Many counselors will tell you, “Become involved in as many extracurricular activities as you can. Colleges love to see that.” On the other hand, some will tell you to focus your time and energy on just one or two clubs because it shows commitment.
Extracurricular activities, such as clubs, provide a great way to enhance your understanding of material covered in class, become involved in the school and community, and yes, to also pad your college resume.
Participation in some sort of extracurricular activity is clearly important. Whether colleges want to see participation in many clubs or just a few is debatable, but here is my suggestion: Pick one or two clubs that you are most interested in, and then become an active member. Try to go to as many events as possible, and definitely go ahead and pay the $5 or $10 it takes to become an official member of the club. After a year or two of involvement, your hard work will show off. Other members will realize what you have been doing, and if you run for officer elections, you have a good chance at being elected.
Beside the advantage of becoming a more rounded candidate for colleges, your time at school will become more enjoyable. You will meet new people, and you will explore different things you have probably never seen before.
I am personally involved in three clubs (member of Student Council and Spanish Club and secretary of HOSA); I write a regular guest column for my school’s newspaper; I am on the school’s School Improvement Team; and I have several other things going on outside of school, such as supervising junior volunteers at Mission Hospitals. I also chose to do National History Day, a large research project, this year, and I am currently reviewing a 120-page manuscript for a friend. In addition, I am still trying to increase student involvement in the local government, and I am currently serving as the Vice President of a moderately large nonprofit organization based out of Washington, D.C.
I am committed to all of the above, and therefore, I sometimes find my time very limited. However, I enjoy doing all of these things, and it has really helped me in so many ways.
I guess I take issue with your characterization of “extracurricular activity” and that it is “clearly important.” I think college resumes have made a mockery of citizenship, and they’ve encouraged all of us to focus on organization instead of action. Most of the clubs you mentioned are probably productive groups, but that they have “secretaries” and “presidents” instead of turn-taking group organization and decentralized planning, that they hold elections each year for leadership positions which usually boil down to popularity contests, and that these groups are overly formal and regimented inclines me to believe that their primary purpose is not community improvement but rather self-advancement for the members involved. Why would you need a name for “Spanish Club” instead of getting together to speak spanish and watch spanish movies once a week? Because everyone wants to fill that “extracurricular” space on college applications.
Also, let’s think for a second about “extra-curricular” activity. Life, it seems to me, is extra-curricular activity. Do I learn more about leadership as a President or Vice President of a club whose name I can fit in that two-by-one inch box than if I lead my squad into battle in World of Warcraft? If you think so, I suggest you read the articles popping up from accredited Media Studies departments at universities around the nation. Am I learning more as secretary of the National Honors Society than as an unofficial point-woman who organizes weekend trips to the mall and movie-theatre for ten hormone-driven, overly-political sophomore girls? Certainly not. Whether I learn formal debate or argue with my mom every day, whether I help community children with their homework or my little brother with girl problems, whether I visit senior citizens or teach my father how to check his email, is there really that much of a difference between what you call “community service” and what I call “down time”? There isn’t, and we’re all playing a very dangerous game when we make such a foolish distinction.