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Top Extracurriculars for College

When college admission officers evaluate applicants, they look for students who are the total package. Sure, they want to admit students with high cumulative GPAs and great standardized test scores, but they also pay close attention to recommendation letters, volunteer experiences, and extracurricular activities.

Unfortunately, students often hurt their chances of admission because they don’t pay enough attention to their participation in extracurricular activities. 

While almost every student knows that they should participate in at least one extracurricular activity during high school, many don’t know that taking on too many extracurriculars can be detrimental. Other students struggle because they don’t know which types of extracurricular activities will help them stand out and improve their chances for admission.

My extracurriculars played a huge role in my path to success. As a high school student, I volunteered in the emergency department of a local hospital. That experience helped me both discover my passion for medicine and demonstrate that passion to admission officers. Now, I am a board-certified dermatologist and the CEO of Prep Expert. 

Drawing from my own experience and the stories of thousands of Prep Expert students, I have compiled the secrets to the college admissions process, including the right way to choose your extracurriculars. No matter what school, major, or career path you have in mind for your future, I can give you the guidance you need to pick out the best extracurriculars for you.

top extracurriculars for college

Different Types of Extracurriculars for College

With so many different types of extracurriculars out there, it can be incredibly difficult to choose the right ones. To help you narrow down your options, let’s go over some of the most popular categories and what they have to offer in terms of setting you up for college success.

Student Government

You don’t have to be Class President to be a part of student government. There are many different leadership roles you can hold, including Treasurer, Secretary, Vice President, and more. Being a part of student government shows admissions officers that you have leadership potential, you can work well in a team, and you enjoy contributing to your community.

Student government is a great extracurricular for students interested in the following career paths:

  • Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Law
  • Business Administration or Management
  • Communications or Public Relations
  • Education
  • Social Work or Community Development
  • International Relations or Diplomacy
  • Nonprofit Management

Academic Clubs or Teams

Participating in an academic club or team shows admissions officers that you have a passion for learning and a strong dedication to a particular subject. You may also pick up new skills that you otherwise wouldn’t acquire by only exploring that subject in the classroom. 

Most schools have a club for just about every subject. Whether you have an interest in Calculus, English, Physics, History, Psychology, or any other subject, check to see if your school has an existing club for it. And, if there isn’t one yet, start it yourself!

Academic clubs are an excellent asset for students interested in the following career paths:

  • STEM
  • Research
  • Academia and Education
  • Writing and Journalism
  • Medicine and Healthcare
  • Social Sciences
  • Business and Entrepreneurship
  • Public Service and Policy

Debate Team

Joining the debate team allows you to develop a set of skills that will be useful in practically any career you choose: critical thinking, public speaking, public engagement, and more. Admissions officers will see that you can make meaningful contributions to discussions and consider issues from multiple perspectives. These skills are valuable not only in the classroom, but also to the college’s larger community in general.

The debate team is helpful for students interested in the following career paths:

  • Law
  • Political Science
  • International Relations
  • Communications or Public Relations
  • Business and Marketing
  • Academia and Education
  • Public Service and Advocacy
  • Journalism and Media
  • Philosophy

Arts Clubs

Colleges often look for well-rounded individuals who have both academic and artistic interests. This may be especially true if you are interested in applying to a liberal arts college. That’s why art clubs like Drama, Band, Photography, and Writing are great extracurriculars for students who are interested in art-centric careers and those interested in more STEM-focused fields. They help you develop your creativity and broaden your perspective.

Art clubs are excellent extracurriculars for students interested in the following career paths:

Fine Arts or Studio Art

  • Acting
  • Writing
  • Music
  • Graphic Design
  • Art Education
  • Art Therapy
  • Art History
  • Museum Studies
  • Fashion Design
  • Architecture
  • Interior Design
  • Arts Administration


Internships are a great way to show your dedication to the field you wish to pursue and get some early experience in that field under your belt. They also let admissions officers see that you are capable of handling the responsibilities you will be expected to fulfill not only in the regular classroom, but also in the workforce.

You can find internships for practically any field you want to enter. Try searching online or asking around your school and local community for opportunities. Keep in mind that your internship probably won’t be your dream job, but it is a gateway to gaining the skills and knowledge you need to succeed throughout college and the rest of your life.

Culture Clubs

College campuses strive to create a diverse learning environment that embraces students from all backgrounds. Participating in a culture club helps admissions officers see that you take that commitment to uplifting diversity as seriously as they do. You are willing to learn about and accept ways of thinking that may be different from your own. Plus, culture clubs can help you immerse yourself in other languages and prepare for careers that involve a lot of travel.

Culture clubs are great extracurriculars for students interested in the following career paths:

  • Anthropology or Cultural Studies
  • International Relations or Global Studies:
  • Foreign Languages and Linguistics
  • Travel and Tourism
  • Education and Cultural Exchange Programs
  • Community Development and Social Work
  • Arts and Performance
  • Diplomacy and International Development

Community Service and Volunteering

Most schools expect community service and volunteering to be a part of your application. These extracurriculars demonstrate your willingness to give back to the community and help others in need. Colleges want to fill their campuses with students who will involve themselves in the community and help enrich campus life.

All volunteering opportunities will look great on your applications and your future resume. If you aren’t sure how to get involved, you can join a club at your school that often does community service or search online for local non-profit organizations. You can even look for volunteer opportunities that fit your field of study, like volunteering at a local clinic.

Student Newspaper

If you have above average writing skills, you may want to consider joining your school newspaper. By writing for the student newspaper, you show admissions officers that you are creative, have great writing and grammar skills, and can manage a heavy workload. Your college workload will be significantly greater than your workload in high school, so adding the newspaper to your high school work demonstrates that you can rise to meet that higher expectation.

The student newspaper is a useful extracurricular for students interested in the following career paths:

  • Journalism
  • Communications
  • English or Creative Writing
  • Digital Media or Multimedia Journalism
  • Political Science or Public Policy
  • Education
  • Marketing
  • Publishing
  • Media Management

Part-Time Work

Many high school students work part-time jobs to save money for their futures or help out their families. Believe it or not, your part-time job can count as an extracurricular activity as well! Like an internship, a part-time job helps you learn more about the responsibilities that come with being a part of the workforce. Balancing a job with your schoolwork also demonstrates your ability to manage multiple responsibilities, which admissions officers love to see. Working shows initiative, no matter what kind of job you have.

School Athletics

Sports are about much more than just physical fitness. They teach teamwork, discipline, and leadership skills, all of which are skill sets that admissions officers value. If you can, try to create a balance between athletics and your other talents in your extracurricular activities. Don’t rely too heavily on sports alone to paint your full picture as a student.

Specific Examples of Extracurricular Activities

If you’re looking for specific examples of extracurricular activities to join, try checking your school to see whether or not any of the following popular options are available:

  • National Honor Society (NHS)
  • Student Government Association
  • STEM Club
  • Girls Who Code
  • Astronomy Club
  • Chemistry Club
  • Engineering Club
  • Biology Club
  • Math Club
  • Physics Club
  • Coding Club
  • Drama Club
  • Choir
  • Marching Band
  • Concert Band
  • Jazz Band
  • Orchestra
  • Literary Magazine Club
  • Poetry Club
  • Photography Club
  • Dance Team

How to Choose the Right Extracurricular for You

Before you start joining clubs at random, take a moment to consider these 4 tips.

1. Don’t Dabble

Many students think that you need to do a ton of different extracurriculars over the course of high school to look impressive. The problem with this “more is more” mentality is that it often appears that you’ve dabbled for the past four years instead of narrowing down your interests and seriously committing your time to a handful of activities.

Think about it. If you spread your time out across 10 different clubs, you’ll probably only be able to have minimal involvement in each of them. By picking a few extracurriculars that you love and pouring yourself into them, you can make the most of those experiences. 

Two or three long-term commitments usually do better on a college application than a laundry list of clubs you didn’t participate in very much. It’s better to do drama and debate for four years straight than drama for one year, debate the second year, basketball your third year, and math club your senior year. You’ll also be able to showcase your contributions much more thoroughly.

2. Pursue With Passion

If you enjoy what you do, have a talent for it, and end up becoming a leader in it, then you’ve found the perfect extracurricular for yourself. It doesn’t matter how small or prestigious the club or sport is. You don’t have to join all the extracurriculars you’ve heard look the best on a college application. Instead, focus on picking clubs in which you can demonstrate your passion and accomplishments. That’s what college admissions officers really care about seeing when they review your application.

3. Make Sure Your Extracurriculars Align With Schools

As you research potential schools, pay attention to the extracurriculars they have to offer. This can help you narrow down your choices and find ways to make your application stand out. Certain schools might be well-known for one of your favorite clubs or activities. If so, you can use your experience with that activity in your essay or personal statement to demonstrate your excitement about the school and the excellent contributions you can make to campus.

4. Choose Extracurriculars That Fit Your Major

As you choose your extracurriculars, try to include some that align with your intended major. This will show admissions officers how passionate you are about your chosen field of study Plus, you can learn the skills you’ll need for your field early on and maybe even jumpstart your career with extra experience and connections.

How Prep Expert Can Help You

Prep Expert offers a number of resources for high school students planning to attend college.

Through College Admissions Consulting, Prep Expert’s team can help guide you through the application process, offering valuable advice that has helped 96% of Prep Expert students gain admission to at least one top-3 choice college and win millions of dollars of merit scholarships.

You can also round out your application with Prep Expert’s leading SAT and ACT courses. Drawing from my own experience becoming a perfect-scorer on the SAT, I personally designed Prep Expert’s courses to help all students improve their test scores, regardless of how well they naturally perform on standardized tests.

I love seeing students achieve their goals by earning scholarships and gaining admission to their dream schools, and Prep Expert’s courses can help you do just that. From in-person classes to virtual sessions to self-paced videos and even direct lessons straight from me, Prep Expert has options to meet every student’s style and schedule.

Top Extracurriculars for College FAQ

What are some common extracurriculars that look good to schools?

Some helpful extracurricular activities include the student government, academic clubs or teams, debate team, high school athletics, and the student newspaper.

How many extracurriculars should I list on my application?

It’s better to list a few activities that you’ve done for a long time versus a bunch of activities you did for a short time. If you’ve participated in 2 clubs or teams for 3 to 4 years, prioritize those over 8 different activities you only did for a year each.

What do admissions officers want to learn from my extracurricular activities?

They want to paint a more complete picture of who you are as a person, a student, and a member of your community. Your extracurriculars help admissions officers understand your passions, personality traits, skills, interests, and achievements. They can then use this image of you to decide whether or not you will be a good fit for the school.

Can my extracurriculars help me narrow down my college search?

Definitely! If you are particularly passionate about certain clubs or activities, check whether or not they are available at the schools you’re interested in attending. Some schools may even be famous for those activities.

Dr. Shaan Patel MD MBA

Written by Dr. Shaan Patel MD MBA

Prep Expert Founder & CEO

Shark Tank Winner, Perfect SAT Scorer, Dermatologist, & #1 Bestselling Author
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