posted Jun 2, 2011, 6:18 AM by Glenda Durano   [ updated Jul 1, 2011, 1:01 PM ]


In light of the entire college application process, how important are extracurricular activities?  Does it really matter how a student spends his time?  Absolutely. 

Extracurricular activities can’t replace academic endeavors, but they do demonstrate three important characteristics to admissions counselors:  passions, commitment, and leadership. 

A high school student should never participate in an activity simply because “it will look good on his résumé.”  Rather, I believe that there are four reasons a student should participate in activities outside the classroom:

1.     He loves the activity.  It is his passion and he wants to do it.

2.     He thinks he might enjoy the activity, so he needs to try it in order to discover if he enjoys it.

3.     The activity involves a skill that a student needs to develop, e.g., leadership, communication, athletics, fine arts, etc.

4.     The student has God-given abilities and talents in that activity area and wants to use his abilities to glorify God.

Contrary to popular opinion, admissions representatives do not believe that the more activities a student has on his résumé, the better.  Admissions officers actually prefer to see students who have demonstrated depth and mastery in a couple of areas, as opposed to participation in many.  I always advise students to find “passion-driven” activities so that the activity itself will drive the experience. 

            Years ago, universities sought “well-rounded” students.  This is no longer the case.  These days, colleges want students who are “pointy,” focused in a few areas.  Their goal is a well-rounded class comprised of pointy students.

            Occasionally, a student will have to re-evaluate his extracurricular activities, usually because, as a student gets older, more time is required in homework.  When this happens, a student needs to prayerfully consider his time prioritization and whether or not he is being fruitful and productive or if he is simply being busy.  I think Rick Warren’s words in The Purpose-Driven Life are very true, “You become effective by being selective.”

            From a Christian standpoint, community service is always an excellent activity because scripture tells us that we were created to do “good works.”  Many corporations and colleges reward community service, but the reward is not the reason we do them.  We serve others to glorify God. 

            Recently the organization, “Do Something,” polled admissions officers about the types of extracurricular activities they prefer.  While they didn’t necessarily frown on mandatory community service (within a school or youth group), they significantly favored service work that was initiated by the student.  Additionally, they said that they thought more highly of regularly scheduled local service work than a one-time, overseas trip that cost the student several thousand dollars. 

            Academics will always be the most important part of a student’s admissions profile, but extracurricular activities help complete the picture.  In 2010, Stanford University denied admission to 83% of its valedictorian applicants, proving that it takes more than great grades to get into today’s competitive universities.  Use your time wisely, and demonstrate passion, commitment, and leadership through leadership activities.

            The ability to demonstrate a student’s potential through extracurricular activities will be one of the topics we discuss in the Countdown to College Workshop, June 8th and 9th,  along with self-assessment, college criteria, financial aid, essay writing, standardized testing and much more.   Parents must call  (505) 918-7669 to preregister their rising junior or senior for this workshop.  It is a great, cost-effective option for students who already have a good sense of direction, but need some tools and training to complete the college search process.