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How to Choose and Excel at Extracurricular Activities in College

Is being involved in extracurricular activities a must during college? Yes! Despite the "extra" in the name, extracurriculars are so important that they made The Six Key College Experiences that Predict Future Success list!

That said, it can be hard to know where to start. Colleges have tons of ways to get involved, and it can make your head spin. This post breaks down the main types of extracurriculars and gives a recommended timeline for being involved from freshman to senior years.

Types of Extracurricular Activities


Academic clubs and organizations are related to your major or college (engineering, business, etc.). These are great to try out EARLY! You can see if you actually enjoy your major, and if yes, try out specific interests within your major. Particularly for majors like engineering and sciences, in which you have to take up to two years of core classes and prerequisites (engineering students often don't take an actual engineering class until junior year), academic-related activities give you early hands-on experience. An engineering student might join a robotics club, or an English major might join a writing society, for example.


There's a misconception that purely social activities don't matter or are a waste of time, but I believe they are an important part of the college experience. "Finding your people" and just having fun are important components of feeling like you belong on campus. Fraternities and sororities are a popular social activity option, but if that's not your thing, fear not. Colleges offer many social-focused opportunities, like intramural sports, dance, music, gaming, and more. College isn't just about "work" - make time for things you enjoy!


By "pre-professional," I mean student chapters of professional associations. These can overlap as "academic" activities, which is fine. These tend to be most common for science, engineering, and business majors, but there may be others as well. These may be organized through your academic major/department or the Student Activities office on campus. These often provide great networking opportunities. These organizations invite industry speakers, and you can learn a lot about your future career through a professional organization. Examples include the American Medical Students Association (AMSA), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and business fraternities such as Alpha Kappa Psi.


As the name would tell you, service organizations are focused on serving a community on or off campus. If volunteering and philanthropy are important to you, then check out some service orgs. Tutoring is a common option. Examples of service orgs include Kesem, a nationwide community that supports children who have lost a parent to cancer; Alternative Breaks, which offers students an opportunity to do community service of some kind during academic year breaks; or Best Buddies, a program on a mission to provide friendship, employment, leadership development, and integrated living for people with disabilities.

Other categories of extracurriculars to consider include art, cultural, educational, faith & religion, ideology & politics, international, recreational, and student governance.

It can be overwhelming to choose among the options, particularly at large universities where there may be thousands of student organizations. My advice is to try out many with the goal of getting involved in up to one of each type.

Timeline for Involvement

Freshman Year

Explore! Try lots of different things. Just show up to a meeting and see - do you see yourself vibing with these people? Do you see yourself contributing in the future?

Sophomore Year

Narrow down, but keep your options open in case a new org comes on your radar. It's good to figure out a couple that you want to focus on, even if you hang out on the periphery of a few more than that.

Junior Year

Dig in! Find a project or initiative within the group you care about. Consider chairing an event or sub-committee or running for Secretary or Treasurer. Or create a new one that aligns with the org's mission.

Senior Year

Enhance your commitment. Mentor younger members and be part of leaving the organization in a good place, perhaps with new goals the future classes will implement. Maybe run for President or Vice-President or lead in a different capacity where you bring your value to the community.

What if you're passionate about something, and there's not an existing club or organization on your campus for it?

Start your own! Colleges encourage students to start new organizations. This is a great way to develop your leadership and organizational skills. I am obsessed with this list of 30 unique student organizations. Chances are, if you're interested in something, other students on campus are too. Your college's Student Activities office will be glad to talk you through the process of establishing a new student organization.

The bottom line is this: your extracurricular choices are YOURS to make. Do what is fun, go where you can make a contribution, and participate in activities in ways that fulfill you and move you forward in self-discovery and your path after college.

And that's a wrap! Here are The Six Key College Experiences that Predict Future Success:


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