Should I Join the Debate Team? How about Band?

High school is a time for exploration—academic, social, and extracurricular. It is a time to discover talents, passions, and new ways to engage with the world. Extracurricular involvement is also incredibly important in the college admissions process. Because applications are judged holistically, showing passion and curiosity about something other than standardized tests and academics is important. But which extracurricular activities are most valuable? Which should you join to look more impressive to admission committees? How many should you be involved in and how many do you need to be on the leadership board of?

The truth is, it is commitment to extracurricular activities and dedication for what you do that matters, not which clubs or sports you participate in. Admissions committees are far more partial to people who join fewer clubs and clearly contribute their time and attention to them than to those students who serially join clubs or teams and show little investment in them, using activities as résumé padding. Admissions officers can distinguish between serial joiners and students who have many diverse interests. Instead of joining many clubs and going to few of them, infrequently, if ever, join the clubs that interest you and get involved.

But which activities confer the most cache? Would a college prefer to admit a student involved in the Young Democrats or in theater? Is it better to be on the cross-country team or ROTC? Again, it matters little which activities you choose to be part of. No extracurricular is “ranked” higher than another. Instead of thinking about extracurricular-joining as a strategy board game like Risk, consider joining for enriching and new experiences.

Though no activity has more value than another, there are a few important things to consider. First, having a leadership position can be important. It can show that you are extremely involved and invested in the activities that you do. Secondly, some activities take up a lot of time. This is important to consider if you want to be part of multiple clubs. Sports, for instance, often leave time for little else. It can be valuable to consider what it means to join one activity or club at the exclusion of all others.

Finally, like some type of extracurricular involvement, colleges like to see volunteer experience. Do colleges value international volunteering more than local, community-based volunteering? Not necessarily. Though many international volunteer “trips” exist, at times these trips can be more about the student’s enrichment and about international travel than about doing work with a community. While there is certainly a place for both types of engagement, many students don’t consider local volunteering to be either important or valuable and instead seek international community service opportunities. But by staying locally, students often have a unique ability to work alongside members of their community to help enrich the lives that are closest to them.

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