Importance of Extra Curricular Activities for Collegebound Athletes

Courtesy: Melynda Nash, Academic Advisor, American College Connection (ACC). ACC is a Swimswam Partner. Melynda talked to several admissions representatives from colleges and universities around the country, to see what they’re looking for in prospective students of all kinds.

Juggling sports, academics and community service can lead to quite a hectic schedule for high school students; however, for the college bound student these days, it is a must.  It doesn’t matter what a student chooses as his or her volunteer work or extra-curricular activities, rather colleges look for how dedicated a student is to their chosen service or club.

According to Carlos Cano, an Admissions Counselor at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ (D-III), it’s more important to see that a student is actively engaged in a particular volunteer opportunity than slightly engaged with many organizations. Universities prefer you be consistently involved in one or two issues that you really care about rather than be “somewhat involved” in many issues.

“Admissions officers want well-rounded applicants who take their studies seriously, are engaged in a cause or two they are passionate about and are involved in extracurricular activities,” says James Elbaor, head of special projects at Admissions officers would rather see meaningful, sustained participation rather than a laundry list of activities.

On your college application, extracurricular activities provide important insight into who you are as a person. Admissions committees aren’t just interested in who you are as a student. College is a community, and they are interested in learning about what you can contribute. College Admissions Officers review applications holistically, meaning they read every part of every application so they can look at all aspects of a potential student. Some colleges may weigh one part of an application a bit more than another part. When reviewing applications, 93% of universities really pay attention to how passionate a student is about what they do.  35% of universities take into consideration the position of responsibilities a student has within their service or club.  The majority of these universities tend to be in the Ivy League.  How you communicate is another skill strongly taken into consideration by universities (93%), so when it comes to your application essay, being able to share your passion in writing about what you do is very important.

In surveying several universities, the following sums up what most schools desire in a student:

  • Harvard University (D-I Ivy league): Students should be involved in what is important to them. They need to show a passion for what they do. Any type of volunteer work is acceptable, but it should be something they have passion for.  Harvard looks for how involved a potential student is in school clubs. Holding an office is preferable. They want to see what kind of leader a student is.
  • University of Texas(D-I): Students should be involved in general (community) and school activities. They look for any kind of volunteer work or involvement in the community.  You do not need to hold an office in a school club, but you should be involved in one.
  • Loyola University(NAIA): Loyola looks for longevity in an activity or volunteer work. They want to see that a student has spent a considerable length of time with the organization or club. Student participation in any kind of club is good; a leadership role within the club is even better.

Students should start exploring volunteer opportunities toward the end of their freshman year, but it is never too late to become involved!

Go to for ideas about the causes out there.


Works Cited:

Cano Carlos, Why Volunteering Matters for College Admissions [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Miriam Salpeter, Community Service Work Increasingly Important for College Applicants [Blog post]. Retrieved from


ACC Recruiting is a SwimSwam ad partner. Go here and learn more about ACC and their team of college recruiting experts. 

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Rick Paine

Thanks Melynda. I know you worked hard tracking down and talking with the admission directors


If a coach wants you, you’re accepted. Period. Prestigious schools normally have a cap on the number of kids they can “help” get into the school, but this is almost always in reference to GPA/SAT/ACT. The truth is that if you’re an athlete, you don’t need to worry about the application process.

Rick Paine

Sorry Daniel, but that is just not true.


It’s more true than untrue, 90%/10%


That’s a pretty broad statement. If you’re a truly elite athlete applying to a school that really values athletics, and you have at least met all the NCAA minimum requirements, then you may not need to worry much.


Volunteering is great. Everyone should do it. But if you’re *good enough* to swim D1 college, you don’t need to worry about applications. Ivy League is probably different, but for 95% of D1, if a coach wants you, you’re in. Period.

If you’re going for a non-athletic scholarship it might be useful. If you’re trying to walk onto a team, it might be useful.

But the “application” process as an athlete is a joke.

Fred Lutz

Unfortunately, pretty accurate synopsis.

Rick Paine

Not sure where you are getting your information, but it is wrong.


Rick…these comments aren’t “wrong” or at least not completely wrong. Swimmers do get into schools based on their times and not necessarily their grades or other activities. This is a fact. Does it always happen? Of course not. But fast kids can and do get into schools that they couldn’t get into if they weren’t fast swimmers. There is absolutely ZERO chance that ALL of those swimmers who attend Cal and Stanford could get into school without their swimming. Sure, SOME of them would get in but not ALL. Of course these swimmers can’t have ACT scores if 21 and 2.3 GPA…but they can be far lower than the general student body and still get in. Or maybe they get… Read more »

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