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How My High School Extracurriculars Helped Me In Succeed in College And Beyond

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This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

There’s a common sentiment that what you do in high school doesn’t matter. Sure, your SAT scores help determine what colleges accept you, AP classes just might be able to get you a few credits ahead in college, and playing a sport shows that you’re “well-rounded.” 

And then what? Once you get to college, maybe you’ll find that no one cares what score you got on the ACT. Maybe you’ll discover that the university’s sports team doesn’t feel like the right fit for you.

These early months of college, especially if you went to a different school than your high school friends, are all too often complicated by feeling like a fish out of water. Then there’s the fear that things you worked on in high school only mattered to get into the school of your dreams

Luckily, the skills and hobbies you pick up from what you do in high school lend themselves to many other areas, including entirely new opportunities from what you’ve been familiar with in the past.

Here are some extracurriculars I did in high school and how they have improved my day-to-day college experience. Of course, these are all things that help show your involvement in your school community and your work ethic on your application, but they also enrich your personal life. 

1. Yearbook

I was heavily involved with my high school’s yearbook to the point of being appointed copy editor. I was looking forward to using these skills at my college, only to discover with dismay that my school doesn’t have a yearbook (or an “annual,” as most universities refer to the publication).

I knew it looked good on my application, but other than that, I was worried my experience wouldn’t have any practical bearing on my college experience. I needn’t have worried.

Working on your high school yearbook is an invaluable source of publishing and journalism experience. Not only does it connect you with a wider social network, you learn how to hold proper interviews and maintain an ethical standard.

You learn how to ask questions and dig deeper into your environment. It bolsters your knowledge of major press style guides and how to interpret them. You also learn principles of design, especially print formatting, layout, and photography.

My high school also emphasized advertising and marketing to local businesses to gain sponsors. But then again, I got to college, and there was no yearbook. What can you do instead?

Getting involved with your school’s newspaper is an obvious answer, since your reporting, writing, and photography skills are strengthened by your experience. It also has a positive effect on your academic writing as you learn how to write both formally and accessibly while integrating quotes and field research.

Because of these benefits, I highly recommend getting involved with your high school yearbook, especially if you’re interested in majoring in media studies, English, and marketing.

Unique Extracurricular Activities To Do

2. Theater (Acting and Technical Crew)

Theater is another one of those classic high school activities that helps other areas of life. On your college application, it looks good because of the intense time commitment it takes to be involved with your theater department, teamwork, and the exposure to and understanding of noteworthy literature most theater programs facilitate.

The ability to work under pressure, memorize and comprehend texts, and working as a team are all standout attributes that come from the theater. If you’re on the technical side of things, you learn principles of design, engineering, and, again, teamwork.

Both roles demonstrate a capacity for creativity as a tool to convey emotion and big ideas. So, you’ve used this for your application. How does it help once you’re in college?

Well, first and most obviously, if you want to study theater in college, having a background is extremely helpful. Having past experience to list during auditions and applications shows you’re up to the challenge, and you have the groundwork for understanding the demands of working in the theater.

Beyond theater, having improved memorization and reading comprehension from learning scripts and understanding character are essential skills in the humanities and any other field that requires cogent human analysis.

It also helps with public speaking and oratory abilities, as well as improving self-confidence. The technical side is helpful for those interested in audiovisual design.

For me, my knowledge of the theater I gained in high school has aided immensely in my studies of English (especially Shakespeare!) and sound design, especially the way sound moves in space and how you can use it to serve an aesthetic purpose.

These are all skills you pick up as you work in the theater, and while you may not even be consciously aware they’re part of your toolbox, they can greatly help all areas of your life moving forward. 

3. Athletics

Like with the other two, athletics is strongly linked to teamwork. Handling yourself under pressure and remaining a stable force in highly stressful situations is a terrific skill, and something that high athletic performance demands, but that doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t work with the other people on your team.

My experience with sports was very stressful, and it demanded a lot of grit, even just to avoid getting hurt. On top of all of the above, most sports demand minute-to-minute and second-to-second adjustments in strategy.

Sports demand that you see your role in a bigger picture, which requires immense self-awareness and tactical ability on the side of the athlete. It’s for these reasons that sports are very useful to have on your application, as well as the large time and physical demand.

Like with other extracurriculars, even if you don’t continue beyond high school, you gain invaluable lifelong skills. From my experience playing rugby, I learned how to keep up with fast-moving environments and be flexible as well as strategic.

I gained valuable insight into the importance of taking care of your body, listening to the needs of other people, planning for the future, and, most poignantly, learning from my mistakes. 

These examples are just from my own experience–each person has a different journey throughout high school and beyond. Every activity you do in high school helps, but it’s best to pick a few that mean the most to you and go deep with them, especially if they’re relevant to what you want to do after school.

As long as you get out there and participate in your community, you’re learning new life skills.

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Author: Rebecca Hanson

I'm currently a sophomore English major at Lewis & Clark College in sunny Portland, OR. Alongside my writing for Niche, I also contribute to LC's student newspaper and radio. I'm passionate about writing, playing bass, and taking care of my dog, Howie (not pictured).