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Articles / Applying to College / Do I Have Too Many Extracurricular Activities?

Do I Have Too Many Extracurricular Activities?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | June 25, 2016

Question: HI! I would like to know if too many extracurriculars hurt my admission odds to elite colleges. I have 7 extracurricular activities I have in mind that I would most likely be doing: Jazz Band, my church's band, my own band, track, cross country, yearbook, and some coding stuff that I like to do (possibly creating an app or website by the end of my junior year). From those activities you could see that I like music, running, journalism, and computer science. I am doing yearbook out of curiosity. Would it hurt to have too many interest, should I drop yearbook, or just simply not list it on my extracurricular list? Please consider that it might be the easiest for me to get an editor position in yearbook and possibly section leader in jazz band.

As you've probably heard through the grapevine, college admission officials are typically more interested in students who have made a major investment in a couple of activities rather than in “serial joiners" who boast of long lists of undertakings but demonstrate no real significant involvement with any.

If you love what you're doing—and have time for everything without sacrificing grades or health—then there's no reason to cut back. But if some of these endeavors, such as yearbook and jazz band, are staying on the roster primarily because you think you'll be in line for a leadership role, then “The Dean's" advice is to dump them.

Frankly at the “elite" colleges that you aspire to attend, yearbook editors and band or orchestra section leaders are a dime a dozen. You really won't get much mileage out of these at admission-decision time. So do them if you love them but not for application fodder.

Your coding sounds like the most unique of your activities so perhaps that's something you can continue and develop, assuming that you find it satisfying. Even if you're doing this coding on your own and it will never lead to a “presidency," it might just be the one item on your list that makes admission officials sit up and take notice, especially if you take it in an uncommon direction. You could be creative and combine this interest with another one. For example, launch a Web site called something like “All That Jazz," where members of high school jazz bands from throughout the country meet up to share suggestions, complaints, funny stories, and even college recommendations.

And if you're a good enough runner to catch a coach's eye, then that's another area that you may want to focus on. Recruited athletes usually get a big “hook" in the admissions process, although it can be a quantum leap from being a successful high school athlete to qualifying for a college team.

But most important is that you continue activities because you choose to and not because you're concerned about what admission folks will think.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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