Most high schools provide a plethora of extracurricular activities for their students.
Exposure to a wide range of such special interests—sports, drama, dance, painting, singing, scouts, volunteer work, debating, etc.—brings many benefits. It can help you develop new skills, discover talents, and even assess possible careers for your future.
As you are probably aware, these extracurricular activities also play a part in the college applications process.
However, their role in a college application differs if you are a first-year student applying from high school or a transfer student from another college.
Here is how and why.
First-Year College Student
Fact: Extracurricular activities, in general, hold more weight in a first-year application than in a transfer application.
1. They open up the possibility that you will become an active contributor in the college community
After grades and test scores, colleges look at extracurricular activities of high school students because they want to see if you are an active member of your academic community. Their hope is that if you are involved in your high school community, you will become a vibrant, active contributor to their college community as well.
2. They help colleges to understand how you face challenges and handle responsibilities
Your involvement in extracurricular activities helps colleges see what you are able to achieve. It also allows them to get a sense of how you handle other things that are not measured by grades and test scores, such as challenging situations and responsibilities.
3. They allow colleges to identify if you have special talents
What type of extracurricular interests you are actively pursuing and your achievements for these activities helps colleges to understand what talents you have that lie outside the academic realm. This can be very valuable to them. While not common, for some very talented students, these extracurricular activities can even rise in importance, equaling the weight of grades and test scores.
4. They let colleges see if you have been exposed to the subject matter of your chosen major
The pursuit of certain extracurricular activities can help support your application if you express an interest in a major that coincides with your activities inside or outside of school. For example, if your goal is a business major, have you worked or experienced an internship? Or, if you are considering a major in social work, the college may look to see if you have worked with children or those with special needs during non-academic time.
As you can see, there are a variety of reasons why colleges may consider your extracurricular activities as something important. However, this does not mean that all these factors apply to every student in the same way.
Transfer College Student
Fact: Extracurricular activities play a lesser role for transfer students while GPA becomes even more important than it was for high school students. In fact, GPA pushes other factors down and rises to the top of the list for transfer students in a very significant way.
1. No need to guess anymore about what type of student you will be
As noted above, colleges judge high school students by grades and tests first. Then, they use the information about their extracurricular activities to simply make a prediction of what type of college student they will be.
However, when you are a transfer student, you are already a college student. Therefore, a college does not have to try to predict anymore. They already know what type of college student you are. That is the reason why extracurricular activities do not have to be incorporated as fully into their appraisal.
2. No need to judge your activities during personal, non-school time—such as having a family, raising children, or working
Since transfer students are often older, their lives and experiences are usually remarkably different when compared to those of a typical high school student. Perhaps they are working or they have a family and have to support that family by working. Therefore, colleges have no need to judge a transfer student’s non-school time—although they might.
While extracurricular activities can still be an important part of your application if you are a transfer student, you do not need to strategize and carve out a lot of additional time to create an extracurricular resume to impress a college. Your primary focus should be your academics—getting the strongest grades and the best GPA you possibly can.
Of course, if you are involved in extracurricular activities, you do not need to stop them. Rather, be proud of your achievements outside of the school environment but also realize that these activities will not be as strongly considered by the colleges as if you were a first-year student applying from high school.
While the role of extracurricular activities is different in college application for high school students and transfer students, academics always come first. Your grades, the difficulty of your curriculum, and your standardized test scores (primarily for first year applicants) are always a priority for colleges and, therefore, should be so for you.
Extracurricular activities never replace this primary component of your college application. Being active outside the classroom—working, volunteering, challenging yourself in sports or arts, etc.—is great. But, in the eyes of colleges, it is not a replacement for being a student first.
If you have any questions or concern about the college application process, please contact me. I would love to be of help. I am an Independent Educational Consultant with years of experience in the field of education. The knowledge I am able to provide can help you feel confident about making decision related to college applications.