Tip of the Month: Reducing Some Extra Worries about Extracurriculars

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As admission counselors, we get a lot questions about extracurriculars and tackling listing activities in the college application. 

I’d like to tackle five recent questions I have discussed with students in the hope that their answers will provide some comfort and/or clarification for you!

  • What kind of content should be included in the Activities section of the application?

Take this section to tell us about how you are using your time outside of the classroom. This doesn’t have to be purely extracurriculars (soccer, band, church). Non-organized activities can be just as useful in helping us understand your commitments. Do you spend a good deal of time reading, drawing, crafting, or other independent tasks? You can list those things! Do you spend a lot of time caretaking for a family member, commuting, or other responsibilities? Those can give us context also! Feel free to list anything that helps us understand what you are up to. Also, don’t forget to couple this with a helpful activity description. Listing ‘Soccer’ with an activity description: ‘I play on my school’s soccer team as a goalie’ is less helpful than telling us, ‘Attended weekly meetings, had hour long practices every morning, provided a sense of community and purpose for me.’ The description is a helpful place to give us more detail about the commitments involved with the activity, your accomplishments while in the activity, and how the activity has been impactful for you. 

  • Should I have added more extracurricular involvement to my schedule if I decide not to submit test scores? 

This is an important one that I wanted to address, because when I hear it, it shows me the sense of pressure students are facing as related to the pandemic. And the answer to this is no, we are not going to be looking for increased extracurriculars as a way to ‘make up’ for scores that are not there. You students are already doing so many wonderful and impressive things, and the last thing we want you to think is that we somehow expect you to fit in more. There are many reasons why you may or may not have scores that you want to submit, with many of those being things you cannot control. The decision to submit or not submit scores does not affect the strength of your application at HMC. 

  • What if I have not had as much opportunity in extracurriculars as some peers?

It may or may not surprise you to know that in addition to your application, admission offices also consider your application’s context. We gather that context from a variety of sources, including demographic information about your school and community, a school report from your counselor that gives us background related to your school’s offerings and opportunities, and historical knowledge of your school or area based on past applications and visits. While we read about your involvement, we take your school and community context into account. We hope that you have been involved in your community and the opportunities that have been accessible to you, but we also know that those things look very different for each student. If you ever have concerns that some aspect of your context may not be clear to us from other sources, you are also welcome to share more information in the Additional Information section of your application. 

  • Does the number of activities matter? 

This question is a perfect example of the idea of quality versus quantity, and for college applications, the key piece really is quality. Someone with 10 activities won’t automatically have a leg up on someone with 5 activities. What is more important is that your Activities section showcases, as fully as possible, what you are involved in. This again means that you should try to craft activity descriptions that showcase the activity’s involved commitments, any accomplishments you had, and/or how the activity has impacted you. Though your main goal should not be listing as many activities as possible, do try to sit down and brainstorm a complete list of all the things you are involved in. You could even do this exercise with a family member or friend who can remind you of anything you are missing. Sometimes we don’t immediately see all of the amazing things we do without giving it some thought. If you find that you actually end up with more than 10 activities (maximum allowed by the Common App), try to think about which 10 were the most impactful for you. If you feel like the other activities are also important to you, again, you are welcome to provide more detail in the Additional Information section. 

  • What sorts of activities are you looking for?

What is wonderful about students and their activities is that no two students are exactly the same! We never know what exactly we might find in the things that students are doing. Similarly, we don’t read applications with the hope that students are involved in any specific list of things. When it comes to choosing your extracurriculars, our primary hope is that you have been involved in activities that are personally satisfying and fulfilling to you. While we read an application, we do learn about how a student’s values and perspectives fit with ours. For example, you can see from our mission statement that we value STEM, HSA (humanities, social sciences, arts), socially-mindedness/impact, and interdisciplinary thinking, among other focuses such as community and collaboration. While we may find aspects of fit in the Activities section, there are many places that some of these values may appear as we read applications. Blog Credit: This blog was written by Courtney Hill, Admission Counselor