In the eyes of college admissions officers, there are certain types of activities that occupy the highest points within the extracurricular firmament. Placing in national/international academic competitions, ascending to leadership roles in student government, participation in a research-based summer program, impactful charitable work, standout abilities in drama/music/art, and recruit-worthy performances in varsity athletics are all the type of “x-factors” that can sway an admissions committee at a highly-selective university. (For more general advice about how colleges view extracurricular activities click here.”)

Yet, there are circumstances in which one’s ability to participate in activities like those listed above is temporarily, or even permanently, rendered impossible. Obviously, at present, the coronavirus pandemic is a prime example of a temporary situation that prevents teens from engaging in many of the aforementioned types of activities. Even in non-pandemic times, reasons you may be exploring non-school-based activities include: anxiety, depression, a physical ailment, family responsibilities, or the size/location of your high school. Let’s dive right in by grabbing the low-hanging fruit—the very things that you actually enjoy doing in your spare time.

Hobbies

Believe it or not, a hobby about which you are passionate can help you stand out on your college application. Colleges love students who are intellectually curious, are driven to keep learning outside the classroom, and dedicate themselves to a unique pursuit. Your hobby could be photography, 3D printing, studying the history of TV sitcoms, cooking, woodworking, home improvement, yoga, gardening, collecting vinyl records, astronomy, chess, solving and creating crossword puzzles, sewing, genealogy, 1920s American literature, fixing up antique cars, or literally hundreds of other niche interests. Showing colleges who you are as an individual is a genuine part of the admissions process. There is a reason that Columbia University’s application asks about the books, art exhibits, plays, magazines, concerts, and websites that you enjoyed most in the last year.

Write a Blog

Okay, we know that in a world of Instagram stories, tweets, and TikTok, blogging may seem a bit antiquated, but hear us out. Sure, writing 280 characters about the Netflix documentary series you’re presently watching (we agree that Tiger King is awesome, btw), or filming a 1-minute video of your cat sort-of lip-synching a hip-hop hit might be fun, but a blog is a way to get really in-depth about a subject that you care deeply about; just the type of endeavor that can be rewarding and help you stand out during the college admissions process. What you blog about can be as broad and varied as our previous list of sample hobbies. What matters is that this is a way to showcase (and improve) your writing ability and immediately connect with an audience without the usual barriers faced by trying to formally publish an article. Your blog could be about anything from the best pizza places in your region, to human rights issues abroad, to your collection of mesh hats from defunct sports teams (Go Expos!). It’s not the subject that matters; it’s your execution.

Political Involvement

We happen to be in the middle of an election cycle, which makes now an opportune time to volunteer on behalf of a candidate who you support. This could be anything from a U.S. presidential candidate to a county treasurer. Either way, not all volunteer work for a campaign involves face-to-face interaction. In fact, you can easily dedicate time to make calls for a candidate from the comfort of your own home.  Many candidates will also accept young people’s assistance with social media outreach which has becoming increasingly impactful (for better or worse) in recent elections.

Independent Reading

Introverts rejoice!—the fact that you would rather have your face buried in a 600-page novel than be cheering on the sidelines of a high school football game or serving as class vice-president does not make you a less desirable college applicant than your more extroverted peers. Stanford University is known for rating an applicant’s “intellectual vitality,” which is essentially a measure of a teen’s intrinsic love of learning. Wesleyan University desires applicants who are “intellectual risk-takers” and instructs their alumni interviewers to find out, “What type of reading appeals to this person?” Bottom line: being well-read DOES matter in the admissions process.

Computer Programming/Website Development

If you are the AP Computer Science type, you probably prefer to spend much of spare time coding and/or creating far from the rest of humanity, even during normal times. Whether you do this for-profit (running your own small business always looks good) or if you prefer experimental work programming robots in your basement, these are skills that can help you stand out on your college application. Of course, skills and accomplishments in this area will help a CS applicant far more than someone planning to major in art history.

Music

If you are already musically gifted, time at home can be spent practicing and expanding your abilities. Colleges are always looking for standout musicians to fill their orchestras and choirs. A capella is incredibly popular club on college campuses and a point of pride for many elite liberal arts schools. For example, prestigious Amherst is even known as “the singing college.” Even if you lack immense gifts in this area, it is perfectly fine to pick up music as a hobby. Teaching yourself to play guitar is not going to knock down the gates to the Ivy League, but it still shows a level of initiative and dedication that help paint more holistic picture of you as a human being.

Esports

Children of the 1980’s remember their parents telling them that playing Super Mario 3 wasn’t going to help get them into college must now eat their words. In 2019, esports tournaments awarded roughly 120 million dollars in prize money and there are even esports management majors popping at the likes of Ohio State University and the University of California – Irvine. Esports teams even offer scholarships these days. In fact, at UCI, varisty esports players can receive scholarships of $6,000 per year. So, if you’re stuck at home with little else to do, sharpening your skills in League of Legends or Overwatch may actually have a positive effect on your collegiate future.

Final Thoughts

While many of the top-tier extracurricular activities do indeed involve leaving the confines of one’s home, colleges sincerely value many types of individuals who they feel can make a host of differing contributions to their campus environment. Admissions officers also understand that world events like the COVID-19 crisis have left 3 billion people worldwide on lockdown, changing just about every facet of human life. No matter your circumstances, all of the suggestions in this blog will help you shine through on your application as more than just a set of grades and test scores. Passion, dedication, and intellectual curiosity are truly valued in the admissions process and can serve to enhance the quality and depth of your application.