Extracurriculars: Useless Time Suck or Amazing Boost to Experiences?

photo of person playing soccer on the field

“Look at Joe! He plays piano, badminton, and volunteers for the community! Why can’t you be more like Joe and do more extracurriculars?” Chances are you’ve probably heard this before from your parents. Growing up in a super strict household, I heard these lines a TON! I always got annoyed with my mom whenever she’d compare me with another kid. But looking back, I can see that there was SOME merit to what she said. Still, I don’t agree 100% with the old “more is better” dogma, so in this post, we’ll be breaking down exactly what role extracurriculars should play in your life.

We’ll break down the different kinds of extra-curriculars, the benefits of them, some personal ones that I love, and my own feelings about extracurriculars as a whole. Let’s dive right in!

Do Extracurriculars That You Love

Before I jump into this post, I want to preface it with my own philosophy towards extracurriculars. It is my firm belief that you should do extracurriculars that you love. This may seem intuitive, but far too many people do extra-curriculars for the purpose of getting into a “good college.” Not only that, they pick generic extra-curriculars that everyone else is already doing.

“But Jeff, if I play an Electric Oboe in my spare time and pursue that, Harvard will choose the Student Council President over me and my wacky hobby.”

Quite the contrary. Most Ivy Leagues are looking for unique kids who can add something to the school environment. They don’t want a well-rounded student, they want a well-rounded student BODY. What that means it they don’t want the kid who does a little bit of everything. They want each student to excel in their chosen field and then want a BUNCH of different kids doing different things.

Viewed in this light:

  • How many student council presidents are there in the world?
  • How many passionate Electric Oboe players are there in the world?

You get my point now, right? Plus, if you only do extracurriculars (which you don’t actually like) to get into college, you’ll drop them as soon as you get accepted. Was all that time spent really worth it?

The solution is to do extra-curriculars that you love right from the outset.

The Different Kinds of Extra-Curriculars

We’ve established that you should pursue your passions, but if you don’t know what you’re passionate about yet, here are the various categories of extra-curriculars that you can choose from.

Sports

Starting off with my personal favourite extracurricular category, sports!

I love sports for a variety of reasons, but mainly because they took up the majority of my childhood time (mainly golf).

Some of the popular sports that you might consider partaking in are:

  • Basketball
  • Hockey
  • Baseball
  • Rugby
  • Golf
  • Fencing
  • Swimming
  • Soccer

The list goes on, but those are just the ones which came to the top of my head.

Pros to sports:

  • Builds cooperation and leadership
  • (If you are looking to use extracurriculars to get into college) almost all colleges will recruit you as an athlete if you’re good enough
  • Teaches you discipline
  • Keeps you active

Cons to sports:

  • Takes time to truly get into
  • Potentially a lot of travel and missing class (maybe a pro depending on who you are)
  • Losses are painful and hurt for a long time

Arts

Personally, I find anyone who does art VERY impressive. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you do art as an extra-curricular you have my respect.

Back to the point about pursuing your passion: if you love doing art, by all means, pursue that as your extra-curricular. Also, not everything is for colleges so if you just like to sketch sometimes, do it! Don’t let college admissions hold you back from your passions.

Pros to art:

  • Keeps your creative
  • (if you care about university applications) You have a tangible portfolio that you can submit to show off your achievement
  • You get to create beautiful things

Cons to art:

  • Also can be time-consuming
  • Need to apply like a “regular student”; no tangible better chances of getting into a “good school”
  • Spent money on materials and training

Future Related

We have officially entered the realm of the popular. Despite being no better than any other category, these are the extra-curriculars which are envied by everyone.

You know exactly which ones they are. They’re the ones that you need to go through (at least) 2 rounds of applications to get in and the ones that get the most applications at school. They usually include:

  • Student council
  • Some sort of business club (DECA)
  • Some kind of STEM club

Now, I’m in no way bashing these clubs. If you’re truly interested in the subject and are passionate, by all means, join! But I see way too many people joining for the sole purpose of trying to boost their application/resume. Boosting your credentials should never be the sole reason you join a club.

Pros of Future Related clubs:

  • Provides you with skills you might actually use in the future
  • Teaches you how to be competitive when applying to the club
  • Usually very structured

Cons of Future Related clubs:

  • Doesn’t help you get into college as much as you might think it does
  • Usually a massive time commitment
  • You might run into some very cut-throat people in these clubs

Community Give Back

Community give back extracurriculars are exactly what they sound like. Ones where you’re doing something that help the community!

These are some of the best kinds of extracurriculars you can possibly partake in. Not only will you learn a ton in the process but you’ll also feel back having contributed to the world.

Unfortunately, the bulk of students only do their mandatory community hours and nothing more. It’s funny actually because students will avoid community give back extracurriculars and instead opt for something that will “better their chances” of getting into college. The truth is that community work is often the BEST categories of extracurriculars you could do if you want to get into a university. They LOVE to see people who give back (especially Harvard).

Pros of Community Give Back:

  • Will most likely take less time than other extracurriculars
  • Helps your chances the MOST of getting into university (usually)
  • You feel great having done something for your community

Cons:

  • Honestly there are no cons I can think of
  • The only one that might bother people is the unpaid nature of community work, but then again, you’re not getting paid to do any of the OTHER extra-curriculars

The Benefits of Extracurriculars

In the first section, I talked about doing extracurriculars which you love. But does that mean I’m saying “if you don’t love anything, then don’t do any extracurriculars.”

NO, 100% do extracurriculars! There are countless benefits to extracurriculars that should not be avoided. Here are a list of just a few:

  1. You learn how to develop excellence in a part of your life. This excellence usually carries out into other things you do.
  2. If you aren’t passionate about school, extracurriculars are a fantastic way for you to pursue your true passions.
  3. Finally, they’re great for college applications! Just because I said “don’t do extracurricular for the sole purpose of college” doesn’t mean I’m going to deny how great they are for your chances. A kid with good grades and spectacular extracurriculars will probably have a better shot at admission to a competitive college than the kid with great grades and no extracurriculars.

Even if you don’t love anything, pick an extracurricular which you’re most interested in and TRY to develop a love for it. I promise you’ll look back and thank yourself for making that choice.

The Extracurriculars I Did

For those of you curious as to what I did, here are my extracurriculars.

Golf

Golf has been a major part of my life for the past 13 years and I hope it continues to be for as long as I live.

With golf, I had the privilege of striving towards excellence, competing, and making tons of friends along the way. I highly recommend you try it out if you haven’t already.

This 2021 fall, I’ll have the privilege of playing on the Harvard golf team. Needless to say, this wouldn’t have been possible… had I never started playing golf.

Youth Communications Program

Together with my friend Alex, we ran a local Youth Communications Program. This program was mainly for new immigrant teens and helped them develop interpersonal skills, learn how to give speeches, and created a constructive environment for them to experiment with.

The 2 years that I ran it were immensely satisfying as I got to witness incredible growth from some of the participants.

If you’re considering doing some community give back type extracurricular, I strongly suggest starting something up yourself, or running something with a friend. Not only will you give back, but you’ll also develop crucial leadership skills.

Phoenix Leadership Project

Speaking of leadership, PLP helps Canadian students of all ages learn skills like empathy, trustworthiness, and of course, leadership.

Pre-COVID, PLP consisted of an annual weekend long getaway where anyone from the ages of 14-25 could participate. Now, PLP has moved virtual and helps students tackle issues such as online schooling problems, Mental health Problems, Physical Exercise Problems, as well as things like improving communication over media!

I truly enjoyed my time at PLP, and if you don’t want to start your own club or partake in the classic “future oriented” clubs, this is a great place to start. Get involved by signing up for a workshop or visiting their website at https://www.phoenixleadershipproject.org/.

Start Doing Some Extracurriculars!

So, back to the headline question: are extracurriculars a useless time suck or are they amazing boosts to your experience? 100% the latter.

That being said, don’t do extracurriculars for the sole purpose of getting into a college or to impress your parents. Do them because you’re truly passionate!

If you pursue your passions through your extracurriculars, everything else will fall into place. 🙂

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Thanks for reading through this post regarding extracurriculars and thank you for following along! If you’re a Canadian Student, check out the Ultimate Canadian Student’s Guide to Personal Finance! To learn more about me, head over to this link here. If you want to get exclusive updates and tips, drop your email in the “get updates” box (might have to scroll up a bit.) Let me know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!