You’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about which extracurricular activities will help you get into university.
Over the last 12+ years, we’ve noticed that most students choose the exact same extracurriculars.
This isn’t from a lack of originality or motivation, but simply because students choose what’s available or accessible to them.
Or they participate in activities their friends are doing.
While these activities are definitely worth your efforts because they’ll teach you a lot of useful skills and initiate personal growth, they likely won’t make your application or resume stand out from thousands of other applicants.
The reality is that application reviewers read the SAME stories about the same activities over and over again.
We see roughly 90% of students share the same sort of extracurricular experiences.
We’re breaking down the top 15 extracurricular activities — and we’ll bet real money that one or more of your extracurriculars is on this list! 🙂
Now don’t get us wrong, these activities are really impressive and we applaud your efforts for doing them.
We just recommend that you don’t make these your only activities, or if you do that you find unique ways to take them to the next level (keep reading to learn how or check out some unique ideas here).
If you need some help doing that, check out Youthfully’s 1:1 Passion Projects Coaching Program. Our coaches have helped hundreds of students identify and execute passion projects that increase their chances of getting into some of the most competitive university programs.
Here are the most popular 15 extracurricular activities that students in Canada choose:
1. School Clubs
Think of another high school, maybe your “arch nemisis” school.
Now go to their website and visit their list of extracurricular clubs.
It’ll look shockingly similar to the clubs available at your school.
Finance club, debate, yearbook, environment, diversity, chess, coding, Key Club, etc.
These are great opportunities to complement your learning and meet new people.
However, when it comes to standing out with university applications and scholarship committees, it’s important to embark on another path.
For example, you could use your involvement in a club as motivation to start a related passion project that makes a difference in your community, like one of our students did when she started a wheelchair tennis club (read the full story here).
We coach a lot of elite athletes who initially reach out to us thinking their sport will help them stand out.
In our experience, numerous students applying to top programs are high-level athletes.
We’ve coached Olympic hockey players, world-cup skiers, and future NCAA D1 prospects.
And they all realize the same thing: their only strong extracurricular is their sport.
While athletics can be a big part of who you are as a person, admissions committees are typically looking for individuals who show “more than one thing”.
It’s tough when you have limited time as an athlete, but our Passion Projects program is flexible even for the busiest athletes.
3. Student Council, Prefect, or House Captain
As a part of your school’s student council, prefect, or house captain, you will represent the views, interests, and needs of fellow students in matters related to the school.
By taking part in this extracurricular, you will learn important skills like leadership, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.
Most students who do this extracurricular have a similar set of activities on their resume, like organizing events, collaborating with teachers, giving presentations, and making decisions for the student body. This can make it tough to make your role stand out when applying to university, so we recommend finding a way to uplevel this activity, like starting a campaign that has a lasting impact at your school or creates a better school environment for your peers.
DECA is a non-profit student organization that aims to prepare students for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management.
The most popular is DECA’s online events which challenge members in online business simulations. Now don’t get us wrong — it’s super impressive if you do well in this competition. However, the reality is that almost every student makes it to provincials, and admissions committees see this on hundreds of student profiles a year (especially for Ontario students).
DECA is definitely a great item to have on your resume, but we highly recommend pursuing other activities that will take it to the next level. For example, you could start your own business and apply what you learned while participating in DECA.
5. SHAD & Similar Programs
SHAD or similar programs programs (like QLEAD, Waterloo Catalyst, or Med YSP) will help you develop new skills, gain exposure to new subjects and fields, build a network of contacts, and prepare for the challenges of high school and university.
Programs like these tend to be very popular amongst high-achieving students, making it difficult to be unique or memorable. We recommend that you add other extracurricular activities to your profile, or find authentic ways to expand your role in these programs, like developing a project, taking a leadership role, or focusing on a specific area of interest.
6. Junior Achievement
By taking part in Junior Achievement, you’ll develop the skills you need to solve real-world problems and challenges, especially related to business, finance, or entrepreneurship.
You’ll develop practical skills and knowledge to prepare you for success in college and beyond, while also building a network you can use for future opportunities.
Like the clubs mentioned above, this activity can be difficult to stand out when applying to competitive programs like Queen’s Commerce because you can expect that most other students will have done this too. Find additional ways to expand your leadership potential and skills, like organizing a fundraising event, doing a TEDx Talk to raise awareness about a cause you’re passionate about.
7. Duke of Ed Program
The Duke of Ed program will help you develop skills, get physically active, volunteer in your community, and undertake adventurous journeys or expeditions.
While many students participate in these activities, they all typically do the same sorts of things. If you want to stand out, we recommend going above and beyond the normal requirements, like connecting your interests in expeditions and the community to do a charity project.
8. Lifeguard or Swim instructor
Students have been doing this activity for decades because it allows them to be physically active and give back to the community, while developing skills like communication and leadership.
This activity is good to have on your profile but it should complement other activities, so you can really make your application memorable. Uplevel this activity by starting your own swimming lesson business or competing in a national swimming competition.
9. Camp Counselor
Being a camp counselor provides high school students with valuable opportunities to develop a wide range of skills that can be useful in their personal and professional lives, like communication, leadership, teamwork, and responsibility.
All of these skills are ones that the admissions committee looks for. When applying to university, make sure to highlight your experiences and accomplishments as a camp counselor on your university application to demonstrate the value that you can bring to campus life, providing examples where possible.
10. Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA)
If you’re applying for an undergraduate program in the healthcare field, chances are you’re a part of this organization. It’s a great opportunity for you to develop your leadership, communication, and teamwork skills through a variety of activities, competitions, and events, while helping prepare for your future in this field.
Participation in HOSA can be an excellent way to demonstrate your passion for healthcare and your commitment to developing skills and knowledge in this field. To set yourself apart from other applicants, go beyond simply just being a member of this organization and find an opportunity to apply what you learned in the HOSA club to contribute to your field of interest.
11. Model UN (MUN)
Model UN is a popular extracurricular activity that involves simulating the workings of the United Nations. Participants act as delegates from different countries and work together to address real-world issues and develop solutions to complex global problems. You’ll develop critical thinking, communication, and problem solving skills, while becoming more knowledgeable about global issues.
To make this experience unlike others, use it as an opportunity to increase your knowledge about a topic you’re passionate about or as a kickstart to an initiative you start to help make the world better, like helping make healthcare more accessible in other countries.
12. Hackathon or Coding Camp
Hackathon and other coding camps/competitions is a common extracurricular activity, especially for those interested in computer science or software engineering.
You’ll gain experience and skills you can use in university and beyond (employers usually recruit at these competitions).
If you want to take this activity to the next level, try flexing your coding skills and build a website or application or develop an online course. Going above and beyond these coding competitions/camps will show universities that you want to apply what you’ve learned and solve real world issues, which can increase your chances of getting accepted.
13. FIRST Robotics & VEX Robotics
FIRST Robotics and VEX are popular extracurriculars because they allow students to tap into their creativity, innovation, and competitiveness, while developing their skills in STEM. This competition draws hundreds of students each year, and is so popular because of the real-world experience and collaboration it provides.
FIRST is a good experience to have on your profile if you’re applying to a STEM program. If you want to stand out to universities and employers, we recommend using this experience as a stepping stone to help you launch another passion project, like engineering a device that will help others or identifying a need and inventing a solution.
Jack.org is a Canadian charity that aims to promote mental health awareness and provide support for young people dealing with mental health issues. It’s a popular extracurricular because it provides opportunities for students to make a difference, develop valuable skills, and connect with others who share their interests.
This is a great activity that you can use to kickstart a passion project, like a charity event or podcast to help expand your efforts and make a real difference.
15. The Knowledge Society (TKS)
TKS is popular for students who are interested in technology and innovation, like artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and nanotechnology, and provide opportunities for students to work on projects related to these fields.
Most students applying to these fields will be involved in this extracurricular, so it helps to think about unique ways that you can stand out, like inventing something that will make an advancement in this field.
Honorable Mention: Tutoring & Mentorship
The best way to learn is to teach, as they say.
Tutoring is a fantastic way to earn extra money, gain teaching experience, and help your peers.
While being a tutor is a valuable experience, it is important to recognize that it is a common and widely available opportunity, and therefore it may not necessarily make a student stand out on their resume or university profile.
It is important for students to also seek out unique and diverse experiences to make themselves more competitive in the job market and in college admissions.
Launch a Unique Extracurricular Project
While all of these extracurriculars will help you evolve as a student and young professional, it can be difficult to stand out when competing against thousands of other students.
To help increase your chances of admission success, you should think outside the box and add an independent passion project to your list of extracurriculars. Here are a few passion project ideas to inspire you as you start your journey.
We know finding a passion project can be easier said than done. Our coaches have helped hundreds of students identify and execute passion projects in various fields and industries — and they’re ready to help you take yours further than you thought possible.