Extracurricular Activities: What Are They and Why are They Important?

Rebekah Alemayehu, Editor-In-Chief

“Extracurricular” can be an intimidating word because of its 15-letter nature, but it has a surprisingly simple meaning. The prefix “extra-” is a Latin word meaning “outside”. Curricular refers to a “curriculum”, which is what students typically study in school. Together, the word means “outside of school.” Therefore, the phrase students repeatedly hear in the college admissions process refers to activities that students participate in that are not a part of a student’s classes or academic workload. 


Many universities, such as the University of Maryland at College Park, consider extracurricular activities when deciding whether to admit a student or not. Thinking that a good test score or GPA will get them into more selective universities such as UMD, many students tend to unknowingly neglect the importance of these activities. However, the reality is that this aspect has the potential to make or break your application. When done right, these activities can help get you admitted into your dream college. 


However, the current global pandemic has complicated things. Many in-person activities, such as sports, have been postponed in fear of spreading the virus. But don’t fret: there is still hope! Many things considered “activities”, both in a traditional and non-traditional sense, can be conducted from the comfort of your home. Some competitive activities that don’t involve physical exertion include Mock Trial (perfect for future lawyers), It’s Academic (accumulate knowledge to prepare for academic competitions), and Mathletes (perfect for math lovers and future engineers). Interest clubs at Kennedy, such as Healthcare Professions Club and STEM Club allow students to explore their career interests and only require attendance at a Zoom meeting once a week. It also demonstrates dedication to a certain field and is a convincing way to show a college that you will succeed in that career. 


Other, more traditional activities include community service and volunteering. Many organizations are looking for tutors in high school to assist elementary and middle school students adjust to and succeed in both online and in-person school. The great thing about tutoring is that it can be done from the comfort of your own home. The only thing required is a stable wifi connection and a device, and you are all set to become a tutor. Kennedy’s very own National Honor Society offers tutoring opportunities for students to both tutor and be tutored. 


Many interests and hobbies can be turned into impressive extracurriculars. Aspiring writers can take some time out of each week to write poems or short stories, or even write a novel. They can submit their works to local newspapers, literary magazines, and writing contests that can be discovered with a simple web search. Future artists and photographers can strengthen their skills with daily doodles photos, and submit their best works to art or photography competitions. Students who love dancing can assemble a dance team and perform in local showcases and dance competitions. They can even choreograph solo dances and perform on their own. Students who love to cook and/or bake in their free time can work to improve their skills every week and find a way to solidify their interests. For example, they can start a small cake pop business and sell to their friends and family, or participate in (or even HOST!) small cooking competitions. Although some of these ideas are not ideal during the pandemic, the bulk of these activities require practice to hone the skills, just like sports. This practice can be done right at home, and the parts that are unrealistic to carry out during these times, such as starting a food business, can be done once the student has mastered the skills required. Remember that these hobbies are best packaged in a college application when they have quantitative/qualitative achievements that you can discuss. This includes a competition that you won related to this hobby and a significant achievement such as getting published. 


A commonly overlooked but important extracurricular is paid work experience. Colleges understand family circumstances that require a child to provide monetary assistance for their families. Paid jobs are also beneficial to those who seek them out for the purpose of gaining experience. Activities such as these are not just important to the college admissions process; they are also vital to resume building. Many employers like to see previous experience, preferably within that same field. These opportunities help to expose you to the workplace environment. Although paid work experiences are the most impressive, internships are also regarded with similar levels of esteem. This type of experience contains valuable exposure to your field of interest and can help you to narrow down your career/college major possibilities. 


Whether you join a club, apply for a job, or seek to strengthen a hobby, it is important that you devote your time to exploring an extracurricular activity, to both strengthen your college application and contribute to your personal development.