High School Clubs

It’s no secret that high school is stressful.

If you’re gearing up for college, you may feel as though the demands on your time are endless. For starters, you’re probably focused on completing challenging courses and test prep. It can seem like you never have any time outside of school—but it is important to de-stress and focus on something besides academics. Joining high school clubs is a great way to achieve that goal! Even better, having a well-rounded portfolio can improve your competitiveness as a future college applicant.

Your participation in clubs can hone your communication skills, foster creative thinking, and teach you how to work effectively with other people. Your extracurricular involvement is one of the few ways that colleges can gain insights into your personality. Because extracurriculars can take a lot of time—and because your time in high school is precious—you’ll want to be strategic about which clubs to join.

How important are high school clubs? They can prove very consequential. If you take on increasing responsibility and achieve success, your extracurricular involvement will not only help you get into college—it could even help you pay for college! Ultimately, high school clubs are as important as you make them. Here are eleven tips for choosing the right clubs and using your time outside of school wisely.

Tip #1: Know your options

There is a huge range of clubs and extracurriculars offered at most high schools. You have the option of joining sports teams, community service clubs, public speaking organizations, math or science leagues, social or political organizations, or interest-focused groups like anime or waffle clubs (yes, there are actual waffle clubs!). Usually, at the beginning of the school year, you will get some introduction to all of the available clubs (via a school assembly, email, or other communication). Make a list of the ones that intrigue you and attend their first meetings. Based on your initial impressions, you can narrow down your list to a few clubs you want to join for the school year.

Tip #2: Choose quality over quantity

While it’s a good idea to participate in different types of extracurricular activities, keep in mind that quality is better than quantity. You should not join every single club your school offers. This will lead you to feel overwhelmed and may prevent you from enjoying your extracurricular experiences. Instead, attend your school’s club fair at the beginning of the year, choose two to three clubs that you truly enjoy, and focus on those. You don’t want to be a dilettante who does a little bit of a lot of things. Instead, think about what really piques your interest, and pursue just a few things.

Tip #3: Understand that colleges know you can’t be everywhere all the time

It may not always feel that way, but colleges do understand that some extracurricular activities are much more time-intensive than others. Varsity sports, for instance, may preclude you from participating in any other activities. But if you become increasingly accomplished in your activity (more on this in Tip #4), then you don’t necessarily need to be a member of multiple clubs. Likewise, if you have a part-time job, colleges will “count” that out-of-school activity in their assessment of your candidacy. (And if you need to work significant hours to support yourself and your family, colleges will keep that in mind when considering your extracurricular activities overall.) Colleges will consider both the time commitment you invest in an activity as well as what you accomplish.

Tip #4: Deepen your engagement over time

As you gain more experience in your extracurricular activities, you can take on increasing amounts of responsibility and assume leadership positions. Becoming a club president, team captain, or other leader provides a great way to stand out on college applications—and, more importantly, taking on additional responsibility helps you cultivate your “soft” skills.

Tip #5: Try to gain professional experience

Finding an internship or job that aids in professional development during high school is tough. (There are still opportunities, however. For instance, if you’re thinking of being a pre-med, try shadowing a doctor.) If you can only get limited hands-on work experience—or if you can’t get any at all—clubs can provide valuable professional development opportunities. For example, if you are interested in international relations, joining Model United Nations can provide you with great (simulated) experience. Similarly, if you are interested in science and engineering, try joining a robotics club or Science Olympiad to strengthen key career skills. If you are interested in the arts, try drama club or join the dance team. Spending a few hours per week (or more!) cultivating your interests will help you learn if you would like to pursue those subjects in college and your future career. There is also overlap between high school and college clubs, so chances are, you’ll be able to continue pursuing many of the same activities once you transition to college. Colleges may even recruit you for your extracurricular talents!

Tip #6: Don’t try to game the college admissions process

A stint in Model Congress—especially if you gained recognition for your performance—will likely be looked upon more favorably than, say, time spent in a pinball club. That said, you shouldn’t try to game the college admissions process by joining only clubs you think colleges want you to participate in. That would be doing things backwards—colleges use extracurriculars as a way to understand what you like (not to understand what you think they like), so you should pursue your own interests and passions. Just understand that one hour a week spent in a pizza club won’t be viewed the same as ten hours a week devoted to the debate team. Passion always shows, however—so be guided by your strengths and ideals. If you’re dedicated and talented enough, colleges may even give you a scholarship to attend their schools to continue pursuing your passion!

Tip #7: Consider giving back to your community

Community service clubs such as buildOn or Key Club are very popular because they offer you a chance to give back. Not only do some honors societies require community service, but many students also find it incredibly valuable and fulfilling. If you decide you want to volunteer for a community service club or organization, think about the issues that matter most to you, and get involved. Take on leadership roles if you can, too. Also remember that many community service organizations offer college scholarships.

Tip #8: Strengthen your time-management skills

Focusing on activities outside of school will allow you to hone your time-management skills. You will have to plan in advance when to complete homework, fulfill your extracurricular responsibilities, study for tests, have a social life, and, occasionally, sleep. Participating in extracurriculars during high school will help you cultivate the time-management skills that you’ll need to succeed in college.

Tip #9: If you can’t find clubs you want to join, start your own

If you don’t see any clubs that spark your interest, don’t worry—you can start your own! Not only will this allow you to create something tailored to your interests, but it will also enable you to cultivate a community of students who share your interests. Starting a club, while time-consuming, will demonstrate your leadership skills and willingness to take initiative.

Tip #10: Build relationships with teachers and advisors

Keep in mind that school clubs typically need a faculty advisor. You may ultimately develop a bond with the teacher who serves as your club’s advisor—and he or she may end up writing you a letter of recommendation in the future.

Tip #11: As with most things, you get out what you put in

No matter which clubs you join—or launch—you will have the opportunity to develop important skills and stand out on your college applications. The more you make of your opportunities to pursue new experiences and develop new skills, the more likely your extracurricular involvement is to have an impact on your college prospects. In the process, you’re very likely to add value to your high school experience and create amazing memories!