Best Extracurricular Activities for Ivy League

Sports players shaking hands
August 28, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/22

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 assure your acceptance into an Ivy League school. Ivy League schools are incredibly selective and want to see your genuine passions through your extracurriculars. 

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. 


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. Often students who enjoy the above activities are interested in pursuing law, government, acting, and/or business.


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?”

Personal Development

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. 


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 initiative to be able to pursue their passion. 


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, or trains, or 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.

How Many Extracurricular Activities Do Ivy Leagues Want?

For most students, two or three extracurricular activities is 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. 

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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.

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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