Do Colleges Look at Extracurricular Activities?

When getting ready to apply to colleges, students often ask if colleges really pay attention to whether or not they participated in extracurricular activities. In short, the answer is yes, they do!

The questions then turn to “What counts as an extracurricular activity?”, “How many activities do I need to do?” and “Should I do more of a specific activity?”

The role your activities play in the college admissions process is important. Let’s take a closer look.

Activities Help Admissions Counselors Know Who You Are

When we start working with students, we invite them to complete an activity survey not only because it is part of the future college application process, but because it helps us get to know them. When we meet with admissions officers, they share that the activities section allows them to see beyond the quantitative transcript and start to see a multi-dimensional student in their minds. Your activities shed light on who you are outside of the classroom. How do you choose to spend your time? What holds your interest outside of the classroom?

When It Comes to Extracurriculars, Do What You Love

What you do is important because it’s important to you. We’ve yet to hear any college admissions person list out which activities are required or preferred by their school. This means whether you choose athletics, music, art, community service, part-time work, or something else, each of these activities has value. Colleges are seeking to build strong communities. This requires admitting students who are engaged across a variety of activities. This doesn’t mean each student has to be actively involved in everything, but instead that the sum of the students’ activities will cover a wide array. Your activities tell the reviewer who you are, so do what you enjoy and want to explore. And remember, it’s not about the breadth but the depth.

It’s OK to Try New Things

While the last point emphasizes the importance of quality over quantity, we do encourage you to explore and expand, if you have the capacity to do so. Some students expand their horizons by doing more of what they love. For example, if you’re an athlete, you can participate in related activities like becoming a youth coach or ref, organizing a summer clinic, or fundraising for an under-resourced team in your area. Others branch out and try completely new activities that may relate to their current academic interests. For example, if you’re interested in STEM, you might join Girls That Code or build projects on your own. It’s less about what you do and more about why you do it. This insight helps college admissions readers see how you might fit on their campus.

Demonstrate Commitment to the Activity

As part of the activity section of the Common App, you’re asked to estimate the amount of time you spend in each activity. While there is no right or wrong amount of hours, the level of commitment can indicate to college admissions readers how much you value each activity. Whether you spend 10 hours a week playing in the orchestra, or 5 hours in lessons and 5 practicing with the band you formed with friends, the message is clear: you enjoy playing music. Another way to evaluate this time commitment is to consider it in context with your transcript. Remember, colleges want to enroll students who will be successful. Balancing both your school work and outside activities well is a good indicator of your readiness for college.

Extracurricular activities are just one component of your college application. They help inform colleges about who you are and what you enjoy, as well as how you’ve grown and may continue to grow on your future college campus. It’s not about checking any boxes. Ever!

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students through Zoom, over the phone and by email.