How Many Extracurriculars Should I Have for College?

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August 28, 2023
4 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 8/21/23

Wondering how many extracurriculars you need to get into college? Our expert tips break down everything you need to know to stand out during the college application process.

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Planning for college involves a series of steps. Taking the right classes, studying for the SATs, and getting glowing letters of recommendation are things everyone worries about. 

An area often overlooked is extracurriculars. Students are sometimes misled into the idea that academics are all that matter and neglect to take part in meaningful extracurriculars..

Extracurriculars provide ample opportunity to show admissions officers how you choose to spend your time in school–what you’re interested in and passionate about. College admission committees don’t have time to get to know each and every student applying to their school, so extracurriculars are a great way to show them who you are! 

Making the brief glimpse they have into your life as impactful as possible is crucial, and choosing the right extracurriculars might just get you one step closer to getting your acceptance letter.

Getting the right number of extracurriculars is important too. Too few and you can come across as uninspired and too many might communicate an inability to commit. All in all, your extracurriculars should reflect who you are, so it’s essential to give some thought into the profile you’re trying to present.

Without any delay, let’s answer the question “how many extracurriculars should I have?”

How Many Extracurriculars Do You Need for College?

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While there isn’t an exact number for how many extracurriculars you should have for college, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind. 

It’s always a better idea to prioritize quality work. Loading up on as many brief and halfhearted ventures as possible is never a good idea. Meaningful and longitudinal activities are generally more impactful and show your commitment to your chosen extracurriculars.

A good minimum amount of extracurriculars would be at least two. Ideally, this would include one involving sports and another outside of athletics, such as an academic club. Clubs that are too similar or that you don’t have significant involvement with can take away time from applying yourself academically if you have a heavy schedule. 

Remember that substance matters. Being able to show leadership qualities in an extracurricular is widely lauded by admissions committees. Colleges interpret this as having the commitment and drive to succeed if you can rise through the ranks to become treasurer, vice president, help organize events, or lead club activities.

What If You Have Too Many Extracurriculars?

Having too many extracurriculars is only a problem if it takes away from other areas of your application, such as GPA or volunteer work. Or if the extracurriculars are extremely short-lived. 

Remember to prioritize extracurriculars you were deeply involved in. Feel free to exclude any activities you may have tried for a few weeks or those you weren’t particularly passionate about. 

If you’re finding it hard to narrow down your extracurriculars, consider your overall application and what you’re trying to communicate to admissions in terms of your future career plans. Being well-rounded is important, but you can also show your commitment by joining an extracurricular related to your area of interest.

It can also be a good idea to consolidate multiple extracurriculars of similar categories. For instance, if you’re a part of two different clubs within the same subject, try focusing on one and applying yourself. More isn’t always better, especially if involvement is spread thinly.

FAQs: How Many Extracurriculars Do You Need For College?

If you’re still wondering how many extracurriculars you should have for college, don't worry. Our extracurricular FAQs provide any additional information you may need.

1. Is Four Extracurriculars Enough?

A good number of extracurriculars can be around four. Although every student is different, having four extracurriculars allows you to branch out without being overwhelmed.

Having a good variety of hobbies outside of school is important. Diversifying your extracurriculars with something from several categories: athletic, artistic, major-related, and personal interest can paint a well-rounded picture of who you are as an applicant. 

Of course, your circumstances are always the best gauge of what you can handle. You can always consider additional interests if you have some free time throughout the semester. 

2. Is Five Extracurriculars Too Much?

The answer to the question “how many extracurriculars should I have?” does have a reasonable upper limit. Many students may sense having five extracurriculars is too many. 

Although there’s no perfect number, there’s a limit to how much time you can allocate to activities outside of class. Eventually, they may impact your academic performance, resulting in a lower GPA. Doing too much can also negatively affect your mental health, so ensure that you’re staying realistic. 

If you’re excelling in your classes, however, and mentally feel you’re up to add more to your plate, then five can potentially work. It’s all a matter of what you’re able to work with. Keep in mind, if you’re just adding extracurriculars you have no personal interest in to boost your application, you may find you burn out rather quickly.

It’s essential that you see value in your education and the extracurriculars you pursue. Having this perspective can make a demanding workload that much more manageable and enjoyable. 

It’s also worth noting that your extracurriculars should still allow you to focus on your academics, taking on AP and IB classes and studying for the ACT or SAT

3. How Many Extracurriculars Should I Have for the Ivy League?

You may be wondering how many extracurriculars you should have for Ivy League. 

It’s tempting to think that Ivy Leagues expect several extracurriculars to impress them. While in reality, two to three extracurriculars are quite reasonable for students applying.

Instead of competing by quantity, the best extracurriculars for Ivy League colleges reflect meaningful and high-quality experiences. Taking the initiative and starting a club of your own, taking on leadership roles, or pursuing a passion project can help you stand out amongst thousands of other applicants.

4. Can I Get Into Harvard Without Extracurriculars?

While it’s possible to get into Harvard without any extracurriculars, it will certainly be much harder. Without being able to compete with the right number of extracurriculars means you’ll need to outshine your competition in other metrics. 

Think about it like this: other students have excellent GPAs and standardized test scores along with a colorful list of extracurriculars. Not having any extracurriculars means you’ll need even more exceptional quantitative metrics to justify your lack of involvement.

Admissions might also wonder why you didn’t participate in any activities outside of school. 

While there may be many valid reasons, Harvard looks for candidates who can contribute positively to their student body. Extracurriculars are a huge part of this and can make you a more competitive candidate overall.

While these are some important things to keep in mind, showing you have the drive to succeed can still put you up for consideration.

Final Thoughts

It’s already easy to feel overwhelmed when choosing the best extracurriculars for college, let alone deciding how many extracurriculars you should have.

It’s okay–there isn’t a magical number that gives you a better chance of acceptance. No matter how many extracurricular activities you include in your college apps, just remember to ask yourself, “What is this communicating about myself?” Does the extracurricular show what you’re passionate about, your drive, or your commitment? How about leadership or proactive thinking?

The guidelines you should keep in mind are to include at least one athletic and one non-athletic extracurricular. Don’t take as many extracurriculars as possible in hopes of bulldozing through the admissions process. The most important thing to remember is to pursue a reasonable amount of extracurriculars where you’re able to generate value and contribute significantly to the program.

Use your extracurricular profile as one of the bountiful opportunities to show your best qualities. With the right activities, it might just be what sets you apart from other applicants to get you into the college of your dreams.

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