Guide to Choosing the Best High School Extracurricular Activities & Electives

Marie-Antonette Bone / Colleges of Distinction »

As the time to apply for college gets closer, your mind might start racing: How can I make myself stand out? What do I put on my college résumé? Is getting good grades enough to impress college admissions? Fortunately, one of the most effective ways to build your résumé is also the most fulfilling—and the most fun. And the spring semester is a great time to add some of these activities to your schedule. Extracurricular activities and electives are sure to make the most of your high school experience while also giving you a boost for your future.

Extracurriculars and Electives, Defined

Simply put, extracurriculars and electives are any kinds of classes, clubs, or activities that aren’t required for graduation credit. They can be great ways for you to explore your interests and unfold your talents, helping you develop as a well-rounded person outside of academics. And because they aren’t specifically required, your participation shows that you’re a dedicated, hard worker.

Extracurricular activities don’t have to be sponsored by your school, so you have an unlimited amount of activities to choose from. Here are a few key aspects that can help you decide which extracurricular(s) would be best for you.

  • An activity that lets you help others

Activities that give you an outlet to help others build your leadership skills while exposing you to a broader perspective of communities and experiences different from your own. As you serve others, you can gain confidence in your strengths as you see your work create real results.

  • An activity that teaches and challenges you

Opportunities to learn and experience challenges can help you gain essential life skills. You will better understand what your strong points are as well as how you can improve on your weaker points. A few examples of the kinds of skills that many extracurriculars can build include goal setting, teamwork, time management, and critical thinking.

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  • An activity that provides real-world experience

Some activities are specifically focused on helping you become a better professional for the working world. Taking part in leadership, community service, and public speaking doesn’t only look good on a résumé; it can make a huge difference in how you perform and succeed as an adult.

Balancing School Work and Extracurriculars

It’s important to understand how to balance your academics and other activities so that you don’t stretch yourself thin. No matter what, you should always prioritize academics, so choose to participate in whatever allows you to stay afloat and do your best work. Keep in mind a few tips to help you understand and balance your schedule.

  • Don’t sign up for too much

Although you may think that participating in a broad spectrum of extracurriculars can help your college application, it may actually do the opposite. College recruiters want to see not only that you are participating in an activity, but also that you are deeply involved and committed to it. Scratching the surface of a whole bunch of activities doesn’t allow you to showcase your dedication nor experience anything to their full potential. Instead, choose a few key activities into which you can dedicate a lot of time and effort—ones you’re deeply interested in. If you hate science, you don’t have to join the physics club. You will find that the extracurriculars that don’t correlate with your interests aren’t as enjoyable to participate in. You’re much more likely to thrive in an environment that you enjoy.

  • Find extracurriculars you will commit to

You may find yourself in a situation where you don’t enjoy an extracurricular as much as you expected, and that’s okay! Keep searching around until you find something that you’re happy to dedicate your time to. College recruiters may ask you to draw from your experiences in electives to get a better understanding of your character. An application riddled with many short-lived extracurriculars can make you look noncommittal. If you spend lots of time in a select few activities, you’ll get the full benefit of immersing yourself in the activity putting real effort into your participation. As you look around, be mindful of whether you’ll enjoy the topic and activities related to the extracurricular. If you think you’ll have fun, sign yourself up!

  • Fix your extracurricular activities around your class schedule

Remember: your academics should be your priority, not your extracurriculars. It’s important to leave some breathing room in your daily schedule so that you have enough time to do your best work in in school. Review your class schedule and estimate the amount time you’ll need for homework and studying, then deliberate how much time you can dedicate to extracurriculars. It’s important to good balance so that you can excel both in and out of the classroom.

Choosing An Activity

No matter what, you should choose an activity that will enjoy. Don’t sign up for something just because your friends want to do it, and don’t shy away from something just because it’s different from the norm! Your passions are personal, so utilize your time in a way that is fulfilling to you.

There is no one activity that will look “best” on a college application, so you don’t need to worry about signing up for certain activities that you think would be most impressive on a college application. If you choose something you’re passionate about, you’ll be more likely to get deeply involved and take charge as a leader. More interest means more engagement, which clearly reflects on your application regardless of the type of activity.

If you already have a potential college major in mind, you can utilize extracurriculars to grow your experience in that field. Keep in mind, however, that your choice of activity doesn’t have to be directly related to your major in order to get that experience! You can participate in any extracurricular that allows you to tap into the skills required for that field. For example, I was the historian of my high school’s National Honor Society, and I pursued an advertising degree in college. Although the club was not specifically focused on advertising, I used my position to record our experiences through photos and copywriting, design a web page, and share content on social media. I used my experience in the National Honor Society to hone such positive traits as leadership and service while displaying skills that correlate with my field.

For those who don’t yet know what major to pursue, extracurriculars can be just as helpful! Joining extracurricular activities help you think outside the box of day-to-day school work and may spark a passion that you didn’t know you had! Feel free to explore different types of extracurriculars, because that just may be what inspires your college major.

Take the time you have to utilize extracurricular activities and electives to your advantage; they’ll keep you motivated throughout high school while also enriching you as a well-rounded student. Learn as much as you can, find out what you’re passionate about, and even make a handful of new friends. There is no doubt that extracurriculars are one of the most fun parts about building your college résumé!


More Helpful Guides:

High School Checklist: Freshmen through Senior Year

College Prep Guide: How to Create a Four-Year Plan for High School Freshmen

Top 50 Questions to Ask Your Guidance Counselor

Who, When, and How to Ask for the Best Letter of Recommendation for College Admissions