Extracurriculars: Choose quality over quantity

Join activities to feed your passions, not just to pad your college application

Lucas Johnson headshot
Lucas Johnson, St. Paul Academy and Summit School

What can set you apart from the application next to your is sincerity. Honesty is ultimately up to you, but involvement in activities that set you on the right path toward your passions are far more valuable than activities designed to make you look desirable.


SENIOR YEAR IS a transition period for high school students, a time to discover who they want to be in their adult lives.

With this transition comes the ultimate question: What does
 your future hold? For many high school seniors, the answer is at first simple: college.

But as the process of applying
 to a university becomes more real and daunting, students may realize that college may not be as simple an answer as it first appeared.

Colleges look for more than consistently high grades and a well-crafted essay. In today’s application process, universities are searching for the whole package, a model student who also is sufficiently involved in his or her community and holds leadership positions in varying activities.

Students are forced to display, in essence, why their accomplishments in high school are more impressive than the applicant next to them.

Sounds like a lot right? Absolutely.

The pressure that comes with fulfilling a university’s expectations can cause a student to overcompensate in an attempt to appear versatile and involved in their communities. In actuality, some students are getting involved simply for the opportunity to list a new activity on their college application.

I’ve seen this phenomenon take place in high school. Students are constantly complaining about their commitments and how much time each activity takes up. When asked why they would even be involved 
in something they don’t enjoy, the answer is consistent: “Because it looks good on a college application.”

For example, a student may decide to take part in debate team, volunteer at a library or take a class that “looks good” on an application, even if those activities or classes do not genuinely interest the student.

College admissions staff and experts caution against this.

The problem with this logic is the inherent selfishness and laziness that accompany it. Instead of taking the time to seek out an activity or organization that is engaging and challenging, some students decide to take the easy road: involve themselves in activities they may dread attending, but are willing to endure for the prospect of standing out among other applicants.

This is wrong, and it showcases a youth culture in which selfishness and laziness reign king, and hard work and research take a distant back seat.


At first glance, the choice to join a club or volunteer strictly to boost your college application may seem justified, considering how selective the college application process has become. Over the past roughly 20 years, the application process has changed in a number of distinct ways, according to KD College Prep, a Texas-based company that provides classes and tutoring for college entrance exams.

First, the competition has significantly increased. Harvard, one of the most prestigious universities on the planet, had an 18 percent acceptance rate in 1994. But for the class of 2015, the acceptance rate plummeted to a mere 6 percent.

Second, the cost of college has skyrocketed. Over the last decade, tuition costs have increased at a higher rate than inflation and family income, according to KD College Prep. The average tuition and fee price of a single year at a public four-year school is 40 percent higher in 2015-16 than it was in 2005-06 (adjusting for inflation), according to the College Board’s website. The average price at a two- year college is 29 percent higher than 10 years ago, and the average price at a private, nonprofit four-year school is 26 percent higher.

Additionally, some colleges have begun charging students for submitting applications, meaning students have begun to pay for college even before an acceptance letter has been mailed out. If the worst should happen, and a rejection is on its way, those dollars have been wasted.

All these reasons, and more, might make the prospect of falsifying genuine interest seem more and more justified. However, this is not the appropriate approach to take for applications.

That kind of dismissive attitude, that an activity is “just for a college application,” is one that should not be accepted.


Look at it this way: you’re a senior in high school, and you’re incredibly passionate about politics and bringing about change. You figure that a great outlet to share your passion would be to run for student government. You work tirelessly at your speech, trying to convince the student body why you would be an excellent addition.

You deliver your speech well, and as you listen to the other candidates’ speeches, you feel nervous about your chances. At the end of the week, the voting results are in, and to your dismay, you were not elected. You, being the considerate sport that you are, congratulate the winner and move on.

Later in the day, you hear the winner speaking with some fellow students. You overhear a snippet of their conversation.

“Yeah, I really don’t care all that much about student government. I’m excited because it’ll look great on my college app.”

You’re devastated.

This student has taken a position from you that you were enthused about, and their motive was so 
they could pen the title down on
 an application. Students should think about who they might be affecting before they get involved in activities for the title and not for the substance.

High school is not only about getting into college; high school also is about finding out what you want to do once you get to college. If students work hard enough, and have their priorities in place, college can be a real and exciting opportunity.

But what can set you apart from the application next to yours is sincerity. Honesty is ultimately up to you, but involvement in activities that set you on the right path toward your passions are far more valuable than activities designed to make you look desirable.

Because once school changes to real life, passion is what will chart your path to success.