Extracurricular Activities in High School: Complete Guide

June 13, 2023
6 min read

Participating in extracurricular activities in high school has various short-term and long-term advantages. To learn more about the benefits of extracurricular activities, and the types available to students, read on!

If you’re a student that’s entering high school, or is already in it, you know the importance of maintaining good grades. As you join more challenging and advanced classes, it’s crucial you develop good study habits so that you can graduate with a high GPA and get into your dream colleges.

However, almost equally as important as what you do inside the classroom is what you do outside of it. As colleges attempt to admit the most balanced students, they search for well-rounded excellence that extends beyond academics. One of the major ways they review non-academic excellence is through your extracurriculars!

This guide will provide a comprehensive list of the best extracurriculars you can join, their importance, and answer your burning questions about these activities!

List of Extracurricular Activities By Category

So, we’ve thoroughly established the value of pursuing extracurriculars in high school, but which ones should you choose? What are your options? Here, we’ll breakdown over 80 of the most common extracurriculars you can join:

Arts Extracurriculars

For any future Van Goghs or Shakespeares, there are extracurriculars that involve every form of visual and performing art:

  • Drawing or painting club
  • Photography club
  • Graphic design club
  • Theatre or drama club
  • Dance team
  • Creative writing club
  • Spoken word club
  • Sculpture or ceramics club
  • Music band or orchestra 
  • Choir 
  • Jazz band
  • Poetry

These extracurriculars not only develop students’ confidence in their artistic skills but allow them to hone their talents and pick up on some new tips!

Sports Extracurriculars

Sports are one of the most common extracurriculars students pursue! They involve teams-based activities and competitions, and can even help students land college scholarships!

  • Soccer
  • Basketball
  • Lacrosse
  • Football
  • Baseball 
  • Volleyball
  • Track and field
  • Cross country
  • Tennis
  • Wrestling
  • Swimming
  • Cheerleading
  • Gymnastics
  • Weightlifting
  • Hockey
  • Ultimate frisbee
  • Badminton
  • Rugby
  • Yoga

Participating in sports teams looks great on college applications because these activities demonstrate you work well in a team but can also lead your peers. Sports also require practice and commitment, which can improve your self-discipline and time management skills.

Academic Clubs

While most extracurriculars are non-academic, there are some that involve academic subjects. These are typically taken by students that are passionate about these subjects or want to major in them.

  • Debate club
  • Math club
  • Science club
  • Women in STEM club
  • DECA
  • Robotics club
  • Computer science club
  • Foreign Language Club (Spanish, French, Latin, etc.)
  • Mock Trial Club
  • History Club
  • Economics Club
  • Engineering Club
  • English Club
  • Model United Nations
  • Spelling Bee 
  • Decathlon
  • Triathlon
  • Hackathon
  • Astronomy club
  • Entrepreneurship club

Participating in these extracurriculars can deepen your knowledge in your subject of interest and demonstrate your dedication to learning! By joining clubs like DECA or mock trial, you may also be eligible for scholarships, depending on your performance.

Leadership and Student Government Clubs

These types of extracurriculars provide opportunities for students to develop leadership skills, contribute to their school community, and represent their peers.

  • Student Council
  • Running for Student Body President or Vice President
  • Peer Mentor Clubs
  • Peer ESL Tutoring

Leadership extracurriculars hold significant weight in college applications due to the valuable skills and experiences they offer. Namely, they demonstrate your ability to have an impact on your peers and positively contribute to your school community.

Community Service Extracurriculars

If you’re interested in giving back and volunteering, community service extracurriculars may be perfect for you! 

  • Boy/girl scouts 
  • Red cross club
  • UNICEF student club
  • Big brothers/sisters
  • Community literary club
  • Recycling club
  • Environmental club
  • Kids helping kids
  • Habitat for humanity 
  • National Honor Society
  • Key club
  • Special olympics volunteering
  • Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC)
  • Youth-led service clubs

Schools may have clubs involving any form of community service, so there are unlimited possibilities within this category. These activities allow students to develop empathy, social responsibility, leadership, and a broader understanding of social issues. 

All of these traits illustrate a commitment to making a positive impact in the lives of others, which colleges appreciate. 

Cultural and Diversity Clubs

As previously discussed, cultural competency is increasingly important to have as a college applicant. Here are some clubs that can help you develop this trait:

  • International club
  • African student association
  • Asian student association
  • Hispanic student association
  • Native american student association
  • Middle eastern student association
  • LGBTQ+ alliance association
  • Multicultural club
  • International languages club
  • Muslim student association
  • Jewish student association
  • Christian student association
  • Women's empowerment club
  • Feminist group

These extracurriculars promote inclusivity, cultural understanding, and provide opportunities for students to share their experiences and learn from others!

Interest-Based Clubs

Students also have the option of joining clubs that cater to their specific interests. Some popular interest-based clubs include:

  • Animal rights club
  • Book club
  • Chess club
  • Cooking club
  • Entrepreneurship club
  • Anime club
  • Dungeons and dragons club
  • Gamers club
  • Knitting club
  • Sewing club
  • Woodwork club
  • Scrapbooking club
  • Yearbook committee
  • Film club
  • Gaming club
  • Pre-medical club
  • Pre-law club
  • School newspaper

If your school does not have a club you’d be interested in joining, start your own! If you have a clear vision, can find a dedicated group of interested individuals, and have the necessary resources, starting a club can be rewarding and enriching!

Why Are Extracurricular Activities Important in High School?

Let’s start with one of the most common questions: “why are extracurricular activities important in high school?” Considering these extracurriculars will add to your busy student schedule, you may be wondering if pursuing them is truly worth the extra time and effort.

For a number of reasons, extracurriculars are absolutely worth pursuing. They will not only allow you to explore your interests, network with your peers, and enhance your educational experience, but will better prepare you for college and make you a more attractive applicant. 

Extracurriculars are also simply considered to be part of the high school experience, so you won’t want to miss out on them!

The Benefits of Extracurricular Activities

Now that you know extracurricular activities are vital to your education and future, here is a more in-depth look into the myriad of benefits of extracurriculars for high school students.

1. Do Extracurriculars Help Students With Their Performance in School?

Let’s begin with the impact extracurriculars can have on students’ performance in school. Extracurriculars can improve students’ academic performance because they allow them to expand their learning capabilities.

High school extracurriculars foster intellectual curiosity, deepen students’ knowledge in particular subjects, and can spark new interests that make them more enthusiastic to learn. 

Extracurriculars also offer students a break from their academics while still keeping their minds busy, all of which can prevent burnout and lead to more effective studying and performance.

Here are some other ways extracurriculars benefit students:

2. Allows Students to Broaden Their Horizons

Extracurriculars get students out of their comfort zones and expose them to new interests and subjects, expanding their horizons beyond their academic curriculums. 

Regardless of the type of extracurricular you join, you will meet different peers with new ideas, perspectives, and experiences that can help foster a more well-rounded worldview.

3. Self-Discovery

It’s safe to say no one knows who they are in high school. It’s a time of major self-discovery, and extracurriculars allow students to explore their existing interests, talents, and passions, and even experience new ones.

They can experiment with various activities and discover hidden talents, building self-confidence and a sense of identity. These activities provide a platform for students to identify their strengths and areas of improvement, which will ultimately help them make more informed decisions about their careers!

4. Independence and Collaboration Skills

Extracurriculars offer an ideal setting for students to develop leadership skills and cultivate effective teamwork abilities. Whether leading a club, captaining a sports team, or organizing school events, students learn to take initiative, motivate others, and collaborate towards common goals. 

Students can develop important skills such as communication, problem-solving, and decision-making through their extracurriculars! These skills will not only transfer well to their professional lives, but also their academic and personal ones!

5. Time Management

Participating in extracurricular activities requires balancing your academic responsibilities with your commitments outside the classroom. By juggling multiple activities, you’ll learn how to manage your time and schedule more effectively.

These skills will certainly aid you throughout high school and college, when you need to juggle even more rigorous academic obligations with your extracurriculars.

6. Social Skills

Participating in extracurriculars provides students with ample opportunities to interact with peers, mentors, and community members. Whether it's delivering a speech, collaborating on an event, or debating, students develop strong communication and interpersonal skills through these activities. 

They learn to articulate their thoughts, listen actively, and engage in meaningful dialogue, which are vital skills for success in all aspects of life! 

7. Builds Confidence

As students participate in extracurriculars and are recognized for their contributions to these activities, it can enhance their self-esteem and confidence. They learn that their ideas are worth listening to and realize the importance of sharing their opinions and thoughts with their peers.

Students that participate in debate clubs, or other speaking-intensive activities, may also overcome some of their public speaking fears, which can improve their academic performance in high school and college.

Exploring clubs that align with your potential career interests can also help you make more informed decisions about the colleges you apply to. While it’s difficult to be certain about your career choice in high school, gaining more exposure to the subjects you’re interested in can certainly ease some of your hesitations!

8. Stress Reduction 

Participating in extracurriculars can provide students with an outlet to unwind, de-stress, get their mind off school, and engage in activities they genuinely enjoy. These activities can serve as a break from academic pressures and help them create a healthy balance in their lives.

9. Networking Opportunities

Depending on the extracurricular, certain activities can provide opportunities for students to connect with professionals and mentors in their field of interest, which can allow them to begin expanding their networks. These professionals can offer students guidance and maybe even career opportunities in the future. 

10. Memorable Experiences

You’ll only be in high school once, so you should make the most out of it! Students that join extracurriculars tend to create lasting memories and form friendships that make school more enjoyable!

11. Stronger College Applications

Extracurricular involvement holds significant weight in college admissions. Admissions officers value well-rounded applicants who demonstrate excellence outside of the classroom. We will discuss the role extracurriculars play in admissions decisions next!

Extracurriculars and College Admissions

There is a common misconception that extracurricular activities are simply hobbies that students can participate in during their free time. But, this couldn’t be further from the truth! These activities are intellectually stimulating, involve dedication and long-term commitment, and have specific objectives. 

They provide opportunities for growth and skill development which is why they are key for college admissions. They provide valuable insights into a student's character, interests, and potential contributions to the campus community. 

1. What Are Colleges Looking For?

Colleges look for candidates that can demonstrate they have more to offer than just their academic skills. In an effort to review their candidates holistically, admissions committees want to learn who each applicant is outside of their student identity. 

As such, participating in extracurriculars is guaranteed to have a positive impact on your college admissions, and here are just a few ways how:

2. Demonstrates Commitment

Engaging in extracurricular activities showcases a student's ability to commit to their obligations. Admissions officers look for applicants who have shown consistent involvement and growth in their chosen activities. Long-term commitment reflects their dedication to their long-term goals and drive to invest time and effort in their passions.

3. Develops Leadership Skills

Extracurricular involvement often provides opportunities for students to take on leadership roles that demonstrate initiative. Colleges value individuals who can effectively lead and inspire others, as it indicates their potential to make a positive impact on their community and beyond.

4. Provides Students With Unique Perspectives

Students can explore diverse interests and experiences by participating in extracurriculars. These experiences can enrich a student's personal growth, broaden their horizons, and contribute to their overall character development. 

They may meet students that hold opposing views to them, learn more about other identities and perspectives, and become more well-rounded individuals. Experiencing opposing views can also make for an interesting personal statement!

5. Demonstrates Valuable Skills

Through participation in extracurriculars, students develop a wide range of transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, time management, and responsibility. These skills are highly valued by colleges, as they indicate an applicant's potential for success in their academic and non-academic endeavours. 

6. Portrays a Dedication to Community Service

Some extracurriculars involve active engagement in community service and volunteering, which proves the student wants to make a positive impact on their community. 

7. Increases Cultural Competence

Involvement in cultural clubs, such as diversity organizations or international programs highlights a student's appreciation for different cultures, perspectives, and backgrounds. Colleges seek to create a diverse and inclusive campus environment, and applicants who have actively engaged with diverse communities can contribute to this goal.

Pursuing two to three extracurriculars that you make significant contributions to over a long period of time will impress the committee more than having a long list of activities that you’ve only made superficial contributions to.

FAQs: Extracurricular Activities in High School

While the exact extracurriculars available to you will depend on your school, we've compiled a comprehensive list of the main categories, along with the most popular activities in each category.

For any lingering questions, read on to find your answers.

1. Do Universities Look at Extracurriculars?

Yes, universities consider extracurricular activities as part of the holistic review process for college admissions. Admissions committees use these extracurriculars to gain more insight into students’ interests and to evaluate their overall profile and potential to contribute to their school community.

These extracurriculars also allow admissions committees to assess key traits they seek in their students, including leadership, initiative, teamwork, dependability, dedication, passion, diversity, and community involvement.

2. How Many Extracurriculars Should I Have?

The number of extracurricular activities you should have depends on various factors, including your interests, schedule, and the level of commitment required for each activity. However, as a general rule of thumb, you should prioritize quality over quantity. 

It's better to have a few meaningful and impactful involvements rather than being spread too thin across numerous activities. For this reason, even just two to three extracurriculars can be enough to strengthen your college applications. 

3. How Do I Choose Extracurriculars?

Extracurriculars are meant to be fun! They should help you de-stress, make friends, and explore your passions. So, choose your extracurriculars based on your interests first and foremost. You should also consider your schedule and the level of commitment the extracurriculars require. 

Think about what you hope to gain from your extracurriculars as well. Are you looking to develop specific skills? Boost your resume? Make a positive impact on your community? Assess your goals and choose extracurriculars that align with them!

4. What Is the Difference Between Hobbies and Extracurricular Activities?

Hobbies are considered to be recreational activities that students do as pastimes, typically on their own. They are driven by personal interest and can involve watching horror films, reading, or playing video games. On the other hand, extracurriculars are organized by your school, take place within your school, and involve your peers.

Extracurriculars focus on skill development, social interaction, and contribution. While both activities can involve your personal interests, they differ in their goals, structure, context, and overall impact. 

5. Do I Have to Stick With One Extracurricular Activity Throughout High School?

No, you are not limited to a single extracurricular activity throughout high school. Feel free to explore different activities, join new clubs, and pursue new interests as you discover them. However, you should also show depth and involvement in your extracurricular activities over an extended period of time.

6. Can I Participate In Extracurricular Activities Outside of My School?

Yes, you can certainly pursue extracurricular activities outside of your school, they may just be more challenging to find. Look for community organizations, sports teams, arts groups, or other programs in your local area that align with your interests. These external activities can provide additional opportunities for growth and involvement!

7. When Should I Start Joining Extracurriculars?

If you’ve already started high school, you should consider joining extracurriculars – it’s better late than never! Otherwise, it’s beneficial to start exploring and joining extracurriculars as early as possible, like in your freshman year so that you can explore your options.

Many schools hold club fairs or orientation events at the beginning of the school year where you can learn about the different clubs and activities offered. However, you can also join extracurriculars throughout the year if you discover new interests or find activities that align with your passions. 

The key is to find a balance between your academics and extracurriculars and ensure that your involvement is meaningful but manageable!

Final Thoughts

Extracurricular activities in high school can be a total game-changer! They're not just about having fun or boosting your college applications; they offer a chance to explore your passions, develop new skills and interests, and make amazing friends along the way! 

Whether you're into sports, arts, academics, community service, or something totally unique, there's an extracurricular out there for you – and if there isn’t, you can always start your own club and leave a lasting impact on your school!

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