Which Extracurriculars Should I Prioritize on College Applications?

You’re a busy student. You’ve got clubs, extracurriculars, after school activities, sports, volunteer work, maybe even some other project on the weekends! After all, who isn’t hustling? And then you get to the Common App, with only ten slots for activities. 

But “I do so much!” you think to yourself, so how do you decide what goes into your college application and in what order? Don’t worry, I promise you, there is a method to the madness.

At the top of that list, you’ll want to stand out as an applicant first! Prioritize the achievements that make you a rarity to college admissions, whether that’s a prestigious accomplishment or national award. Maybe you’ve founded a business outside of school or started a non-profit organization. Or maybe you’ve climbed mountains or won some crazy tough competition!

But if you haven't done anything shocking or national-level important, that’s okay too! Because the next thing you’ll want to do is list the activities where you’re a leader in your organization, club, or any high level accomplishments. Maybe you’re the captain of your sports team and you’ve won regional competitions. Or perhaps you’re the president of a language club or editor of your high school newspaper.  

These first activities you list should show something about your passion and who you are as a person, in or outside of the classroom. Prioritize the ones that fit with the rest of your application’s essays, transcript, and recommendation letters. 

If you talk about how much you care about public service in your essay, show us what activities you’re involved in that are related to volunteer work, civic life, or student government! If most of your recommendation letters are coming from your English teachers, prioritize the clubs and organizations that show your interest in the humanities!

The rest of the activities you list should follow this same ethos, whether or not you’re a leader or a volunteer. Focus on the ones that highlight your interests. Show depth in your passions and where you’ve put your time and effort into. In the descriptions, try to highlight your contributions to the organization and what you’ve accomplished. 

The very last ones can be more general awards and accomplishments—whether it is an honor club, general volunteer work, or participation in music or sports. Remember, you also want to show long-term commitment in your activities. If you were part of a club for all four years of high school—that is going to be more important to highlight than that one-off award. 

Think of your application as telling a story about who you are! If there are other activities or accomplishments that you feel don’t fit into this part of the application, the Common App also has the additional information section. Ultimately, every part of your application should fit together and create a cohesive portfolio for admissions officers. The limit of ten activities should force you to really think about what activities make up you as an applicant. So don’t be afraid to show off, brag a little, and make yourself shine!

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