars in a way that demonstrates your growth up until now. For example, ensure that you highlight any kind of promotions you have received, whether it’s a promotion at work or getting transferred into Honours English because of your work in a creative writing competition. If you are the kind of student who already works towards personal and academic development, the admissions officer will be more confident that you will continue that upward trajectory at their institution.
Do: Show commitment
College is a four-year commitment, and there are sure to be some challenges along the way. Admissions officers want to know that you are prepared to commit to your studies and the school, regardless of the obstacles that come your way. One way that you can prove that you are ready is to show that you have made long-term commitments and followed through.
When you go to write about your extracurriculars on a college application, be sure to include language that makes your commitment clear to the reader. For example, this could include stating how many hours per week you commit to an activity. You could also highlight extracurriculars or particular events that demonstrate a high degree commitment, such as sports teams that involve a lot of weekend travel, or summer activities where you prioritized growth, development, or experience over free time! This is just one reason why admissions officers love to see summer programs, like our Global Leadership Academy, within an applicant’s extracurriculars.
Do: Answer the “why” and the “how”, not just the “what”
The way you write about your extracurriculars should look different than the way you write about your academics. In academics, above all, what matters is the “what” (“What grade did you get? What was your score on the test?”). However, when you write about your extracurriculars on a college application, it’s also very important to include your “why” and “how”.
Extracurriculars are not mandatory, and everyone picks different ways to spend their time outside of class. Why Chess Club, for instance? Why spend 2 weeks volunteering abroad? And why exactly did you start an environmental club? (Bonus points if you can link your “why” to your intended studies in college!)
Answering the “how” is equally as important. While it may not apply to all your extracurriculars, if you have a specific accomplishment, explaining the “how” can help the admissions officer better understand you and your hard work.
Don’t: Be too humble
It can be hard to sell yourself. You want to show exactly why you think you should be accepted into their school, and yet, you don’t want to be over-confident. However, when you write about your extracurriculars on a college application, now is not the time to be overly humble.
If need be, ask someone who worked closely with you (or someone close to you) for their take on what to include in your extracurriculars. You may not realize what you have done, what you have accomplished, or that something you did might be very appealing to an admissions advisor.
For example, one of the ways the participants of our Global Leadership Academies learn about leadership is through volunteering and service projects with local organizations making a positive impact in their host community. Our alumni may not realize that this international volunteering experience is highly desirable to admissions officers! This experience shows a global mindset, a commitment to community, and open-mindedness.
Don’t: Undermine quality in favor of quantity
The question many college applicants have in regards to extracurriculars is quite simple: “How many extracurriculars should I list?” However, the answer isn’t so straightforward. For example, different applications are formatted in different ways. Many college application forms provide the space for up to 10 extracurriculars. Therefore, if there are 10 spots, do you fill them all? Should you mention every club, team, academic competition, volunteer position, or job you’ve ever had?
In this case, quality does trump quantity. A few extracurriculars that you were heavily involved in and that are written well is much more desirable than a full list of extracurriculars. Maybe this ‘quality over quantity’ was conveyed to you when it came to choosing your extracurriculars, but even if you didn’t get that memo (or maybe you just wanted to try everything!), there’s still a strategy.
When you write about your extracurriculars on a college application, adding a lot of those “filler” extracurriculars to your application can distract from the hard work and commitment you’ve put into some of your core activities. How is the college admissions officer suppose to know where to focus their attention? Therefore, ensure you prioritize your strongest activities while still showing off your diverse interests. And that brings us to the next don’t…
Don’t: Ignore the order
An admissions officer has a limited time to read, review, and judge your application. Therefore, make sure your application is well-written, succinct, and organized! Beyond making you look like a good writer, this will make this easier for the admissions officer to learn exactly why you should be accepted into their institution. One of the simplest ways to write about your extracurriculars on a college application in a clear and easy-to-read way is to list things in the correct order: from most important to least important. This applies to both application forms as well as admissions essays or supplementary essays. As a result, whatever you believe will convince them to accept you the most should be first. This applies to both application forms as well as admissions essays or supplementary essays.
If you are asked to list your extracurriculars in a form, the first item should be your strongest extracurricular, not necessarily the most recent. While chronological order may seem like the obvious choice, this could potential bury the extracurriculars you want to shine a spotlight on.
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