January 30, 2015

Extracurricular Activities | How to Demonstrate Commitment

Extracurricular activities are one of the biggest parts of your college application. This means it's in your best interest to get the most bang for your buck on the clubs and sports you join.

However, most students don't do much in in their first 2 years of high school and then suddenly join a whole bunch of clubs in their last two. They're trying to cram in their extracurriculars (as well as properly preparing for a significant exam). Unfortunately, it's easy to see why this strategy is not optimal. The person reading your application has seen this sort of thing before and will see through the charade (see: College Admissions | Who is Reading Your Application). Here's a better way to participate in extracurriculars:

This philosophy is inspired by Carl Friedrich Gauss (a mathematician), and it signals exactly what you want to show college admissions officers. (Don’t worry, you won't have to be familiar with anything Gauss actually did to follow this strategy.) Gauss was arguably the greatest mathematician of all time. In his published mathematical works, he used this very simple phrase as a preface, “pauca sed matura,” which translates to “few but ripe.”

Gauss, while a prolific mathematician, was not a prolific writer. He refused to publish anything he considered to be incomplete. He would find one strand of research and follow it all the way to the end. Then, he'd only publish what he learned if he reached the end. (Someone following this advice for *academics* would easily fail high school for failing to turn in assignments, but that's beside the point.)

Learn from Gauss, and make this your guide to extra-curricular activities. Your objective is not to join a large number of clubs and sports. You don't want to be a jack of all trades and master of none. Instead, join fewer clubs and and remain in those clubs for at least 3 years. Get super-involved and rise to a leadership position within those clubs.

Admissions officers aren't stupid. If they see that you did nothing in your first few years of high school and then that you suddenly became a member of many clubs in the last, they'll know why. They hate these people.

The best solution? Do what our friend Gauss did: signal commitment, passion, and leadership by sticking with fewer things and doing them better as a result.

By sticking with 2 or 3 activities for 4 years rather than 6 or 7 for only one, you demonstrate that you have a lasting passion for an activity and are motivated enough to pursue it even when there is no immediate payoff. (Boost in college admissions chances) You also show that you're willing to make a commitment and pursue the things you enjoy. If you manage to rise to a leadership position within the club (and honestly, this is not difficult), then you can make this a big talking point in your application. So when joining clubs, keep in mind the Gaussian philosophy; “Few, but ripe.”


  1. This is very good advice in respect to extracurricular activities. Make sure whatever activities you pursue are activities you actually enjoy. This way it will be both more fun and you are more likely to stick with it. Don't Just pick activities based off what you think colleges would like to see.

  2. So what if you haven't done anything your first three years and you're a senior. Should you continue doing nothing or not? (but your grades and test scores are good!)

  3. Joining extracurricular activities is one way to beat stress in college while meeting new friends, and simply having fun. I agree that you should join the ones that you think you enjoy the most. Have a good one!

  4. This is very good advice...but getting into a leadership position just doesnt seem to be as easy as he describes

  5. There is no reason colleges should look at extracurricular activities as relevant. If kids would rather go home and spend their time reading, getting away from the stress of school that way, why is that worse than playing volleyball? Admission should be based on grades and level of courses as college should be about learning, not socializing. We have really gone in the wrong direction and continuing the trend of treating extracurricular activities as demonstrating anything is ridiculous. We all know the most popular, not the most qualified or smartest, get leadership positions in many of these activities anyway.