Do Extracurriculars in High School Still Matter?

Extracurriculars are one of several pieces that represent a student on their college application. These activities can help colleges identify exceptional students among a sea of candidates.

Extracurriculars show colleges that students are highly engaged—indicating that they’ll be an active member of the student body in college.

Extracurriculars demonstrate a student’s capabilities in areas such as time management, teamwork, responsibility, leadership, and discipline.

Extracurriculars show that a student has interests and a life outside of the classroom.

Normally, students begin exploring activities that they might enjoy in 7th-9th grade so that by 10th grade, they’ve identified 2-3 areas where they want to focus their energy.

But these aren’t exactly normal times. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in many high school students’ lives. Coming out of a year of remote or hybrid learning—and with so much uncertainty still ahead—students and their parents are left wondering: do extracurriculars still matter?

Extracurriculars in the Post-COVID World

We won’t keep you in suspense: the short answer to this question is “yes.” Extracurriculars DO matter. But colleges are giving students the opportunity to provide important context on their personal situations.

In 2020, Common App introduced the COVID-19 question, where students have a chance to explain how the pandemic has affected them. It’s never a good idea to leave college admissions officers guessing, so we strongly advise students to take full advantage of this space and shed light on the challenges they have faced during the pandemic.

If your student or a family member was sick with COVID, disclose this information. If your student’s school shut down and extracurricular activities were cancelled, explain how this roadblock interfered with their plans.

That being said, unless your family endured serious hardship during the last couple of years, colleges will expect students to have found ways to adapt and stay engaged.

Maybe your student took an extracurricular online or found a way to do it independently.

Maybe they dedicated time to helping others who were struggling.

Maybe they engaged with a club or organization virtually.

Maybe they took the time to explore new topics through platforms like Coursera.

These examples all count as extracurriculars—and best of all, they demonstrate serious dedication and ingenuity! Don’t be afraid to play up these qualities in your student’s college application.

What’s Next In High School Extracurriculars?

Students who sat out extracurriculars or feel like they missed an important opportunity to explore their passions obviously can’t hit the redo button. But they can and should move forward full steam ahead.

Assessments like StrengthsFinder can help speed up this process, giving students insight into the kinds of activities they may want to explore. TED talks, Coursera, and even simple personality quizzes are also great resources. The key is to actively expose your student to new ideas and explore them to see what sticks.

If your student needs support choosing and pursuing meaningful activities outside the classroom, check out Signet’s Guide to Extracurriculars. You can also connect with us for help navigating the college admissions process.

Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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