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How to Build the Perfect Extracurriculars List for College

Student Life

Tue, May 14

College admissions are more stressful than ever. With decreasing admissions rates and increasingly competitive applicants, the process seems brutal. Although this is stressful, the rise in holistic admissions gives you a chance to let your interests shine.

The easiest way to do this is through your extracurricular list. Below is a guide about how to build the perfect extracurricular list for college.


If you are using The Common Application (for this article, let's assume you are), you have ten extracurricular slots. When you open the list, you will see promoted questions in this order:

  • Category (from a drop-down menu)
  • Role/Leadership Positions (50 characters)
  • Organization (100 characters)
  • Description of the activity (150 characters)
  • Participation in each grade level (check the boxes that apply)
  • Timing of Participation (once again, check the boxes that apply)
  • Hours Spent per Week
  • Weeks Spent per Year
  • Do you intend to continue this activity in college? (check yes or no)

This will happen for each of the activities that you add to your application. If you have enough activities to fill all ten spots, include them all! If you don't, you can show your time commitment to the ones that you have. Make sure to start with the activities that you really want admissions officers to see.

woman reading book while sitting on chair
Photo by Alexis Brown from Unsplash.


First up is clubs. Clubs are a great way to show your involvement in your school's community. If you are heavily involved in clubs, such as the mock trial, science olympiad, or debate team, you want to showcase your dedication.

If you are in a bunch of clubs, but not heavily involved in one or two, that is ok to include as well. However, you also would want to include a few activities with a heavier time commitment to show that you are committed to something.

Typically, clubs tend to go along with the theme of your application. If you are planning on being a biology or pre-med major, you probably have a few clubs or teams in the STEM category. These can be a great way to display how involved you already are in this field, and can make your application stand out.

One aspect to be aware of is the participation in each grade level section. If you panicked and joined a bunch of clubs junior year to fill your activity section, you probably don't want to add them all. Colleges can tell when you are only doing things for your application, and it does not help your application. Don't get me wrong here - you can include one or two, but don't let it overwhelm your extracurricular list.

people sitting on chair
Photo by Sam Balye from Unsplash.

Outside Activities

Outside activities can be a crucial part of your extracurriculars list. These activities show how you are involved in your community, and how you have taken advantage of the resources available in your area. If you volunteer outside of school, have a job, or do any other non-school-related extracurricular regularly, you want to include that in this section.

If any of these activities are particularly impressive (or important to you), you are going to want to put it above clubs. This will be the first thing that the admissions officers see when they read this section of your application, which means it will stand out. This could be a huge asset to your application - make sure to consider your outside activities!


Camps and Programs can help your application by displaying your knowledge in certain fields. For example, if you went to a camp/seminar about engineering, and you are applying to engineering programs, you definitely want to include it in your application.

Some examples of programs are: Fellowships, classes/seminars from universities and companies (that have an application), any kind of research, serving on a board, or a summer seminar that you were nominated for. Examples of camps are any selective summer or pre-college programs from universities.

While camps and programs can be impressive, you want to consider how selective the camp is. If you went to a pre-college camp with a high acceptance rate, you might want to prioritize other activities over the camp. While it can be a great talking point in an interview or a good way to show your interest in learning, it might not benefit your application.

basketball team standing on courtside
Photo by Kenny Eliason from Unsplash.


Athletics are a great way to showcase your talent, commitment, and cooperative qualities. The description for these can be anything from section or state champions to mentoring younger peers. If you have been on varsity since your freshman or sophomore year, you definitely want to include athletics on your application. If you haven't, including your time on JV is a great way to show how much you care about being in a team environment.

Another aspect to consider is if you want to continue athletics in college. Continuing athletics doesn't mean that you have to play for the college's official team, it could mean club or even intramural.

Although building your extracurricular list can be stressful, it is a good way for colleges to get a sense of who you are. The benefit of holistic admissions is that they need to consider everything - so all of the hours you might have spent at Model UN will help you in the long run. Good luck as you build your application, and remember to reference this article if you ever need some guidance on how to structure your extracurricular list.

Ava Jankowski
5,000+ pageviews

Writer since Aug, 2023 · 19 published articles

Ava Jankowski is a junior at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, PA. She enjoys writing, traveling, shopping, mock trial, and playing tennis. She is excited for any learning opportunities possible. Ava will attend The School of the New York Times Summer Academy this July.