What to do if your high school doesn't offer extracurriculars

Advisor Tips Admissions Tips 7 min read
alt="high school volunteer at an extracurricular activity"
Photographer: ray sangga kusuma | Source: Unsplash

In this article, CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert Tamara shares tips for what to do if your high school doesn’t offer extracurriculars. For more guidance on extracurriculars and the college application process in general, sign up to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.


Extracurriculars are an important part of any college application. Colleges want to see that students’ interests extend beyond academic work. This means that many high school freshmen join school clubs that interest them and work their way up to leadership roles over the next two years.

But what happens if your high school doesn't offer any school-sponsored extracurriculars?

First and foremost, do not despair. Whether you are an incoming freshman or a spring-semester junior with a blank resume, there are ways to build your list of extracurriculars before the time comes to hit 'submit' on your college applications.

Volunteer in your community

Many students embrace volunteering as a way to show dedication to their community on their college applications. It is also a fantastic way to branch out beyond your high school bubble, get to know your hometown, and discover new interests.

Choosing where to volunteer can seem overwhelming, but keep in mind that there’s a wide range of opportunities available. Additionally, never choose a place to volunteer for the sake of your resume alone. Instead, choose projects that genuinely interest you and that will do considerable good in your community.

Ask your family and friends about what volunteering opportunities they might know. Reach out to parents or relatives whose work centers on helping others and ask whether they need additional support.

If you hope to study science or medicine, you could volunteer by completing research or helping out in a local hospital. Go online to your local hospital’s website or reach out to doctors in your area. You can also check out our pre-med college application guide for more inspiration.

If you like working with kids, contact a local childcare center and offer to teach the kids a skill, like painting or sports, or simply to read to them.

Another great alternative to school-sponsored extracurriculars is to develop a social media strategy for a local business. It's a fantastic way for them to attract customers and promote their product, and they often lack the budget to hire a professional. Running a TikTok or Instagram account for a small shop, hair salon, or grocery store is a wonderful way to use your skills to give back.

Volunteer online

If local in-person volunteering is not an option, don’t worry. One of the better outcomes of the pandemic is the growing popularity of remote volunteering.

For example, a popular platform to find opportunities is volunteermatch.org. This platform allows you to search your area for volunteer opportunities by filtering for your skills and interests. Some volunteer gigs on this platform will require some professional experience or have age restrictions, but don't give up!

The beauty of remote volunteering is that you can look for opportunities in any geographic area. As long as your time zone doesn't prevent you from meeting deadlines, you can do many activities from your room, from language teaching to coding to digital marketing. These can be one-off opportunities or transform into a long-term, part-time volunteering endeavor. Whether you volunteered a few hours per week for a month or stayed with an organization for an entire year, it will be a valuable experience to add to your extracurricular list.

Jobs count as extracurriculars, too!

Students often think that "extracurriculars" refers only to school clubs or other non-work activities. Some years ago, the Common App did not, in fact, allow students to list part-time jobs in its activities section. However, colleges increasingly recognize the value of part-time jobs, housework, or childcare responsibilities and other non-"extracurriculars."

So if you hold a part-time job during the school year or over the summer to earn money or help your family, you can and absolutely should include those experiences in your list of extracurriculars.

Working in your town's ice cream shop, for example, shows your ability to interact with customers, multitask, and manage time. Serving as a lifeguard demonstrates your attention to detail, your physical fitness, and, of course, your knowledge of CPR. Babysitting a few hours a week illustrates that you are comfortable around small children and have a positive attitude.

Launch your own extracurriculars

If you are dissatisfied with your community offerings and passionate about a particular topic or activity, consider forming your own club.

If your school does not offer any extracurriculars, they likely do not have the budget to sponsor student clubs. However, you can still ask the administration to allow you to meet with your group in common spaces such as libraries or courtyards. Once you negotiate access to a shared space, you can reach out to fellow students and brainstorm activities for you to do.

For example, in a politics-oriented club, you could host debates about important issues, compete in essay contests, or even work to improve your school or town through fundraising and advocacy. With fellow gamers, you could organize video game tournaments or discussions, participate in online competitions, or even develop basic game design skills through online courses on EdX or Coursera. If you enjoy hiking, biking, rollerblading, or another physical activity, you can organize weekend outings with other interested students.

Creating a club from scratch demonstrates creativity, leadership skills, and strong managerial abilities. Whatever your passion may be, a few other students in your school will share it. Simply organizing a weekly meet-up with 4-5 students to discuss this shared interest already qualifies you as a club founder for the purposes of a Common App extracurricular list.

Pursue a passion project

While organized activities are a fantastic way to develop your extracurriculars, you can also pursue an interest on your own. Any hobby or project that results in a tangible output and highlights a particular set of skills counts as an "extracurricular activity" when it comes to college admissions. Such passion projects can take many forms. Some examples include writing a short story or comic, developing an app, composing music, or creating your own website.

Receiving formal recognition for your passion project can lend credibility to your hobby, but it is by no means a requirement. For example, if you are writing a short story or a novel, consider submitting it to a writing competition—if you happen to win an award, it will be an impressive achievement. Alternatively, if you simply post it on Medium or another platform, it can be equally worthwhile.

What's important is that you can articulate (and demonstrate) what the outcome of your project was or will be. Though this does not need to be perfect, you should have a clear understanding of what you hope to achieve.

Need inspiration? Here are a few passion project ideas:

  • You could learn or improve your knowledge of a language by using free language-learning apps such as Duolingo, watching content and reading the news in that language, and finding a language buddy or native speaker to practice with.
  • If you’re an avid knitter, you could produce an epic quilt to commemorate an important event in your life or showcase your cultural identity.
  • You might create a YouTube channel where you break down complex scientific concepts for younger children, share health and wellness tips based on your own training and fitness journey, or review books using critical feminist analysis.
  • If you’re a historian, you may start a blog or podcast that explores some unknown angle of your community's history, be it a decades-old environmental disaster, the origins of a local political movement, or your town's cultural history.
  • You could try your hand at songwriting and start a band with your friends or and put together an album of original music.
  • If you love to read, set a goal of a certain number of books by the end of the year, and record your thoughts about each one in a journal.

This short list of passion projects is by no means exhaustive. In fact, the possibilities are endless. The key is to think about what you enjoy doing and consider the ways that you could share that passion with others.

Extracurricular tips: Final Thoughts

It may be frustrating that your school doesn't offer any extracurriculars for students. However, that doesn't mean that you have to become complacent, focusing only on your schoolwork and going home to browse social media or watch Netflix in the afternoons.

The point of the extracurricular list is to show how you’ve been committed to your various interests and skills. Think outside the box and create opportunities you wish you had when they aren't readily available!


This informational essay on dual enrollment was written by Tamara, Georgetown University ‘19. If you want to get help with your college applications from Tamara or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.

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