Extracurricular Activities and College Admissions Part 1

Posted by Alan Zhang

July 26, 2019 at 8:00 AM

College Admissions Extracurriculars

Along with grades and SAT scores, colleges also put heavy consideration into extracurricular activities. Basically, they want to know you have a life outside of classes, school, and all that boring stuff (I’m kidding; all of that is pretty important). Students are often pressured to volunteer at the local animal shelter, become president of a club, play a varsity sport, and do anything else to demonstrate that glowing leadership quality that colleges look for in applicants.

But how much do extracurriculars matter? Do they play the same role in every student’s application? Read on to learn more about how much extracurricular activities actually matter in a college application.

It Depends on the School

To be honest it really depends on the kind of school you apply to. Obviously, extracurricular activities are super important in your application, but the extent to how much they can impact your profile will rely on differences in admissions requirements, class sizes, and student populations. These factors can cause admissions committees to place differing amounts of weight on extracurriculars.

Large and Less-Competitive Public Universities

Unfortunately at larger public universities, extracurricular activities typically won’t have significant weight on your application (but this is good if you’re worried about not having enough extracurriculars!). Schools like this, especially state flagship schools, receive tens of thousands of applicants each year, but have extremely limited resources available to evaluate them. I can’t imagine what it would be like sitting in that office reading through piles of applications…

Schools like this aren’t able to dedicate the time and attention to a single applicant.

As a result, these schools tend to rely more heavily on the quantitative side of your application (think SAT or ACT scores and GPA). It’s quick and easy to evaluate numbers, and it doesn’t take as much time and energy to pore through essays and recommendations. According to CollegeVine, some schools even use computer algorithms to quickly sort applicants by GPA and test scores… Ouch right? That’s how it is sometimes, and it’s why we apply to multiple schools!

Where Extracurriculars Actually Have Impact

One way extracurriculars have significant impact at large public universities is actually in the merit scholarship selection process. The selection process is quite a bit more competitive and rigorous than general freshman admissions, and so these programs put greater consideration into extracurriculars. Additionally, these programs might even require supplemental application materials that ask applicants to discuss their interests and accomplishments in greater detail than they did on the Common App or freshman application.

To Summarize:

Admissions at Large, Non-competitive Universities

  • Grades and test scores are considered first, typically admit or reject applicants on this basis
  • Not holistic, as you can see from above (sad face)
  • Evaluates extracurriculars for merit scholarships
  • Merit scholarships are likely more intensive and holistic than general freshman admission

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Posted by Alan Zhang

Alan scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT in high school and is currently studying Economics at The University of Chicago