Let’s start off with the good news: your extracurricular activities aren’t as important in the college admissions process as having strong grades and test scores, and having taken a challenging set of classes in high school.
The bad news is that they’re up there with essays and letters of recommendation as fairly important factors. They’re not going to get you in if your scores and GPA aren’t up to snuff, but not having any can absolutely be a deal breaker.
With that said, if you’re a senior in high school and didn’t plan ahead for extracurricular activities to put on your college application, you still have some options. Don’t give up on your dream school just yet!
Think Outside the Box
Are you sure you don’t have any extracurricular activities? There are lots of things that aren’t immediately obvious, but still qualify. Things you may not have thought to list include:
- Tutoring (even if it’s just your younger siblings)
- Playing an instrument (even if you don’t perform or play with other people)
- Activities related to school, but not directly required for any of your classes
- Significant family commitments (if your parents rely on you to provide a lot of care for your siblings — not just the occasional couple of hours babysitting — colleges will view it as an extracurricular activity)
If none of these is spurring any ideas, try thinking of it this way: when you aren’t in school, sleeping, or doing homework, what are you doing? When you and your friends spend time together, what do you do? What are your hobbies?
The challenge with these less-obvious activities is that you’ll have to sell them a little harder than you would for more traditional extracurriculars. This is where your essay comes in handy. Take this opportunity to elaborate on these activities and explain how they have played a role in your life, or helped to shape who you are.
Better Late Than Never
Colleges prefer to see a strong history of extracurricular activities, of course. But starting in your senior year is better than having nothing at all to show them.
You’re probably thinking that after having seen thousands of applications, they’ll know exactly what you’re up to. You’re right; they will. But it’s still better to have something to show than nothing — and if you’re lucky, the admissions officer will appreciate that you’re making an effort.
Consider joining a few clubs. If any of the other club members start to suffer from senioritis, you can step in and pick up the slack. Colleges prefer to see depth of commitment instead of broad involvement, so work on stepping into leadership roles in two or three clubs instead of just being a member of seven or eight.
Think about hobbies or talents you have that you can act on. For example, if you have a knack for writing, submit a few pieces to various magazines for potential publication. While it’s not as impressive as having already been published would be, it will still show colleges that you’re working on building your strengths. If you have a great singing voice and a couple of musically inclined friends, get together in an informal band and see if you can perform at local cafes.
When you’re looking for last-minute activities to start, focus on those that you can incorporate into a cohesive narrative. If your high school history and intended major revolve around electrical engineering, volunteering at an animal shelter will be an obvious attempt to put something down as an extracurricular activity. If you’ve excelled in biology classes and want to become a vet, though, you can sell it as something you have a genuine interest in doing.
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