Applying for college requires students to meet a lot of expectations, both inside and outside the classroom. We all know what colleges expect of us from an academic standpoint: excellent grades on tests and assignments, high scores in competitive exams and brilliant letters of recommendation from our teachers. However, not all colleges are satisfied with just academic credentials. Many of the newer colleges in India, such as Ashoka University and Krea University, are liberal arts universities. They are more in line with American and Canadian systems, and as such, they also require extracurriculars. These can vary based on which colleges one applies to, but in general, here are some main extracurriculars that every student should have.


In the applications for many universities, there is a list of “extracurriculars” that needs to be filled out. Some of these lists have dropdowns from which you can choose a broad topic within which your extracurricular fits. One of the most common ones you can find is sports.

A common misconception is that for sports to be a legitimate extracurricular, it needs to be at a state or national level. While this may be true for students looking for athletic scholarships, for the rest of us, colleges just want to see what we have spent our time apart from studying. Sports show colleges that the applicant is mindful of their physical health, and has interests that are outside extracurriculars that they are passionate about.

If you play a sport even casually, it can be included in your application to give colleges a better sense of who you are. Sports can also make a very good topic for writing college essays, especially if there is a sporting event or sports person that has really inspired you. However, if you do include sports, make sure to have some evidence on hand – pictures, videos, certificates, or anything else that proves you played that sport.


Internships are a pretty big deal for colleges nowadays. They are important for a lot of reasons, but mainly, colleges want to see that a student can pursue a non-academic project in a professional environment and thrive.

Internships are coveted, and can often be very difficult for a high school student to get. Even with good connections, internships are often not easy for students to commit to since most internships lack structure, and school pressures do not ease up. This is why internships should be pursued during vacations, such as winter or summer break. It shows colleges that you spent time outside of school learning new skills and working on something you are passionate about.

Companies like Cisco come to schools and offer internships to students in the first half of the year so that they can bring a project to fruition before they have to start studying for exams. Many companies also look for high school students as interns, and while it may be boring, you can learn a lot from a new environment, and it will look great on an application.

Community Service

Community service is the cornerstone of any application that aims to be extremely competitive. Why? Because community service is an excellent way of making a tangible difference, and it shows colleges that you can collaborate, plan, and work towards the betterment of your community.

Many schools have community service activities to allow all students to gain some hours that they can highlight in their application. Apart from this, there are also organizations that do community service around the world and create student groups to organize service activities.

One such organization is Rotary International, and the Rotaract and Interact Clubs. The Interact Club is the student branch of Rotary International, which is a global service organization. Interact Clubs are formed in small communities, and there are often dozens in one city.

They are always looking for members, and provide unique opportunities to students in the field of community service. Interact Clubs also provide structure and leadership opportunities in community service, which allows it to become the main part of your application.

Academic Research

Whether you plan to enter the pure sciences, mathematics, social sciences, or humanities, academic research is a skill that everyone should have. While some international curricula like the IB teach academic research in high school, for those who don’t learn it as part of a school, there are many opportunities for research.

Many academic institutions encourage high school students to do research with their faculty, and institutions even have online courses – the Pioneer Research Program is one of the biggest online research programs in the world, with connections to faculty and students all across the US and Canada, offering research in topics ranging from medicine to computer science to economics.

Academic research is beneficial for many reasons – learning how to find credible resources, being able to properly cite your work, writing professionally and producing undergraduate research at a high school level are all skills that colleges value. Not only that but doing academic research in high school can save time in college as well.

Most of these programs are categorized as college courses, so if you complete the course with a good grade, you can get college credits that are transferable to the university or college of your choice. Even though some colleges require you to submit a research paper to be eligible to apply, academic research can be a great skill to acquire early.

A Serious Hobby

This one might sound vague, but that’s because colleges don’t really have criteria for what counts as a hobby or which hobbies are better for a student. Hobbies are anything you like to do in your spare time that is at least somewhat unique, active and not passive (so watching Netflix doesn’t count, unless you write movie reviews, in which case, put it in your app!) and is something you have been pursuing a while.

These hobbies can be anything – playing an instrument, origami, blogging, painting, programming – whatever floats your boat. But it has to be serious. Sure, you can do things for fun, but if it does not ignite some sort of passion in you, then you won’t be able to put it in your app without sounding insincere.

College counselors, teachers, and parents can all give you a good idea of whether or not a hobby of yours is suitable for a college app. Why? Because if you are really serious about it, then you would have told your college counselors, teachers and parents about it! Whether they know about your hobbies and how much they know about them is a great way to figure out if your hobby defines a part of you. If it does, it needs a place on your app.

Again, the proof is a must. If you play music, there are a lot of exams you can take and certifications you can get. You can make videos of you doing your hobby. You can have pictures or certificates from competitions for your hobby. Even if schools don’t ask for proof on the app, they may ask for it later, so it doesn’t hurt to have.

Leadership Positions

Leadership can be displayed in many ways – leading a small team for a group project in school, organizing a small debate on a contentious topic, or even making a plan with friends. Leadership means taking responsibility and taking charge, and which platform you do that on is enough for you to talk about it.

Leadership positions show colleges that you are comfortable with collaborating with others, that you are outspoken and decisive, and that you are an effective communicator. Again, not everyone can be a leader on a big stage, but you don’t need to be. If you include leadership in your app, highlight an experience where you took charge and got something done, whether it was big or small. It’s up to you to decide how important that aspect is for your application. But if you include it (and I don’t mean to sound like a broken record here) remember to keep proof on hand as well.

Those were some key parts that all students should look to include in their college applications. You don’t need to have all of them, but some of them are key and can be a part of everyone’s application without too much additional effort.

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