Don’t twist yourself into knots trying to choose an activity you think it’s what the admissions office wants to see.


Volleyball players
Photo: Vince Fleming via Unsplash

We all know that colleges want to see that a student has participated in extracurricular activities and community service. We also know that parents and students alike find themselves worrying that they’ll pick the wrong ones, or do them incorrectly, or not do enough of them, or do too many.

It’s important to remember that these things aren’t important because the college wants to see them. The college wants to see them because they’re important, and they’re important because they demonstrate something about who you are, whether that’s leadership, commitment, care for others, or a desire to learn new things.

Instead of choosing an “impressive” activity, choose something you care about, and then look for opportunities within it to demonstrate your best qualities. For example:

Leadership and Teamwork

Leadership doesn’t just mean being the team captain or club president. Have you helped a younger student get up to speed? Come up with a new idea and put in the work to make it happen? Identified someone else’s good idea and boosted it, even though it wasn’t your idea? Those are all ways to demonstrate that you’re an important part of a team — and will be an important part of the campus community and the teams or organizations you join in college. 

Commitment and Dedication

Consistent effort over time delivers results — in school and in life. Whether it’s daily practice learning an instrument, early workouts with your sports team, or showing up week after week to package groceries at the food pantry, a long-term devotion to something shows that you’ve got the persistence to succeed in college.

Resilience and Learning New Things

If you fall out of love with musical theater, or have to quit soccer because of an injury, or if your fundraiser is a total flop, that’s not a failure. That’s an opportunity: to be resilient, to handle setbacks, to rethink your approach, to try something new. Being great at something is impressive, but so is the humility it takes to start something knowing you’re not good at it yet. 

Yes, that’s almost the opposite of the bit about commitment and dedication. But remember, you don’t have to be everything to everyone: you just have to be yourself. Your extracurricular activities and community service are just some of the ways you’ll demonstrate that to other people, and they shouldn’t be merely hoops you jump through for an application.