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Facebook Live Recap and Bonus Questions: Extracurricular Activities

Extracurriculars are a major part of a high-schooler's life—and college applications. My recent Facebook Live Q&A covers all of your questions on extracurricular activities and provides my insider advice on how to maximize your outside interests.

In case you missed it, here’s a recap of my Facebook Live Q&A: Extracurricular Activities. Read on for a list of the questions I answered live, to watch a video of my session, and to see some bonus questions that I didn't get to answer live!

  • Is it better to focus on a demanding academic load and keep extracurriculars to a minimum or take less challenging courses and more extracurriculars?
  • What exactly is the objective to get across to admission officers in terms of extracurriculars?
  • What does it mean to have themes emerge from extracurriculars?
  • Is it better to pursue a unique extracurricular or one that is more well-known?
  • How important is having a job during school compared to school clubs or sports?
  • I have read that colleges award "points" for extracurriculars. How do you list them on applications? Pick the extracurriculars with most "points" or pick ones the student is more passionate about?
  • If you have played a sport at your high school for two years but spent most of your time on the bench, is it better to "stick with" the sport to show continuity or drop it and put more effort into the tough academic requirements of junior year?
  • What type of leadership or volunteer work should students be doing?
  • How do you determine the correct sequence for all extracurricular activities?
  • Do you list marching band as one extracurricular activity and mention the leadership roles in the limited comment section or do you list it as three separate activities so the leadership roles can be described in a little more detail?
  • Can the "Additional Information" section on the Common App be used if you run out of room on the activities list?
  • Many applications give the option to submit supplementary materials, such as music, art, etc. How do highly selective schools feel about applicants submitting these materials?
  • Should you describe or explain the club on your application if the title or name doesn't do it justice?
  • Is there is a place in the Common Application to show community service hours? Do you need to prove these hours?
  • Are foreign languages considered extracurricular activities?
  • Do foreign language immersion programs count as extracurriculars?
  • What extracurricular activities should a pre-med student be doing?
  • What extracurricular activities would you recommend to a 9th grader who is interested in engineering?
  • Is a recreational league as esteemed as a high school or club league in the eyes of admissions officers?
  • Is a competitive activity, such as cheerleading, more impressive than if you participate in the same activity through your high school?
  • What do you do if the activities you're most passionate about happen at the same time of the year and you can't devote time to both?
  • If you are unable to participate in an extracurricular activity one year due to scheduling conflicts, should you explain this on your application?
  • Is being a camp counselor considered a leadership experience that colleges consider during the admissions process?
  • Can you list a family obligation, such as caring for a family member, on your activities list?


1. If the community service hours are spent at your temple/church/mosque/etc., should you disclose that information? Is there a reason you wouldn't want to let admissions know your religion?

It's a personal decision. Some people don't want that disclosed anywhere in the application. They worry that an admissions officer may be prejudicial. That would be illegal, but it happens every so often. I sometimes would see underlying bias among admissions officers if the student's application was dominated by religion, but just mentioning community service through a church/temple on the activities list should be fine.

2. How do you describe just being a member of a team?

I usually list the role/position the student plays and highlight anything of note. Instead of writing "Participant of Varsity Soccer Team," the student could list it as "Starting Forward of Varsity Soccer Team."

3. With reference to the art supplement, the schools my son is looking at specifically mention sending it in even if it's just a hobby. They have a link in the Common App. Do you recommend? Also, I read that the extracurricular descriptions should have a "fun feel" with a sense of humor if appropriate. Do you agree?

If an art portfolio is submitted, it should be outstanding. If it is viewed and evaluated by the art department and it's not outstanding, it could negatively impact the student's overall application. I've seen this happen (even for a student who is not majoring in art). So, I would recommend sending it in if the student has a very special talent (winning local/state/national art awards). Descriptions rarely have a "fun feel" to them, but they can. You just have to be very careful with it. If it's too casual, the student might not be taken seriously.