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Are Extracurriculars Important?

Updated: May 29, 2021

Do Colleges Really Care About Extracurriculars?


Believe it or not, this question is asked frequently, and for good reason. There are many instances where two "nearly" identical students apply to the same school and the student with fewer extracurriculars makes it into the school.


On the surface, this seems counter intuitive. Wouldn't more extracurriculars be better? Why is it the case that the student who participates in fewer extracurriculars makes it into the school over the student who doesn't? What causes a college to accept a student who has clearly done "less" during their time in school?


To add to this, there are cases where there are two students who aren't identical in academic performance, but instead one student does substantially better than the other, but participates in no extracurricular activities and still edges out the student who isn't as academically gifted but participates in numerous extracurricular activities.


Is it that extracurriculars are simply unimportant to colleges and universities?


In this post, we're going to analyze why it seems as though colleges and universities seem to support extracurriculars while accepting students who don't quite align with the message they are sending.


The Great Filters

This is a term we borrowed from astro-biologists, specifically from those describing the possible reasons why humanity has not encountered intelligent life other than itself in the universe. The way this works is that for life to reach intelligence, it needs to cross a few "levels" or "filters" which are increasingly difficult to cross. Thus, the reason why we have not seen any intelligent life besides our own is because we were extremely lucky to cross those filters and very few lifeforms apart from ourselves have done so. This is one explanation for the famous Fermi paradox and the term is an apt metaphor to describe how colleges go about accepting or rejecting applicants to their respective schools.


  1. Their GPA, Course Load and Academic Rank (accounting for nearly 40% of their acceptance or rejection decision)

  2. Their SAT score and Standardized testing scores (accounting for nearly 25% of their acceptance or rejection decision)

  3. Their Extracurriculars (accounting for nearly 20% of their acceptance or rejection decision)

  4. Other (life experiences, personality, etc.) (accounting for nearly 15% of their acceptance or rejection decision)

The way these filters for a college application works is that colleges and universities use certain thresholds and rules of thumb to quickly filter through tens of thousands of applications.


For example, let's say The University of Alpha-Centauri had 100,000 applicants applying to their university, but they only have space for 5,000 students.


The way the University of Alpha-Centauri filters through their students is to have "rounds" of filtering to get the 100,000 applicants down to about 10,000. Then, spend their time going over the final 10,000 in depth to pick out the best 5,000 of that group.


Here's how this would work

Because it's a great school, The University of Alpha-Centauri decides that each student who attends the university much have a GPA of above a 3.9 to make it into round 2 of the decision process.


With this rule, 75% of the applicants are cut out because their GPA's simply aren't high enough to cross that threshold. Now, there are only 25,000 applications to go over, and those 25,000 application pass the filter and enter into round 2.


Then, the university decides that they will only accept applicants with an SAT Score above a 1520.


With this rule 40% of the applicants are cut out. Leaving only 15,000 applicants who cross over into round 3.


Then, the university decides that they will only accept students who have taken 3 Ap tests or more. Suddenly, 1/3 of the applicants are cut out; leaving only 10,000 applicants remaining.


Here is where things get interesting.


With the last 10,000, the university has to match each of the students to a potential "role" in their community, and this, is where extracurriculars come in.


Why Extracurriculars Are Important

Once a university has gotten to the point where they are looking at student's extracurriculars, it means that the student has sufficiently proven that they have met the academic requirements for that university. What the university they with to attend wants to see now is that the student applying there is exceptional at one or many extracurricular activities so that once they do attend the university, they can bring that talent and skill with them.


Using the analogy of the "filters" once more, here's how this works.


Once a student has reached the later rounds and admissions officers are looks through their extracurricular activities, they divide the students into 3 groups: the "yes group" the "maybe group" and the "no group."


Let's look at The University of Alpha-Centauri once again to see how this would play out.


When we left off, The University of Alpha-Centauri had 10,000 applicants and had to somehow narrow it down to the last 5,000 applicants to attend their school.


So, what The University of Alpha-Centauri does is look at the student's extracurriculars to see where they might be a good fit on campus.


They look at student 1 and see: "This student is a fantastic volleyball player, the captain of their team, soccer player and participates in the chess club. This student would be very active in our school and would contribute to our community extensively. Pit them in the 'yes' pile."


They look at student 2 and see: "This student, while having exceptionally good grades didn't participate in anything in high school. We're not sure how much they would contribute to our campus. Put them in the 'maybe' pile."


They look at student 3 and see: "This student had good grades, not quite exceptional, but didn't participate in any extracurriculars. We don't think they'll contribute too much to our campus. Put them in the 'no' pile."


They go through every student and eventually put 2,000 students in the "yes" pile, 5,000 students in the "maybe pile" and the remaining 3,000 students in the "no" pile.


In Conclusion

Extracurriculars on their own do not help a student get into a particular university or college. What they do is buy a student time to get a second look and proceed to the next round so that they have much better odds of making it into that particular school.


As we mentioned in the last post, good grades and good SAT score get you in the door. Being exceptional at one or more extracurriculars gives you a second look from admission officers and the last part, the "other" category we'll cover a couple weeks from now closes the deal.



Closing Words

As usual, you can always contact us here to suggest a topic we could cover, or, if you'd like a one on one consultation about something personal that you would like some guidance and advice with, you can contact us here.

As always, if you haven't gotten your FREE E-book, "The Elite Institution Guide," we highly suggest it. We have gotten raving reviews from parents about how it has helped them truly guide their children to success and we highly recommend that you download it for FREE as soon as possible. Secondly, if you're a parent who is interested in getting your child into the Ivy League, for a limited time only, we're giving away one of our E-books in our "Ivy League Fastlane" series for free right here. Check that out and be sure to grab your FREE e-book before it disappears forever.

We're glad you've stuck with us this far and look forward to continuing this journey with you when we release our next post in the newsletter.


We'll speak with you soon.

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