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Last updated March 21, 2024

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How to Write an Extracurricular Activities Supplemental Essay

Key Takeaway

Extracurricular Activities supplemental essays can be the trickiest to get right. In this post, we'll give you some concrete strategies for writing your own.

This post is one in a series of posts about the supplemental essays. You can read our core “how-to” supplemental post here.

What is an Extracurricular Activities supplemental essay?

Extracurricular supplemental essays are one of the most common kinds of supplemental essays. As you can probably guess, they ask you to write about an extracurricular activity—obviously!

But you might be wondering why schools ask you to expand on an extracurricular activity when you’ve already taken the time to curate your Common Application activities list. Since the Common App activities list only gives you 150 characters to explain your activities, Extracurricular essays are the perfect opportunity to show how you’ve interacted with your community through one of your activities.

Simply describing your extracurricular activity, however, probably isn’t enough. Admissions officers don’t need to hear about the logistics of your club soccer team's travel schedule or the detailed interpersonal dynamics of the restaurant you work at. They’ve heard those stories again and again.

What they really need to hear about is you. As a high school student, the way you spend your time outside of school says a lot about you. Admissions officers know that your time is limited and precious. Seeing the activities or causes you’ve dedicated yourself to reveals a lot about what’s important to you.

1: Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt offers a community where students find balance between their academic and social experiences. Please briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you.

(Psst: Want to know how to answer this prompt specifically? We have a post breaking down the Vanderbilt supplemental for you.)

2: Colorado College: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (no more than 250 words)

Extracurricular Essay Strategy

As with any supplemental essay, it’s important to approach Extracurricular supplementals strategically. In particular, your Extracurricular essays should do two main things.

  1. Show magnitude, impact, and reach.

    When admissions officers evaluate an applicant’s activities list or Extracurricular supplemental essay, they are looking at these three criteria. Let’s take a second to define each term:

    Magnitude: How big of a deal is your extracurricular?

    Impact: How are you and others affected by your extracurricular?

    Reach: How many people do you reach by participating in your extracurricular?

    Now, your Extracurricular essays don’t have to be manifestos about how great you are at your activity. In fact, they shouldn’t be.

    But when it comes to your supplemental essay strategy, a good way to approach your Extracurricular essays is by writing meaningfully about how your extracurricular has helped you have an impact on the world. Since colleges want to admit students who positively influence the world around them, your extracurricular essays can help you show how you do just that.

  2. Reflect on personal meaning and influence.

    The best extracurricular essays are ones that revolve around personal meaning and influence.

    Colleges ask you to respond to Extracurricular prompts because they want to know more about how your activities meaningfully impact you and the world around you.

    A supplemental essay that only goes into details about your activity without reflecting on its meaning or influence doesn’t do enough to make your case for admission.

    Let’s look at a quick example.

    In Debate Club, I led my team to victory in the final round. We were debating about climate change solutions, and I brought it my all.

    While that example elaborates on an extracurricular activity, it doesn’t make any effort to reflect on why the activity or the writer’s actions were important. Let’s look at a better excerpt:

    My Debate Club was in the finals, and I was our last hope. But we were in luck: the topic was “climate change solutions,” something I’m deeply passionate about. By harnessing the support of my team and the weight of my environmental activism, we didn’t just win the finals. I also became more confident in my ability to advocate for change.

    This second version speaks more to meaning. It goes beyond a simple explanation of the activity to expand on 1) why the activity was important and 2) what it meant to the writer.

Now that you have a few strategies under your belt, it’s time to start writing.

How to Write an Extracurricular Supplemental Essay

Step 1: Read the prompt closely.

If you’ve read any of our other supplemental essay guides, you might be familiar with this step. You may even be sick of hearing it. But it’s important to carefully dissect the prompt so you know exactly what admissions officers will be expecting you to address.

In the case of Extracurricular Activities essays, reading the prompt is essential. I’ll use the Vanderbilt and Colorado College prompts as an example.

Notice that the Vanderbilt prompt asks you to “briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you,” while the Colorado College prompt simply says, “Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.”

So what’s the difference? The Vanderbilt prompt asks you specifically to discuss how your activity has influenced you, but the Colorado College prompt gives you more freedom with what part of your activity you can focus on.

Step 2: Choose your extracurricular activity based on the values, impact, or lessons you want to show.

Remember that your personal statement, supplemental essays, and other application components work together to form a cohesive application narrative. Your essays should each show one of your best strengths, and together they should communicate your overall personal brand.

As you choose which extracurricular activity to write about, be sure that you’re thinking strategically about what you want your activity to say about you to an admissions officer.

Here’s a chart that might help you out. I’ve filled out an example first row so you can get the hang of it. Try filling in your own information to see what sticks.

Extracurricular Activity Impact Personal Meaning Strength(s)
Debate - Impact on my team because we won the finals
- National impact because it was the national competition
I learned how to speak up for what I care about. - Teamwork
- Advocate for justice

Step 3: Outline.

Okay, let’s say that you’re the debate team member we met earlier and you’re working on the Colorado College prompt. Since the prompt doesn’t specify which aspect of your extracurricular you should focus on, you get to choose what you think will be best.

Let’s also say that your personal statement already talks about your role on a team, so you want to supplement your personal statement (this is a supplemental essay, after all!) by focusing instead on how this activity has advanced your passion for climate justice.

Before you begin writing, it might be a good idea to outline what you want to write about to make sure your essay covers everything you want it to.

Here’s an example outline to get you thinking.

I. Introduction: Introduce the activity and lay out what’s at stake.

II. Body: Discuss impact, personal meaning, or reach.

III. Conclusion: Reflect on the activity and drive home how it showcases your chosen strength.

Clearly organizing your essay in a way that gives concrete details while focusing on meaning will help admissions officers understand the importance of your activity.

Extracurricular supplemental essay mistakes

  1. Writing a thinly-veiled Academic Interest essay instead of an Extracurricular essay

    Because you’re applying to college to be a student, some applicants think that you need to write about an extracurricular experience related to your academics. This kind of essay might include topics like debate, robotics club, Model United Nations, coding experience, independent research, and more.

    Co-curricular activities that are related to your academic interests aren’t off-limits. But you do have to be careful not to overstate the academic importance of your activity. If admissions offices want to know more about one of your academic interests, then they’ll ask you to answer an Academic Interest prompt.

    But because they’ve asked you to write an Extracurricular supplemental, then you’ll need to keep your focus on the “extra” part of “extracurricular.”

  2. Going into too much detail at the expense of personal meaning.

    I know—it’s hard not to unleash your passion and expertise when writing about your favorite extracurricular activity. Doing so can demonstrate its importance to you and your knowledge of the subject.

    But the problem with going into too much detail is that it can outshine the true purpose of a supplemental essay, which is to show personal meaning and school fit.

  3. Focusing on a superficial “non-extracurricular.”

    If you’re not quite sure what extracurricular to write about, let me give you a quick warning. You need to write about a real extracurricular activity. Some students want to put a creative twist on the prompt and focus on an “extracurricular” that is more of a personal interest than an actual activity.

    A good example of a superficial “non-extracurricular” would be an essay about going on long drives while listening to music. Sure, you might be able to write an interesting essay about that. But that kind of topic doesn’t fulfill the expectations of a supplemental essay, and it doesn’t give you the information you need to make your case for admission.

Extracurricular Supplemental Essay Example

Example Essay: The Journalist

Colorado College: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (no more than 250 words)

As an impressionable six-year-old, I watched Meryl Streep-portrayed Miranda Priestly shape fashion history with a single word of disgust. I longed for my words to have such an impact.

Now, as an editor-in-chief myself, I oversee daily operations of The Hallway, my high school’s newspaper. Instead of shaping global fashion trends, I impact my community by ensuring everyone stays informed.((The writer highlights their community impact.))

My place as editor-in-chief was solidified when, in March of last year, we published a breaking story. After a tip to our newspaper email address, a fellow reporter and I uncovered an academic dishonesty scandal. We conducted interviews, dug into school files, and reviewed old test keys to discover the cheating. My reporter wrote the story, and I edited it and put it on the front page. Our story became so big that it was republished in our city’s local newspaper.((This paragraph points to the student’s reach. They didn’t just impact their school community—their efforts also reached their city.))

Leading my team through this investigation taught me just how important journalism is.((This paragraphs reflects on the meaning of the activity to the writer.)) Even when people might be upset with what you write, what’s most important is the truth. People can’t make decisions if they’re uninformed about the facts. And reporters can’t investigate and write those stories without the support of a leader who’s willing to put in the work, too.

I doubt I’ll ever predict what we’ll be wearing next spring. But I know that my words will continue to have a deep impact on my community, and I can’t wait to find the next big story at The Catalyst.((The writer offers a brief but specific reference to the institution.))


Looking for more examples? We've got a bunch of other college essay examples for you to read—check them out!




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