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Extracurricular Activities That Matter

Today’s blog post is from a friend and colleague, Craig Gonzalez. Craig is an awesome tutor and one of the most interesting academic professionals I know! A couple weeks ago, Craig and I talked about the world of college admissions and I asked him if he would share some of his insight on the role of extracurricular activities.Here’s what he had to say:
The college admissions process, despite popular belief, is not some tricky, bewildering, magical thing. Extracurricular activities are not things you do to get accepted to a university, they are things you do because you love them. But you DO want to go to a great school and you DO need to be aware of that when you decide to join a club. To figure out which activities matter, read on.
Are These Good Enough For My University?

It is absolutely hilarious to hear the above question. “Is writing for the newspaper good enough to get me into Harvard?” It’s almost as silly as the fake modesty you get on college confidential. You know what I’m talking about. The “I have a 4.0 and am President of everything and cured cancer, and I know I’m so dumb, but do I have a chance at any decent school?”

Let’s call that what it is: attention seeking. It’s the same reason the super-hot girl calls herself ugly or the buff guy calls himself fat: validation.

But you are not here seeking validation. You are here because you don’t know if your extracurricular activities are going to help you get into a great school. So, let’s figure this out, shall we?

It’s not what you do, but how you do it

Why do you think schools want you to take extracurricular activities? There are several reasons that all lead to one specific reason. First of all, do you think the school cares if you like swimming, polo, dancing, or theater? Not really. So asking if newspaper is better than theater is like asking if Lady Gaga is better than Natalie Portman.

Gaga makes music and Portman makes hearts melt (re: movies). They are not comparable. Likewise, picking extracurricular activities without a basis for comparison is insane.

Theater is better if you want to act; newspaper is better if you want to write. Right?

Second, schools really want to see if you are more than a number on a page. Grades prove that you have the intellectual ability to read and understand material, understand teachers and testing, and manage your time. The SAT does the same. Extracurricular activities prove who you are outside of academics. And that’s really what colleges should be about. Preparing you for the world outside of school.

The activities you do outside of school prove if you will be a future leader or follower. If you will sacrifice your free time for some greater good or if you care more about munchies and YouTube than the written word, sports, or poor people.

The problem is picking activities that you are good at, that you can become a leader in, and that look good on an application.

Passion Is The New Currency

Now look, If you are doing it for some ulterior motive (getting into a university), then you suck. Seriously. It’s like me learning to salsa just so I can pick up girls. I love salsa. And yes, it’s awesome for picking up girls. But that’s a nice bonus. Getting into a school because of your clubs is a great bonus, but if you are not interested in the club, that will show and just make you look like a sycophant.

The best extracurricular activity you can choose will:

– Be related to your big picture goals

– Be something you are really interested in

– Be something that you can rise to the top in

– Be something that you would be proud to tell people about

You want to succeed in life. You want to do really, really well in life. Seriously. But you also want to be happy.

Imagine this:

I am really interested in rock climbing. So, my extracurricular activity in high school was to rock climb. Now, that’s not a team sport, so how can I take what I love and make it awesomely application-worthy? I organize a rock climbing trip with kids from the inner city.

I do what I love, and I help people. And I can write a passionate essay about that. And, doing something like that might get picked up in the paper, so in my application I can refer to the time the newspaper wrote about me being an awesome human.

You need to join clubs that you will grow into. Schools need future leaders. That is a fact. “True story, bro.” So, pick something that you will succeed at. People tend to get passionate around success and uninterested in failure. So, succeed. You succeed, and everything else will fall into place.

Thanks, but where is the cake?

Let’s get some easy steps in place so you can really, thoroughly, legitimately, and awesomely find a great activity or activities to get involved in.

(1) What are you into? What is your thing?

This is open-ended. Just write down all the stuff that makes you smile, happy, laugh, get excited about. Most of you know what you are into. If you don’t know, then figure it out. What are you into? Movies, girls, boys, sports, helping people, TV, writing, poetry, food? Figure that out.

(2) Of those things that you are into, what can you probably be good at?

Helping people is easy, right? Just help. But let’s say you are really into basketball. But you are like 5 foot nothing, cannot sprint, and only know how to shoot granny style. Well, being a varsity captain is not in your future. But, you could do something auxiliary (cheerleading, mascot, film, reporting) that deals with your passion. Write it all down.

(3) Of those things that you could be capable of, which are offered in some capacity by your school?

Let’s say you are all into Christian stuff, but your school does not offer Christian stuff. Then Christian stuff needs to go into your “outside of school” pile.

If you want to be an actor, but your school does not have a film or theater department, don’t cross it out, but move it to “outside of school”.

(4) Of those things that are not listed in your school but you really love, hit up your counselor, your parents, and Google and figure out who does that stuff in your town.

Where could you go outside of school to get involved in knitting, or pet care, or magic? Do your research and write things down. If you want to write poetry but your school isn’t into that, find any poetry meet ups or poetry publishers in town. If you like water polo but your school doesn’t have a pool, find a club in town that has a team.

(5) Pick some on-campus activities and at least one off-campus activity.

Go out, ask to be on the team, apply, call the YMCA, call the local newspaper, intern, write, work, play for free. Just get yourself busy. If you join these things (pick 2-4 that you can totally dominate) or do these things, you will naturally move up the ranks, because you are into it. If you think about how cool it will be to finish school and write, workout, fight, climb, sing, or act, then you have found an extracurricular activity that you are passionate about. And that, my friends, is an extracurricular activity that matters. Because you will write about this activity, and you will tell people about it, and you will BE defined by it. So make sure you pick something that you are proud of.

NOTE: Please note that there are some exceptions to these rules. If you are really into sex, drugs, racism, or ultra-violence, you should definitely NOT get involved in those things as a way to get into college. Fight club all you want in your own time, but that’s not really the mark of a future leader. Also, don’t be a racist; racism sucks.

What are your current extracurricular activities? Will you become captain (or captain equivalent) anytime soon? If not, why not?

*Craig is an awesome dude who runs Craig Gonzales Tutoring. He has put together a pretty stellar SAT Tutorial Kit that he gives away for free. You should find him, like him, email him, and let him help you rock that SAT.

If you have any thoughts you would like to share on writing an extracurricular activities, please use the comment box below – I would love to hear from you! You can also email me at or Craig at

Eric Dobler is the president and founder of Dobler College Consulting. Follow him on Twitter.

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