Originally Posted: Mar 2, 2017
Last Updated: Apr 24, 2020
We've all heard it before: colleges like to see applicants who participate in a plethora of high school extracurricular activities and still get good grades. Our guidance counselors, teachers, and parents repeat this mantra over and over, instilling in our minds the idea that we must be the most involved, most interesting people in the world.
In my experience, high school students want to participate in extracurricular activities, but there are some factors that stand in their way. Many students don’t know how to get involved because they simply don’t know where to start. Other students complain that they can't find the time to join clubs or volunteer.
I'll be honest: I believe being involved in your community and extracurriculars is a vital part of life (in high school, college, and beyond). For as long as I can remember, I have been involved in volunteer work or clubs. From working on the campaigns of local political candidates when I was six to volunteering with animal rescues when I was 13, I have always been involved, and I love it. I believe participating in high school extracurricular activities is important for personal growth, not just college applications. After all of these years, I have even learned to love the rush of going from one activity to the next, and I think anyone can learn to appreciate their extracurricular activities—even with a busy schedule. Now it is my goal to help other people find things they love to do in their communities.
So if you’re a high school student wondering where to get started, how to find the time, and what extracurricular activities to pick, look no further.
How to find extracurricular opportunities in high school
You want to participate in extracurricular activities, but where do you start?
Many high school students feel there are no extracurricular opportunities for them outside of joining a sports team, but that is not necessarily true. In reality, there are usually many ways students can get involved in their schools and communities, and sports are just the tip of the iceberg!
High school students can join after-school clubs, volunteer with nonprofits, intern for local businesses, or join local student leadership organizations. These are fun, meaningful activities that can teach you a lot, introduce you to good friends, and give you ideas about what to do for your future. Bonus: these are the things colleges love to see on your applications, and they can help you find scholarships too. Remember, colleges can only accommodate a finite number of athletes, but they can never have enough active, engaged students with leadership and community service experience.
Here’s how you can find extracurricular opportunities in high school:
- Think about what interests you. The most important thing to consider before joining a high school club or organization: what do you like to do? If you are going to spend hours every week doing something, you need to enjoy it—or you’re probably going to bail. Like dogs? Volunteer with a local animal rescue or shelter. Want to learn a new language? Join a sign language or Latin club. Do you like sports? Get involved with coaching an Upward or other youth team. It might help to brainstorm a list of these interests and keep it handy as you search for opportunities.
- Ask and investigate. More likely than not, your teachers, parents, high school counselors, and spiritual leaders know more about what is going on in your community than you do, and they won't mind helping you out a little bit. Other good sources for extracurricular and/or volunteer opportunities include your local librarians, police, firefighters, and city councilors. And never underestimate the power of simple Google search! If you brainstormed a list of interests, use it as a checklist to search for opportunities.
- Join clubs or organizations at your school. This sounds obvious, but it’s a reminder that you don’t need to travel far or go crazy trying to find extracurriculars. Participating in clubs at your high school is one of the easiest ways to get involved in your community because the groups are readily available to you. My high school has over 30 clubs and organizations that students can join, even though we are a relatively small school.
- Check the social media pages of local organizations. I wouldn't know about half of the things going on in my community if I did not have Facebook. Social media serves as the perfect outlet for organizations to advertise events they are trying to market to young people.
- Read local newspapers and regional magazines. Many newspapers and magazines feature a calendar covering what is going on in their communities so citizens can get involved. You might be surprised by what you find.
How to get yourself there
Great, now you know how to find extracurricular activities, but what are you supposed to do if you don't have a car? Without transportation, the range of activities high school students can participate in becomes limited, but there are still ways for these students to get involved.
For example, if you live within walking distance from a YMCA or other community center, you may be able to attend club meetings or participate in intramural sports. If this doesn’t work for you, ask local organizations what you can do to help out from home. High school students who consider themselves tech-savvy can manage websites, or creative students might design fliers. Others who excel in rhetoric and grammar can write or read grant proposals for businesses and organizations. In addition to being more convenient, these tasks also look unique on college applications. How many high school seniors can say that they read and process grant proposals?!
How to find the time in high school
Finally, we have the last problem most high school students have with extracurricular activities arises: how to find the time. Between going to school, studying, homework, and maybe even working a part-time job, some students feel there is not enough time in the day to participate in extracurricular activities in addition to everything else they do. They can't "find" the time to get involved. However, time is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You have to make the time to do extracurricular activities if you really want to get involved. And if you sat down and plotted your schedule hour by hour—and took an honest look at what you do with your downtime—you might be surprised by just how much free time you “find.”
Whether you give up one Saturday every month to volunteer or one hour every week to attend club meetings, you are making the time to make a difference and prepare for your future. When high school students realize making the time to participate in extracurriculars is within their reach, they will find a world of opportunities waiting to greet them.
How colleges see your involvement
Colleges want you to be involved in your high school and community. More importantly, you should want to get involved, to volunteer, to help someone, to learn something new, to be an active part of your city or town. It can teach you a lot about yourself and what you want in life—and it'll probably make you happy too.
Yes, being involved in high school extracurricular activities can mean joining a sports team. But it also means organizing a sock drive for the homeless or being the president of your school's robotics club. It means writing and directing an original play for your theater group or leading community walks on the trail your Boy Scout Troop blazed.
Colleges and universities want to know that you will be an active member of their campus communities and that they can count on you to implement positive change in the world around you. There are plenty of ways to get involved; now it’s your job to go out and find them.
How did you get involved in extracurricular activities as a high school student? Anything you want to add? Leave a comment!