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How to Build the Best Extracurriculars for College

Nowadays, having a good GPA and test score is not enough to get into a great university. Here is our guide to building extracurricular activities to make your college application stand out.

November 4, 2022

As a high school student, applying to college can be frequently on your mind. Universities seem to only be getting more competitive and are no longer simply looking for someone “well-rounded” with a good GPA. One important factor in applications is the extracurriculars that a student participates in. This article will guide you through how to pick them, what colleges are looking for with extracurriculars, and how to stand out.

How to Pick Extracurriculars

When deciding what clubs and activities to pursue, there are a few important things to consider. Think through your responses to these questions:

  • What are you interested in? Passionate about?
    • Do you prefer academic activities? Athletic? Artistic? Linguistic/cultural? Service? Activist? Religious?
  • What clubs does your school offer? If none pique your interest, what does the process look like for starting a club?
  • What activities are available to you in your city?
  • What have you always thought would be cool to try?
  • How much time do you have? Are your weekends free?
  • Do you have access to a computer?
  • If you watch YouTube/TikTok, what kinds of videos do you find interesting?

All of these different factors will impact the activities that will be most available to you. If you have the weekends available, you can spend them on longer projects and leave the weeks free for school. If you play a school or club sport, you may be busy with tournaments during the season and need a hobby that’s more flexible, like computer programming, writing, or drawing.

To spark your imagination, here is a list of possible activities in the areas we’ve mentioned above. Their availability will be dependent on what’s around you but with the internet, much more is accessible. For example, if you want to learn guitar but there are no nearby guitar teachers, there is sure to be someone who teaches online, or try and teach yourself with YouTube!

125+ Ideas for Extracurricular Activities

Academics

  • Chess Club
  • Decathlon
  • Student Government
  • National Honors Society
  • Math/Science/English Clubs
  • Robotics/Engineering Clubs
  • Trivia
  • Web Design/Coding Clubs
  • Girls Who Code
  • Online Coding Tools (Codeacademy, You Can Code!, Udemy, etc.)
  • Peer Tutoring
  • Chemistry Olympiad
  • National Spelling Bee
  • Science Fair
  • Future Business Leaders of America/DECA
  • Model Arab League,
  • Model United Nations
  • Marine Biology
  • Debate Club
  • High School Democrats of America
  • Teenage Republicans
  • Speech Club

Art

  • Art Club
  • Sewing
  • Film Club
  • Photography
  • Sculpture
  • Painting
  • Drawing
  • Scrapbooking
  • Woodworking
  • Jewelry Making
  • Cartooning
  • Ceramics
  • Drama/Theater Club
  • Graphic Design
  • Anime/Manga Club
  • Collaging
  • Fashion Club
  • Quilt Making

Music

  • Dance Clubs or Classes: Tap, Ballet, Hip Hop, Jazz, Contemporary, etc…
  • Guitar/Piano/Instrument Lessons
  • Orchestra/Band
  • Marching Bands
  • Chamber Music Group
  • Singing Lessons
  • Concert Band
  • Choreography

Culture/Languages

  • School Language Clubs
    • Spanish, Latin, German, French, Mandarin, Russian
    • Your school doesn’t offer the language you’re interested in? Learn online with apps like Duolingo, Memrise, and HelloTalk)
  • Nationality/Ethnic Clubs
    • South Asian Students, African American Student Alliances, Pacific Islanders Club, etc.
  • International Food/Cooking Club
  • Travel Club
  • International Cinema
  • American Sign Language

Service

  • Set Up a Food Drive or a School Food Pantry
  • Hold a Clothing Drive
  • Tutoring
  • Volunteer
    • Nursing Homes/Hospitals
    • Animal Shelters
    • Food Banks/Soup Kitchens
    • Fire Department
    • Ask local businesses that you’re interested in if they need volunteers
  • Join a National Service Organization
    • Key Club
    • Habitat for Humanity
    • Special Olympics
    • YMCA
    • American Red Cross
    • Amnesty International
    • The Salvation Army
    • Boys and Girls Club
    • Feeding America
    • Meals on Wheels
    • Rotary Club
    • 4-H
    • Kids Helping Kids

Activism

  • Join an established organization
    • Black Students Union
    • Community Leaders Club
    • Animal Rights Group
    • Queer Straight Alliance
    • Amnesty International
    • Breast Cancer Awareness
    • Cancer Foundation
  • Have a cause you’re passionate about? Start your own! Get a teacher to sponsor you, find other students who are interested, and brainstorm/execute projects.
    • Climate Change
    • Women’s Rights/Gender Inequality
    • Racial Justice
    • US Incarceration
    • Gun Control
    • Mental Health
    • Law Enforcement
    • Homelessness
    • Immigration
    • Obesity
    • Bullying
    • Food Security
    • Human Rights
    • Refugees
  • Political campaigning – Find a local politician who you support and offer your time and skills to the campaign.

Religion

  • Join an established organization
    • Fellowship of Christian Athletes
    • Jewish Student Union
    • Adventist Christian Fellowship
    • Hindu Students Organization
    • Young Life
  • Volunteer at your local church
  • Missionary work
  • Church choral groups
  • Join or lead a bible study

Others

  • Cars and Auto Club
  • Gamers Club
  • Ultimate Frisbee
  • Magic Club
  • Mountain Biking
  • School/Local Newspaper
  • Yearbook
  • Blogging
  • Junior ROTC
  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • Comedy
  • Scouts
  • Equestrian
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Horticulture
  • Model Railroads

This is a comprehensive list but not an exhaustive one. Many of the most unique opportunities are those only in your area. Ask around, get creative, and pursue what you’re actually interested in.

College Comparison Chart

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What Extracurriculars Are Colleges Looking For?

Nowadays, colleges are less interested in the specific extracurriculars that their applicants pursue, and instead in what they do with those activities. Most importantly, most programs want to see leadership positions, initiative, and progression. You don’t want your roles to remain stagnant. If you are an athlete, try and become a team captain. If you actively volunteer for a service organization, plan and lead an event for it. If you take music lessons, participate in a talent show or recital. There are ways to show initiative outside of just taking a leadership role. Think outside of the box and play to your strengths.

Tips for Building Extracurriculars: How to Stand Out

Keep in mind that extracurricular activities do not need to fall in areas that you are already good at. Use high school as a time to try new things, uncover new hobbies, and build new skills. If you’ve never programmed before but are interested in it, give it a try! You never know, it may be your next great passion. The activities that you do outside of school should be seen as a way to learn new things, rather than as a way to add another bullet point to your resume.

Don’t be afraid to try a variety of things. If anything, having hobbies in different areas will strengthen different skills and allow you to present a more diverse picture of yourself to admissions committees. For example, a Decathlete who has also shown art in an art show presents the candidacy of a multi-faceted, talented, and ambitious individual.

On the flip side, however, don’t spread yourself too thin. It’s easy to try and do too much at the same time, so this is a common mistake. Instead, focus your efforts on a few key interests. If, after trying them for a while, you find one that you are not enjoying, move to something else instead of trying to take on more things while balancing existing commitments. Staying with hobbies for a longer period of time allows you to cement real skills, develop relationships with peers and mentors, and potentially move into a more senior/leadership position.

Where Can I Start?

Preparing for and starting college applications is a difficult endeavor. It can be tricky to find the balance between enjoying your high school years and finding ways to differentiate yourself. It is possible to do both, however, by finding projects that you are personally invested in, and using them to learn, find mentors, take initiative, and push yourself.

Here are several other resources to help you navigate the college application process:

What Looks Good on College Applications? 6 Tips to Make You Stand Out

The Top 40 College Scholarships

How to Write a College Application Resume

The ACT vs. SAT: Which to Take and How to Ace Both

For more personalized advice and guidance, work with an expert Leland college coach. They can help with any part of the application process, from choosing what schools to apply for, to writing essays, reviewing resumes, and brainstorming recommenders. Below are some of our top coaches, but you can browse all of them here.

Coach Recommendations

Final Note

Here at Leland, we provide you with the content, community, and coaching that you need to get into your dream school and accomplish other ambitious goals. Sign up today to gain access to additional free resources, community events, small group classes, world-class coaching, and more.