Split blue image, woman with tablet, man at laptop, words Ask the Experts

How Many Extracurriculars Should I Participate in to Impress Colleges?

Turns out you don't need to join nine clubs to stand out to colleges! Our experts explain why you shouldn't stretch yourself thin when it comes to activities.

Laurie Kopp WeingartenLaurie Kopp Weingarten
Certified Educational Planner
Co-founder, One-Stop College Counseling
Colleges aren’t necessarily looking for a well-rounded student; they want a well-rounded class. So you can specialize in something and become an expert in your passion without feeling like you also need to join nine clubs, volunteer 35 hours a week, and work part-time at Starbucks. No applicants are fooling admission counselors with that “join six clubs junior year” strategy in order to fill up the Common Application activity section—counselors know what’s up!

If you participate in a club, become a leader who actually does something. If you’re the club president, be prepared to speak or write about things you changed and accomplished that have never been done before. If you don’t hold an official leadership position, then organize an event or  raise money for a charity. Depth over breadth is key—making a difference in one place is much more important than not making a difference at all in multiple areas. If you play tennis for your high school team, do you also take lessons out of season, teach skills to younger children, or referee tennis tournaments? Colleges will look for how you progressed in the activity, and they’ll evaluate your level of passion and commitment.

Silhouette of person sitting at desk with laptopJim Terhune
VP of Student Affairs
Swarthmore College 
There’s no “one size fits all” answer when it comes to what activities will prove most valuable to you as a student and to college. Each student needs to figure that out on their own. I encourage students to get involved in one or two activities that have particular meaning for them and give enough time to them to get an accurate sense of whether or not they will ultimately prove to be a good fit. In the end, for most students, it’s less about the activity of focus of the group that’s most important—it’s about the people who are involved in it and the level of energy and commitment you put toward it. Find clubs where the other students involved share your interests and values.

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