How Many Extra-Curricular Activities Should I Have on a College Application?

College admission is a complicated process because the standards vary from one university to the next, but even with the variation in metrics, extra-curricular activities appear to be one of the factors considered by all admissions committees. Other factors that are considered in different degrees of importance to determine admission include academic achievements, community involvement and leadership potential.

Understanding the Admissions Process

Much has been written about getting past the admissions gatekeepers to gain admission to the college of your choice. The truth is, no one really knows the exact criteria and the weights assigned to each factor when evaluating which applicants will get the invitation letter. Colleges seek to admit applicants who appear to be a good fit for its programs and the school atmosphere. The best that you can do as an applicant is to complete the application requirements based on the instructions provided by the college. If you need help understanding any of the instructions, consult your guidance office or reach out to the admissions office of your target college. The screening process is as much a test of your high school achievements as they are proof of your ability to comprehend and carry out instructions.

Weighing Extra-curricular Activities

Admissions officers like to see passion and commitment to a few goals, so when it comes to your extra-curricular interests, go for quality rather than quantity. This means that signing up for membership in every club and social organization will not be rated as favorably as membership or involvement in one or two organizations where you demonstrate your commitment by staying involved over a number of years in different activities. It is important to choose your non-academic activities based on your real interests to ensure that you can sustain the level of commitment for a while.

Focus on your Own Strengths and Interests

Your choice of extra-curricular involvement should reflect something about yourself, your goals and your motivations. Activities that align with college goals will be viewed favorably by admissions officers. For instance, if you plan to seek admission for a bachelor’s degree in computer science, showing volunteer work as a computer tutor in an elementary school or at a senior center displays real-world application of your skills while showing your desire to help in your community.

The other point that admissions officers look at is balance. For instance, choosing to take non-credit courses in computer animation and robotics are positive points because they align with your college goals. However, if you have the ability, you should try to demonstrate a well-rounded personality by getting involved in sports, music or the arts. Involvement can mean playing for a team or putting in time as support staff if you can’t play the game.

Putting the Focus on Your Strengths

Extra-curricular pursuits are intended to hone your skills in a particular field. List them in your college application in descending order of achievement. Lead with the activities where you displayed leadership skills and management abilities, and shine the spotlight on your achievements in these fields.

To support your application, one of your reference letters should come from someone who can attest to your passion for the course, sport or field of study that the extra-curricular activity is about. There is no limit to the number of extra-curricular activities that you can list on your college application. However, make sure to put the focus on those that demonstrate your strengths as an applicant for your program of choice.

Related reading: Are Interviews Required for College Admission?