The American university ideal is that your life (and your education!) should be more than just schoolwork. American universities want students who are deeply committed to their interests and communities. As such, American universities want to see that students leave active lives after the ending bell rings. Be this as it may, however, there is a lot to consider when thinking about what you want to do when you are not in the classroom.
Participating in extracurricular (or extra-academic) activities is one way to build your résumé for college. We’re going to talk about what extracurricular activities are, why they are beneficial for you, and how to get involved in one (or create something for yourself!).
What are my options for extracurricular activities?
You can include anything on your résumé you do outside of class – from participation in formal school clubs to non-school-related individual or group hobbies you pursue. It follows, then, that there are two types of extracurricular activities: those that are run by schools, and those that are not. You might be familiar with some that are usually sponsored by schools, such as:
- Sports teams
- Speech and debate clubs
- Chess clubs
- Academic clubs (examples: math club, science club, art club, academic quiz team)
- Band, orchestra, and choir (Sometimes, these things are taught as courses in school. However, considering how much time you spend performing and practicing outside of class, they still count as extracurricular activities.)
Some examples of things you can do outside of school are:
- Music lessons
- Extra courses
- Volunteering and fundraising
This is a very basic list of options. Your school may have more or less available, depending on where you are.
Why are extracurricular activities a good idea?
Right now, you might be expecting us to say "extracurricular activities are good for college applications." However true that may be, let’s ignore that for a moment. Your résumé should not be the primary reason to do something. So why else should you participate?
The activities on your extracurricular résumé involve two important elements:
- the activities themselves, and
- the achievements you reached while doing them.
Volunteering is a great way to get involved in a cause you care about (for example, helping young kids do well in primary school by becoming a tutor). In this case, not only can you build work experience and social skills by taking on an internship or volunteer position, but you can make connections with people who are interested in the same things you are.
And we aren’t just referring to mentors or others who can give you recommendations in this case. We also mean friends.
Extracurricular activities can also help you develop a new skill or explore a hobby you're interested in. Perhaps you have taken piano lessons since you were young and you truly enjoy it. Maybe you like taking pictures and start a photography blog or a small business selling stock photos. If you enjoy making videos, you could start a YouTube channel. Or perhaps you are taking extra math courses outside of school because you want to study number theory when you get to university.
These examples are all circumstantial, of course, but every single one of these things counts as an extracurricular activity. And any awards you earn while participating (like earning a national title at a recital) also count.
What do extracurricular activities say about you as a person and a student?
Arguably, the most important reason to take up activities and clubs outside of school is to begin mastering a skill or two. Certainly, it is true that schools look for applicants who have worked hard. But in the long run, your personal, intellectual, and professional growth are the most important reasons to pursue something.
Working on group projects and participating in team sports can help build your interpersonal skills and show that you work well as part of a team. Developing your artistic skills can not only show that you can stick to something, but it can also give you a head start on a professional résumé to eventually sell your work or collaborate with a local business.
When you enter university, the social atmosphere and working environment are very different from high school. If you have done a high level of work in one or two areas that you plan to study or continue with for personal reasons, you will find college to be easier and you will have more than one option for building a career later.
How do you get involved and build your résumé?
There are two fairly easy answers to this question. The easiest way is to think of something you want to do and see if something is available in your school or the area you live in. And if you can’t find the thing you most want to do?
Start it yourself!
One thing that anyone can do in their spare time is learn to code. Information technology (or IT) is an in-demand skill set required by people in every field. Whether you are going into the humanities, arts, science, or business, every industry needs web designers and people who know how to make digital technology better.
There are many free, open-source resources on the web that you can use to teach yourself to code. The Hour of Code movement, for instance, features thousands of companies from around the world coming together to provide coding tutorials. No matter how old you are, or what your interests are, you can learn to code everything from video games to smartphone applications.
For the achievement portion of your résumé, universities essentially want to know how deeply you explored an activity. Need more ideas? Consider these questions:
- Have you taken ballet classes?
- Were you in a theatrical or musical performance?
- Did you win an award at a national or regional recital or did you perform at a nationally-recognized concert hall?
- Do you play any sports or help raise your siblings?
- Did you earn a black belt in a martial art like karate or taekwondo?
- Did you or your team win any titles?
- Were you elected the president of the student body or were you appointed the treasurer of an environmental group?
We will discuss how to assemble your extracurricular résumé later, so for now, just remember that engaging in activities outside of the classroom benefits you not only as a college applicant, but as a person, too!
For more tips on applying to college and to explore our free résumé tool, download Occam's app, Wend, on the App Store!