What Extracurriculars Do Colleges Like Best?

Not all extracurriculars are created equal. As you look to expand your college resumé, or perhaps make certain parts of it more impressive, keep the following tips from Cardinal Education in mind.

Follow your passions–strategically. 

Rather than listing off specific programs such as speech and debate and Model United Nations, our advice is to pursue what you wish, as long as you keep our other tips in mind. Colleges know from reading your essays or just by looking at your resumé when a student is engaging in ultimately meaningless resumé-padding exercises when they do things simply to look good rather than out of a desire to pursue a genuine interest. Instead, you should do what calls to you, and do it to the best of your ability. Yes, a lot of kids volunteer at soup kitchens, or play sports, or do speech and debate. But if you’re the founder of a kitchen, or a good enough athlete to be recruitable, or a nationally ranked speech and debate champion who’s also the captain of their team, that’s a different story. This leads us to…

Look for leadership in your extracurriculars–on the broadest possible scale. 

Having most likely heard advice on after-school activities, you’ve probably heard this being said over and over again: leadership, leadership, leadership. But what is really meant by ‘leadership,’ and how can you achieve the goals that colleges wish to see on your activities list? 

For starters, it means a lot more than simply being a leader of a club. You can be the founder and leader of four clubs, but they won’t count for much unless you use what opportunities you have to better the community around you—whether your school, or your city, or your state, or even the world. You need to have a strong sense of purpose throughout your leadership endeavors, and you need to take your mission to serve as many people as possible. Colleges are looking for kids who can make a difference in the future. Show them you can do that by making a difference now.

Choose extracurriculars that yield a quantifiable impact.

One of Cardinal Education’s mottos is to demonstrate your impact on others in the numbers. How many club members (or, heck, startup employees) did you lead? How many thousands of dollars did you raise for your charitable cause? How many people attended the benefit 5k that you organized? This is important because numbers will help to add weight to the heartfelt stories in your college applications; what’s more, they’ll stand out the most on a college application resumé. Always be cognizant of the numerical impact that your activities are making on the world around you. And if you don’t have any data, find a way (such as a survey) to gather it.

Lastly, choose extracurricular activities that you can tell a story of human connection about. 

Because that’s what college essays are all about: telling stories. You can read 1,000 pages for Read for Cancer, but that doesn’t make a very compelling tale. Some extracurriculars carry with them no story of human interaction, growth, and change that top college admissions offices are looking for; these stories, at best, can be a footnote in your essays or a few sentences on your college resumé. If you want to build a strong case for yourself, you need to demonstrate that you’re out there in the world, directly making an impact: working with people, touching their lives, learning and growing as a person through every decision you make, through every meaningful conversation that you open up an avenue for.

In summary, when choosing your extracurriculars, find things that you’re interested in—and make sure that you pursue them in the most productive possible way, productive for both yourself and those around you.