Extracurriculars to Avoid on the Common App

Many students struggle to decide which extracurriculars to include on their college applications and which activities to cross off. This challenge is understandable, given the multitude of activities students participate in over the four years of high school. 

Still, choosing an appropriate activity list for your college applications is crucial. While some applicants might decide to pad their applications with numerous activities, adopting a more focused approach is advisable. 

As colleges become increasingly selective, choosing the right after-school activities can be challenging. Luckily, this article provides a list of extracurriculars that are best left off college applications. Some of these might be obvious initially, but others might not!  

Why Are Extracurricular Activities So Important For College Applications?

GPA and test scores carry significant weight in college admissions decisions. However, the activities included on the college application can also have a significant impact. Admissions officers appreciate students with strong academic backgrounds, but they seek insight into applicants’ interests and passions, as these can give them a fuller picture of your potential in college potential. 

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Including impressive activities that highlight a student’s best qualities set them apart from other applicants and offer admissions officers a more personal perspective. 

Which After-School Activities Should Be Omitted from College Applications?

When preparing college application, it’s essential to include after-school activities that showcase an applicant’s abilities, strengths, and passions. Still, which activities are better left off? The following sections detail after-school activities that applicants should consider avoiding. 

1. Activities You Didn’t Participate in Past 9th or 10th Grade

College applications should reflect an applicant’s best qualities and attributes. So, including activities that were abandoned after a year or two could be detrimental. Applicant should demonstrate to admissions officers their ability to make commitments and pursue their passions.  

Joining clubs, sports, and other after-school activities to find discover one’s interests is perfectly acceptable. However, if participation in certain extracurriculars was brief, it’s better not to list the activity. 

2. Extracurricular Activities From Middle School 

Some students might be tempted to list middle school activities on their applications. While those extracurriculars may have made an impact, colleges generally prefer to see sustained activities from high school. This approach provides a better understanding of an applicant’s current capabilities. 

Of course, if a student maintained their participation in activities from middle school and through high school, they can safely incorporate that information. For example, they could mention starting piano lessons in 6th grade or beginning soccer in middle school. 

While this information may demonstrate commitment, focusing on more recent accomplishments and activities is essential.   

3. Side Projects You Only Did Once

Listing side projects or one-off activities can send the wrong message to a college. Admissions officers seek committed students who follow through on their passions. Unfortunately, many volunteer experiences fall into this category and should not be listed. 

Participating in a volunteer experience is commendable, but unless an applicant can show that they’ve made a sustained impact on their community, it’s better not to list such activities. This advice also applies to other short-lived experiences like occasional tutoring, brief dog walking stints, or other one-time jobs or activities. 

4. Summer Camp

Summer Camp can be a blast, but it might not be best to list it on your college application. Colleges often appreciate students engaging in activities over the summer and connecting with peers at summer camp. Nevertheless, these paid activities don’t demonstrate long-term commitment or highlight an individual’s strongest qualities. Exceptions exist, such as competitive summer programs at top universities like MIT. In most cases, however, listing summer camps mostly conveys to admissions officers that an applicant has the money and privilege to attend these camps. 

5. Missions Trips

Mission trips are another activity that students often list on their applications. As with volunteer work, list this activity on your college application depends on your level of involvement and the impact of these experiences. 

If a student is genuinely passionate about mission work and has participated in trips every summer, it might be worthwhile to include it on your application, especially if it demonstrates leadership abilities or the personal significance of the experience.

But, if mission trips are merely listed as volunteer experiences to bolster the application, it’s better to leave them off the college application. Admissions officers can see through such tactics. Focusing on after-school activities that genuinely resonate with the applicant is more effective.    

6. Extracurricular Activities the Applicant Isn’t Passionate About 

In general, it’s best to avoid listing extracurriculars that don’t spark an applicant’s passion. Any activities included should demonstrate sustained interest throughout the high school years. The goal is to show colleges that the applicant has maintained a balanced life, both inside and outside the classroom. Demonstrating capabilities beyond academics can be highly influential, but only if presented sincerely and thoughtfully.

In conclusion, carefully considering the activities included in a college application ensures that they accurately represent an applicant’s abilities, strengths, and passions. By avoiding the inclusion of less impactful or less relevant activities, applicants can create a more compelling application that truly showcases their potential as college students.

We at HelloCollege aim to help you get the most out of your university preparations. For more information about college admissions, testing, and practice, read our other blogs or contact us to learn how we can help you!

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Rasha Myers

Rasha Myers

Rasha Myers, M.Ed., is the Director of Thought Leadership at HelloCollege. Proud HBCU alumna, she dedicates her career to educating and empowering families, working tirelessly to remove educational inequities.
Kevin Krebs - Founder of HelloCollege

About Our Founder

Kevin Krebs

Inspired by his parents, Kevin’s journey from a first-gen, diverse, low-income background to Northwestern University shaped him. After experiencing challenges, including student loan debt, he founded HelloCollege and has spent the last 25 years helping students successfully navigate college admissions.

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