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You Don’t Need an Olympic Medal to Get Into College: Extracurricular Activities
Jimena Luque
Harvard 2025

One of the most common questions asked by high schoolers is what extracurricular activities give them the best shot at getting into their dream school. Oftentimes, they feel scared when they hear about the supposed unrealistically high expectations colleges have for their applicants. Thus, many students end up assuming that they have to be president of all the clubs in their schools, do an internship at NASA, and find the cure to cancer to have the slightest chance of being accepted to a certain college.

Fortunately, this is far from the truth. Here’s some realistic advice about how to navigate extracurriculars during high school (and maintain your social life and keep your sanity alive during the process):

Quality is more important than quantity

After being used to completing each and every extra credit assignment in class, leaving blank spaces in your Common App activities section might seem terrifying. However, when it comes to extracurriculars, less is usually more, especially since demonstrating true commitment to an activity requires dedicating lots of time to it. I can assure you that college admissions officers are smart enough to recognize if you joined the math club for three months just to add it as yet another thing you did in high school. Instead of making it your goal to do as many activities as you can, focus on how you can make the greatest impact in the activities which matter the most to you. For example, one of my favorite things in the whole world is dancing. Of course, I trained with my school’s dance team, but I also spent lots of time assisting my coach with directing the practices of our younger teammates and preparing the costumes and scenery we’d use for our presentations. If you look closely into the things you like the most, there’s always a way of going even further than what’s expected from you, instead of just being remembered as a fleeting participant in a club who didn’t really make a difference. That being said…

Quality doesn’t mean an international championship

Once you’ve discovered your key interests to which you’ll devote most of your time, don’t fret about having to be a worldwide superstar in what you do in order to get into your dream school. This doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t be giving your all in the activities you participate in. It simply means that no one expects you to win a gold medal in 100m freestyle in the Olympics if you really like swimming. Again, demonstrating commitment is the most important thing of all, even more than any recognition. During my time in my school’s dancing team, we didn’t win almost any important prizes, but we were firmly dedicated to doing our best, which led the team to a very significant improvement with respect to previous years.

Do what you love

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice. None of the previous tips will be achievable if you aren’t authentically passionate about what you do. Despite all the effort and time you might dedicate to an activity, it will definitely be clear if you aren’t really interested in it, whether it’s in your essays, your interviews, or even the way you describe it in your application. Besides, the main reason for joining an activity should never be to impress colleges. You’ll only be attending high school once: don’t waste your time in activities that make you miserable just to extend your resume. Chances are, it will hurt you more than help you.

I hope these tips can help you find some sense of relief and rethink the way you approach extracurricular activities. Best of luck in your high school journey, and remember to do your best and have fun!