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A Plan for Extracurricular Activities for Every Year of High School

The school year has begun. But before students jump in and join a lot of clubs like it’s a free-for-all, I encourage them to be thoughtful about how they spend their free time. They will be surprised when they get to senior year that there is often not as much room to list their activities on the application as they imagined. 

The Common Application only has room for ten activities. I advise students to put the most meaningful activities at the top of the list as admissions officers tend to pay less attention to the bottom of the list. Interestingly, Lafayette College announced last month that its admissions staff would only be evaluating the first six activities listed. And many colleges with their own applications limit the number of activities a student can list as well. Georgetown University’s application only provides space for six activities. 

So here is a plan for what students should do each year of high school in order to have more meaningful activities to list.

9th Grade

School Year: Try out or join a few school-sponsored activities throughout the year. 

Summer After 9th: Do something that you didn’t have time to do during the school year like volunteering, exploring an academic interest or potential major, or possibly taking an important class that is needed for graduation. What a student does the summer after 9th grade rarely makes the final activities list. So don’t worry too much about curing cancer or saving the world this summer!

10th Grade

School Year: Drop any activities that your heart isn’t in. Try out or join a few others of interest. Explore an activity outside of school as well. Students who have an impact and reach beyond their high school can become influential on the state and national level.

Summer After 10th: Begin test prep for the ACT or SAT. While test prep is not a reportable activity, it can limit what else the student can do during the summer. If there’s time, consider a summer job, an independent project that speaks to your academic interest, volunteer work, or anything you haven’t had time to do just yet. If you are trying to get recruited to play a varsity sport in college, you might need to spend most of your summer training for that sport so that your junior year is your best year yet. 

RELATED READING: To Report or Not to Report? The Strategy Behind Listing Your Summer Activities

11th Grade

School Year: Increase your hours, impact, and possibly leadership role within a few meaningful activities that you continue to do. For example, if you are hoping to be the Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper by senior year, what role do you need to have for junior year?

Summer After 11th: Set aside time to write your main college essay, fill out applications (including the activities list!), start writing supplemental essays, and prep for any remaining ACT or SAT tests. Also consider getting a paid job or doing something that directly backs up your major choice.

 RELATED READING: The Foolproof Way to Order Extracurricular Activities on Your College Application

12th Grade

School Year: Take on your biggest roles yet in your activities!

READ MORE: It's Not Just What Activities You Do for College Applications, It's How You Describe Them

It is more important than ever before to focus on a few really meaningful activities rather than a long list of things that may never get evaluated. Admissions offices are streamlining how they read applications in order to handle more applications in a shorter amount of time. Instead of students being “joiners” in high school when it comes to activities, I encourage them to be “investors.” Students who invest in a few things see far greater gains in the admissions process.