Best Extracurricular Activities for Ivy League

The top extracurriculars for ivy league
May 9, 2024
4 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/9/24

Are you curious about what extracurriculars Ivy League schools are actually interested in? Follow along for our guide for choosing extracurriculars for Ivy League.

When you’re applying for Ivy League schools, the stakes are higher than ever. Ivy’s are tough competition, and admissions committees will be examining every aspect of your application - even what you like to do for fun! 

Extracurricular activities look great on any college application. They show that you maintain a healthy work/life balance and that you know how to blow off steam in a productive way outside of school. That said, certain extracurriculars may be more interesting to Ivy League schools than others.

Here we’ve compiled a list of the best extracurriculars for Ivy League schools, how many extracurriculars Ivy League schools want to see on your application, and why Ivy League schools care about extracurriculars. 

Let’s get started!

Best Extracurricular Activities for Ivy League

It’s important to understand there is no perfect combination of extracurricular activities that will ensure your acceptance into an Ivy League school. As you can see from the statistics, Ivy League schools are incredibly selective. 

They want to see your genuine passions through your extracurriculars. So, avoid signing up for extracurriculars you are not interested in simply to gain “points,” as it will come off as superficial. 

In fact, at MIT, they’ve coined a term for applicants who take up activities simply to improve their application: it’s called applying sideways. MIT alumni Chris Peterson says, “Applying sideways, as a mantra, means don’t do things because you think they will help you get into MIT (or Harvard, or CalTech, or anywhere).”

He continues, “Instead, you should study hard, be nice, and pursue your passion because then you will have spent high school doing all the right things, and, as a complete side effect, you’ll be cast in the best light possible for competitive college admissions.” 

The point here is to pursue your interests because you’re interested in them, not to get a gold star because, ultimately,  you could do all the “right” things and still not get into the college of your dreams. 

With that said, here are some examples of activities that may interest you based on the skills you may already have or want to develop. 

1. Activities That Demonstrate Leadership

Leadership is an excellent personal trait to develop as it can help you to learn independence, teamwork, and how to find your voice. You can improve your leadership skills through a number of different extracurricular activities, but here are some that Ivy alumni have partaken in:

  • Model United Nations
  • Future Business Leaders of America
  • Key Club
  • Student Government
  • Science/Math Olympiad 
  • Amnesty International
  • Junior Statesmen of America
  • Debate Team

Above are only a few examples of leadership-based activities. Remember to only participate in activities that genuinely interest you. Students who enjoy the above activities are often interested in pursuing law, government, acting, and/or business.

2. Activities That Demonstrate Commitment

Something important to present to Ivy admissions is your ability to commit to whatever it is you like to do. To demonstrate this ability, it doesn’t matter what activity you like to do; it matters what you’ve done about it. Here are some examples of students demonstrating a commitment to their extracurricular passions:

  1. Student A believes anybody should be able to show their personal style without supporting fast fashion. They organized a clothing swap at their school and an entirely thrifted fashion event to show fellow students how they can be fashionable with a minimal budget and a low environmental impact. They plan to organize larger like-events in the future.
  1. Student B has a passion for collecting insects that began at a young age and blossomed as they learned how to preserve insects and develop their own techniques. They were able to acquire an internship at the Museum of Natural History to continue improving their craft among professionals in the preservation field. 

In these examples, student A and student B have both demonstrated a commitment to their passion by taking their interest to the next level. Both had very different interests and developed them in ways that made sense for them. No matter what your passion is, ask yourself, “What can I do to pursue this on a higher level?”

3. Personal Development Activities

Whether or not you are applying to an Ivy League school, it’s important to never stop learning. If you have an interest that you haven’t been able to work on in school, get out there and try! Here are some examples of extracurricular activities that allow for personal development:

  • Language courses
  • Learning to play an instrument 
  • Learning a new sport

The common theme here is to try something that scares you and never stop working on yourself. Whether it’s learning to roller skate or going to therapy, having the nerve to try new things and practice them is never going out of style. 

4. Activities That Demonstrate Initiative

Initiative goes hand in hand with personal development, commitment, and leadership. The key to demonstrating initiative is to take things on yourself. 

It’s one thing to simply join a group or sports team that already exists, but what happens if the extracurricular activity you want to do isn’t available? Do you settle for what’s available, or do you create a new opportunity?

Here are some examples of students taking initiative in an extracurricular setting:

  1. Student C plays the flute in a band, but their spring recital was canceled due to the pandemic. Instead of sitting at home, they decided to organize an outdoor recital, live-streamed for parents and friends. They continue to organize virtual rehearsals to ensure the band can continue to practice their passion. 
  1. Student D wants to travel with their Gaelic study group to Ireland, but the other members of the group decide they want to go somewhere tropical instead. Rather than following the group, student D plans the trip solo so they can develop their passion for the Gaelic language. The trip was a challenge but ultimately resulted in a major learning experience for the student. 

Students C and D both demonstrate initiative by not allowing roadblocks to deter them from their passion. Once again, we see that the activity itself is not the main character here. When faced with challenges, these students took the initiative to be able to pursue their passion. 

5. Academic Activities 

If you love learning, don’t shy away from that! Taking courses at a local college is a great summer activity for Ivy League schools. You can also take online or part-time courses during the school year that align with your interests and what you want to study at your desired Ivy League school. 

Continuing to pursue academic activities outside of your regular high school curriculum demonstrates curiosity and a desire to learn. Those are two really important attributes that admission counselors want to see in applicants! 

6. Community-Based Activities

Extracurricular activities that serve your community look great on Ivy League applications. They show that you care about the people around you and the place where you live. 

However, you need to make sure that you don’t just include random community service activities on your extracurricular list just to win points with the admissions committee. Choose something that actually interests you. For example, if you’re good with kids, you could volunteer at a daycare or summer camp.

7. Work Experience

Having a job while also balancing coursework and maintaining good grades is an excellent item to include on your extracurriculars list. It shows that you can handle responsibility and that you have great time management skills. 

Your job doesn’t have to relate to your chosen field of study, as it will demonstrate responsibility, but if you can secure a position related to what you want to study, all the better! 

8. Social Justice Activities

Are you passionate about social issues? Put that passion to use! Admissions counselors love to see students engaging with the world around them in meaningful ways. 

Try to make your activities relate to your field of study and your application narrative. For example, if you want to study civics and politics, you might start a project related to poverty and homelessness. 

9. Research-Based Activities 

If you have the opportunity to do research at a local university, you should definitely go for it! Research-related activities demonstrate initiative and a drive for discovery. If you can get your findings published, that’s another big win. 

10. Unique Activities

We’ve added uniqueness to this list not to persuade you to pick up the weirdest extracurricular you can find but to encourage you to be 100% authentic. Your favorite extracurricular activities do not have to be anything we’ve mentioned or be confined to typical cliches such as sports teams or eagle scouts. 

Whatever it is you like to do is valid; it’s what you do about it that counts. You could have a passion for monkeys, trains, wire sculptures, or animation - it doesn’t matter. What matters is how you’ve devoted your time to it and how you’ve developed your skills in that area over time. 

Extracurricular Activities That Do Not Impress Ivy League Schools

It’s just as important to be aware of activities that may harm your application as it is to know about ones that will improve it. When putting your college applications together, think twice before including these activities on your extracurriculars list!

  • Athletics: It’s important to differentiate yourself through your activities. Athletics aren’t inherently bad, but they’re extremely common. Unless you’re incredibly committed to or passionate about your chosen sport to the point that it lends itself to your application narrative, consider focusing on different activities. 
  • Travel: While traveling to other countries can be an enriching experience, it doesn’t demonstrate any particular skills or interests on your application. Talking about your travel experiences does nothing to actually build up your applicant profile.
  • Awards: You can list a few awards within the context of the activities on your list, but bear in mind that an award doesn’t count as an activity in and of itself. 
  • Leadership organizations: While it’s good to demonstrate leadership skills through your extracurriculars, simply stating that you participated in the National Student Leadership Conference (or a similar event) doesn’t actually say much about your personal leadership. Opt for something more specific. 
  • Academic honor societies: Again, you need to differentiate yourself. Nearly every other applicant will be part of the National Honor Society. Include activities that are unique to you! 

How To Find the Right Extracurriculars for You

When seeking out extracurriculars, start by tapping into what you're good at and what you enjoy. If music is your thing, think about joining the school band or choir or even starting your own music group.

But don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Exploring different activities can open doors to new skills and interests you never knew you had.

Also, think about the bigger picture. Look for activities that not only let you shine but also help you grow personally and professionally. For instance, volunteering at a hospital can show your caring side while giving you insight into the healthcare world.

Ultimately, pick activities that speak to you and line up with your goals. By choosing ones that play to your strengths and push you to develop, you'll make the most of your extracurriculars and leave a lasting impression. 

Once you've identified which Ivy League schools are the right fit for you, take the time to research their specific criteria and preferences regarding extracurricular engagement. 

Tailoring your application to meet each institution's standards and values can significantly boost your chances of acceptance. Remember, authenticity and enthusiasm are key, so focus on showcasing your genuine experiences and contributions. Quad Education Group can help you determine which activities are the best choices for you. 

How Many Extracurricular Activities Do Ivy Leagues Want?

For most students, two or three extracurricular activities are manageable while balancing a full course load, depending on the commitment involved in each. Keep in mind there is no magic number of extracurricular activities that will get you into Ivy League schools. 

Whether you’re an international student applying, a domestic applicant, or someone with a unique background, Ivy League admissions officers are interested in the quality of your extracurricular involvement rather than the sheer quantity. 

What’s important is to do what you can without putting your academic standing at risk. Do not overexert yourself with tons of extracurriculars while balancing a full-time schedule. Make sure you have ample time to rest, study, and maintain balance.

FAQs: Best Extracurricular Activities for Ivy League

Here are our answers to some answers of the most frequently asked questions regarding what extracurriculars are best for Ivy League schools.

1. What Extracurricular Activities Should I Do For Ivy League?

You should continue to do whichever extracurriculars YOU truly enjoy doing. Rather than adjusting your activities, try taking them to the next level instead. How can you take your passions to the next level? Drive, initiative, and leadership can all be demonstrated in any field while staying true to what interests you. 

2. Do Ivy Leagues Care About Extracurricular Activities?

The short answer is yes! Ivy League schools absolutely care about extracurricular activities. You should be able to demonstrate that you are passionate and driven in and out of school throughout your application. 

3. Can I Get Into Ivy League Without Extracurriculars?

Getting into an Ivy League school without any extracurriculars under your belt may be quite the challenge. Remember, you’re competing against the best of the best. You should be able to demonstrate your interests outside of school to give your application the best chance of success. 

4. Can I Include Personal Hobbies or Interests as Extracurricular Activities?

Yes, you can include personal hobbies or interests on Ivy League applications as extracurricular activities. These activities can provide insight into your personality and character, but be sure to highlight any achievements or leadership roles within them.

5. What is Considered an Ivy League Extracurricular Activity? 

An Ivy League extracurricular activity can be anything that adds to your application narrative and demonstrates leadership qualities. There is no set extracurricular activity that is exactly what Ivy League schools are looking for--they want to get to know you as an applicant! 

So, be genuine and pursue things that you’re passionate about. This will serve you much better than trying to participate in everything and getting burnt out or including cliche activities that you don’t actually care about on your application just “because.”

6. Is Volunteering an Ivy League Extracurricular Activity? 

Volunteering can certainly be a good extracurricular activity for Ivy League schools. It demonstrates compassion and care for your community. 

However, bear in mind that many students who apply to Ivy League schools also participate in volunteering. So, try to differentiate yourself and find ways to take initiative or show leadership. 

7. How Important Are Extracurricular Activities For Ivy League? 

Extracurriculars are very important to Ivy League schools. As you may already know, the competition for getting into these top schools is as tough as it gets. You can pretty much guarantee that every other contender has ramped up impressive extracurriculars on their resumes.

What can make your extracurriculars stand out is authenticity, persistence, commitment, and leadership. Think about what truly interests you outside of academics. How can you take time to develop those interests? How can you apply yourself in every area of your life? 

Ivy League schools are interested in passionate people who push their boundaries and continuously make efforts to learn and grow. 

You don’t have to be perfect at everything you do; any successful person knows that failure is an essential part of growth. Just keep demonstrating your will to push forward and develop your own unique set of interests. 

Final Thoughts

Make sure that whichever extracurriculars you participate in are authentic to your personal interests. You can demonstrate skills such as leadership, drive, commitment, and initiative in any field. Some students choose to organize an event surrounding their passion or find a related internship. 

Whatever you do, avoid trying to impress the admissions committee with what you think they want. Instead, impress yourself! The rest will follow. 

Good luck!

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