The Importance of Extracurriculars
Extracurricular activities can be a good way to set students apart when applying for college, and can even help them earn scholarship money. But what’s the right balance?

When students apply to college they’re judged mainly on academics, but also extracurriculars. So the first thing they should do is to try to balance their time accordingly, while they are still in high school.

Parents should keep track of how much time their child is spending on extracurriculars on a weekly and yearly basis. And whatever they do, don’t let them overload their schedules. A kid who plays varsity soccer and travel soccer doesn’t have time to do volunteer work and still give the proper attention to his or her academics.

I’m thinking back to a tour of Stanford University I took a few years ago, when the dean of admissions made this important point: Some kids get into so many organizations trying to look good to a university that they end up being mediocre at a bunch of things. At Stanford, and many other top colleges, they look for students who are excellent at one thing.


They like to see commitment and follow-through.

Kids are often some combination of academic, athletic, or artistic, but typically they don’t excel in all three of these areas. Parents often try to push their kids to be all things, and it often leads to frustration on everyone’s part. Not only that, but the kids end up the kids end up getting down on themselves because they’re mediocre at everything instead of sensational at one thing.

There are a couple of other factors to think about when it comes to extracurriculars. One is that sports in high school are fun, but they can be all-consuming in college. I’ve seen students go off to college and they tell me that their universities turned a sport they loved into a job they hated. They ended up quitting their sports.

My advice to parents: Don’t push your kids to play sports at the college level. Let it be their choice. If they do decide to continue with a sport, make sure they love the school they choose, with or without the sport. They have to be as in love with the academics and atmosphere as they are with the arena and the athletic amenities.

Students also need to love the sport with or without the coach, because it’s possible that their college coach could leave for greener pastures. This happens more often than you’d think. The best thing about extracurriculars is that they’re a good way to get money for college. Relatively few extracurriculars will generate full scholarships, but many lead to partial scholarships. Being good at something that’s relatively rare—an unusual musical instrument or a less-popular sport—certainly helps. Universities are a community. They may need a tuba player or a goalie or someone to run the yearbook. Students have plenty of options. But whatever they choose, it helps to be good at it.

Jamie Dickenson portrait

Independent Educational Consultant specializing in college admissions and financial aid, motivational speaker, business coach and owner of Jamie Dickenson, LLC., IEC Advisors, and Yoga Power, LLC

Jamie Dickenson is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. Hartford Funds has separately contracted with Ms. Dickenson to provide additional insight about college savings issues.