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Last updated March 8, 2023

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An Overview of Basic Extracurricular Pathways

Key Takeaway

There's no single right way to build an extracurricular resume. In this post, we go over a few extracurricular pathway options and give you concrete advice for selecting your own activities.

We field questions from students all the time about whether they need to have a research experience under their belt to build a strong application.

If it isn’t a research experience, it’s something else: an internship with a major company, a unique contribution to a piece of published research, et cetera.

The truth is, there’s no one correct pathway to building a successful extracurricular resume. We’ve worked with lots of students who’ve had incredible results but who haven’t followed a traditional extracurricular pathway.

Still, we wanted to lay out some guidelines to help you think about how to build your resume—and offer a few “extracurricular pathways” you might follow, depending on your interest area.

Notes on Resume Development

In your career, conventional wisdom is that you want to be moving “up.” An entry-level position will lead to something in mid-management, and onward.

This isn’t arbitrary. As you spend more time in the job, you (ought to) gain more skills and experience that qualify you to take on a bigger level of responsibility, a bigger role.

But something else usually happens as you spend more time working: you become more specialized. You might manage a greater number of people—but your role, and the things you’re really good at, will likely become more pointed. Your resume should look like an ever-sharpening spear, with your most recent position being the tip.

The same should go for your extracurriculars throughout high school. You should start somewhere—your beginnings can be humble—and gradually work your way up, sharpening your focus and skills as you go.

This model can help you plot a course through your extracurriculars in high school. Let’s go into some specific examples

A few resume pathways


This is the most common resume pathway. It stays inside the four walls of the school. Because it's the most common, it's also the least likely to stand out.

In-classroom resumes start out with students volunteering for a club or activity on campus. Maybe you enter into a particular club in your first year as a member. In the second year, your involvement deepens. You might, possibly, be identified by the club leadership as a good replacement leader when the current leadership graduates.

The apex of this involvement is some leadership or recognition within the established structure of the club or extracurricular.

Band: Concertmaster

Debate: Captain

Basketball: Captain

Violin: First Chair

Robotics: Captain

You get the idea. Often, the achievement ends at the level of the school. The exception is if your team or club goes on to a state or national-level competition.

Resumes crowned by in-classroom achievements are strong. There are many excellent schools where you'll stand out in the pool. However, a resume that only consists of in-classroom experiences probably will not meet the high threshold for admitted students at some of the more competitive programs in the country.

We wish it weren't so — but at these programs, admitted students likely have accomplished something outside of the classroom. They probably have an accomplishment at the state, regional, national, or international level. Emphasis on the latter two.


The next category of resume pathway is what we call the "hybrid" path. It's a blend of in-classroom engagement and work outside the classroom. This type of resume is usually stronger than a pure in-classroom resume. The fact that you went outside the most conventional pathway offered by your school says something about you. Specifically, it says that you cared enough about the extracurricular to create an engagement opportunity for yourself where it might not have been so easy to find one.

Music: You're in the school orchestra but also lead weekend music instruction sessions with elderly community members.

Robotics: You're on the school robotics team but also volunteer to teach a robotics class to middle schoolers at the library. Or maybe you have your own non-school team that competes at the state level.

A note on conventional vs. non-conventional extracurriculars.

Whether your EC resume takes place primarily inside or outside the classroom, you need to think about how conventional (or not) your resume is.

A lot of the examples above are fairly conventional — membership in particular clubs at school, teaching gigs and volunteering.

To be clear, those are great ways to spend your time. But they're also common. Most schools will look at those and be stoked. But at highly competitive schools, those types of extracurriculars won't stand out.

We’ve written about how to jazz up your extracurriculars and make them stand out here.

The most successful applicants we’ve worked with are students who have “hybrid” and (somewhat) non-conventional resumes.

They’ll have spent a decent chunk of high school working on a specific club or extracurricular. They’re probably in a leadership position for the club. But they’re also likely to have gone outside the school with their interests as well.

A great example: a student we worked with last year was the president of her DECA chapter, a well-established business and marketing organization. She also was accepted to Wharton’s Young Entrepreneurs program. She put a bit of a non-conventional spin on her resume when she founded a non-profit focused on raising awareness about a rare condition that affected a member of her family.

That combination of resume items was effective because it showed engagement with her main “extracurricular genre” (business) on several levels — both in the classroom and outside of it.

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