The more extracurriculars, the better.
Last year, William Hurst, writing in Inside Higher Ed, called on schools to end the “extracurricular arms race,” noting that “many American high schools push their students to excel in as many extracurricular activities as they can, often because they think this helps those students gain admission to top colleges and universities.” College counseling services such as Navigatio and Synocate, meanwhile, direct students to try out lots of extracurriculars and to list outside-the-box activities on their résumés to help them build up their applications.
This is an outdated way of approaching college admissions. When colleges and universities were thought to be seeking “well-rounded” students, applicants with long lists of curricular and extracurricular activities stood out as great candidates thanks to their broad interests. Students were expected to engage in sports, cooking clubs, debate and, of course, community service that sounded more meaningful than it really was. But about a decade ago, schools changed their focus from well-rounded students to those with hyper-developed interest in one or two subjects, which became apparent to me in the way admissions counselors answered my questions about extracurricular activities.
Nowadays, schools look for both kinds of students as they attempt, each year, to create an interesting, diverse, high-performing freshman class. That may include an applicant extremely passionate about the viola and another who plays every sport and is a member of a dozen clubs. The best way to impress admissions counselors, as always, is to authentically pursue what interests you.