The Ultimate Guide to Picking the Perfect Essay Topic — free download!  DOWNLOAD FOR FREE

The Foolproof Way to Order Extracurricular Activities on Your College Application

In one of my Facebook Live sessions, I got asked by multiple students and parents how to order activities to maximize their impact on the application. I gave you all a quick lesson on how to prioritize activities, but I wanted to give you more detail.

Most colleges like to quantify every section of the application. Even though evaluating extracurricular activities can be very subjective, admissions officers like to put a value on certain things more than others when it comes to how students spend their free time.

There are four major criteria that colleges use to evaluate a student's extracurricular involvement:
1. Number of years of high school the student did the activity.
2. Hours per week during season (weeks per year as well).
3. Level of leadership role.
4. Measurable impact.

For students filling out the application, like the Common Application, they will have room to list ten activities. Before they start filling out this section on the application, they should make a list of all the things they do. Then assign points or tally marks to determine the order. Activities should be listed from most important to least important, or for purposes of this exercise, most points to least points. 

For criteria #1, number of years the student has participated in the activity, assign the following points based on the student's involvement:
  • 4 points if activity has been done all four years of high school
  • 3 points for three years
  • 2 points for two years
  • 1 point for one year

For criteria #2, hours per week (during season), assign the following points:
  • 4 points if the student does the activity 20+ hours per week
  • 3 points for 15 hours per week
  • 2 points for 10 hours per week
  • 1 point for 5 hours or less per week

Criteria #3, leadership:
  • 4 points if the student holds the highest leadership title within the activity: President, Captain, Editor-in-Chief, Drum Major, Shift Manager, etc.
  • 3 points for the "second in command" role: Vice President, Managing Editor, Assistant Drum Major, Asst. Manager, etc.
  • 2 points for other leadership roles: Secretary, Treasurer, etc.
  • 1 point for membership: Club Member, Team Member, Employee, etc.

The last criteria #4, measurable impact, can be the most powerful piece:
  • 4 points if the student competes on the national level, received national exposure, or a national award
  • 3 points for state level
  • 2 points for regional level (i.e. county science fair, district championships for sports, etc.)
  • 1 point for participation within the high school/town only

For simplicity, let's say the student has three activities in high school:
  1. Tutors elementary students in the fall and winter for one hour per week. No leadership title. Does this exclusively at the elementary school in his town. Done only in 11th and 12th grade.
  2. Captain of the high school golf team in the spring. During season, he practices/plays 15 hours a week. Member of the golf team from 9th through 12th grade. He placed 2nd at the state competition.
  3. Part-time job at the local grocery story during the summer. Works 15 hours a week for the past two summers.

For Activity #1:
This student would get 2 points for tutoring for two years, 1 point for doing this one hour a week, 1 point for participating without a leadership title, and 1 point for the fact that his impact is just within his town.

For Activity #2:
He would get 4 points for playing on the golf team all four years of high school. Three points for playing 15 hours per week during the season. Four points for being the captain of the team his senior year. And, three points for competing on the state level.

For Activity #3:
He would get 2 points for working two summers in a row. Three points for working 15 hours per week. One point for being an employee without a leadership title and 1 point for the fact that he's only working within his town at one store.

Based on this exercise, I would recommend that this student list golf first, then his job at the grocery story, and finally tutoring.

"Order your #extracurriculars wisely for the greatest impact on your college applications." TWEET THIS

While colleges vary the scale they use, almost all of them will try to put a value on the role, commitment, and impact the student has on each of their activities. Because admissions officers are reading through this list quickly, you want the order and the details of each activity to highlight what is meaningful to you, and thus, meaningful to the colleges.