Ways High School Students Can Get Extracurricular Activities During the Pandemic

For many teens, the pandemic has shut down or cancelled many extracurricular activities that are so critical to the college admissions process. With no school clubs, part-time jobs, volunteer projects, or sports, how are high school students going to get the experience colleges seem to prioritize?

Never fear! There are actually lots of ways for teenagers to build their college resume (and fight boredom!) during the pandemic. Your teen will just have to be a bit more creative in thinking about extracurriculars than usual, but that actually can work in your teen’s favor. Many times the activities that interest admission officials the most are not the predictable, organized ones that students gravitate towards. Now is the perfect time for some out-of-the-box thinking that will make your teen shine on their college applications. Suggest these ideas to your high school student:

Community Service

Volunteering is a particularly desirable activity for universities, but many typical community service opportunities are no longer available during the pandemic. However, there are virtual volunteer options that you might want to consider and that will look great on your college application:

  • Zooniverse.org is the largest platform for people-powered research. On the website, you’ll be able to study authentic objects of interest gathered by professional researchers, like images of faraway galaxies, historical records and diaries, or videos of animals in their natural habitats. By answering simple questions about them, you’ll help contribute to the research results. You don’t need any specialized background, training, or expertise making it easy for you to contribute to real academic research, on your own computer, at your own convenience.
  • The Smithsonian Digital Volunteer program engages the public in making its collections more accessible. Digital volunteers transcribe historic documents and collection records to facilitate research and preserve these valuable assets for future generations.
  • Consider being an election volunteer. We are in the middle of a big election cycle, which means that candidates, whether for U.S. president or county treasurer, are looking for volunteers. Campaigning will be largely online for the 2020 fall election as a result of the pandemic, so this is a perfect time to volunteer on behalf of a candidate you support. Visit the candidate’s website to learn how to volunteer.
  • If you’re good with children, you can tutor students virtually. If you don’t know of anyone who needs help academically, contact local elementary schools to see if they can connect you with a young student who needs tutoring.
  • Other volunteer ideas that are not online but you can still do at home include:
    • If you’re an animal lover, have a family meeting to discuss the possibility of fostering shelter animals.
    • If you like to sew, make face masks at home and donate them to a charity or to medical professionals.
    • Become a pen pal to the elderly. Contact your local senior center or assisted living facility to find out who is unable to stay in contact with friends and family and then start writing them letters once a week.
  • Think about what your community needs and try to organize something to meet the need while still observing social distance. Colleges love creativity, and developing your own community project shows a lot of initiative! One student recently created a produce swap where homeowners with excess harvest from their trees or gardens drop off produce and people in need pick up produce.


Part-Time Employment

While unemployment is skyrocketing and many businesses are not hiring, you can still obtain employment experience over the summer by launching a service. Starting your own small business demonstrates that you have a good work ethic and that you are learning how to serve customers, take initiative, manage your time, and adapt to new processes. There are actually several opportunities for teens to make money this summer while still maintaining social distance, including:

  • pet care (walking dogs or taking care of pets while families are away),
  • yard work,
  • virtual parents’ helper (with so many parents working from home, you can engage their kids via Zoom – play charades, teach an art lesson, practice sports drills, teach a musical instrument, etc.),
  • run an eBay business,
  • create art or other homemade items to sell on etsy, and
  • sell your services on the Fiverr website, in areas such as content writing, graphic design, animation, audio, programming, and more.

Running your own small business is a fantastic resume builder for college or future employment.


Just because there are no school clubs or sports right now doesn’t mean that you can’t build some impressive talents. Whether you want to explore a new hobby or you want to use your time to perfect skills in a pastime you already love, colleges are interested in students who demonstrate curiosity, a willingness to learn outside the classroom, and a passion for something beyond academics. There are hundreds of niche interests that you can learn or perfect during this time and then include on your college application. Showing colleges who you are as an individual is a genuine part of the admissions process. Consider some of these ideas:

Learn something new. The Internet has thousands of free online resources to explore a new hobby, whether it’s photography, 3D printing, woodworking, yoga, gardening, astronomy, sewing, genealogy, fixing up antique cars, or coding. You could take online classes in a number of interesting subjects, such as robotics, chess, or art. You could try writing comedy and perform it online. Think of something you’ve always wanted to try and use this opportunity to dive in!

Use your passion in a new way. If you have a hobby that you absolutely love, then dive deeper into it or get creative with how you can apply that interest into something great. Here are just a few examples:

  • If you’re a music lover, you could:
    • learn and practice a new piece that challenges one of your weaker skills,
    • launch a fundraiser to buy instruments for kids who can’t afford them,
    • try composing a new song,
    • teach your instrument to younger children via Zoom, or
    • write a little beginning guidebook that housebound parents could use to introduce a child to your musical instrument.
  • If you are interested in the arts, you could:
    • learn and practice new techniques or mediums that strengthen an area of weakness,
    • build your portfolio,
    • teach children art techniques online via Zoom, or
    • create art kits to donate to young children who are sick or low-income.
  • If you’re interested in drama, you could:
    • memorize soliloquys and perform them online,
    • write a script or play, or
    • teach young children online how to apply stage make-up or the basics in acting.
  • If you are interested in a particular sport, you could:
    • practice skills so that when play resumes you are an asset to your team,
    • organize a virtual charity run to benefit a nonprofit you like, or
    • create a virtual contest where participants are invited to tackle a running course or fitness routine on their own time and report their results.
  • If you love technology, you could:
    • build your own software, app, or robot, or
    • teach younger children via Zoom how to code.

The possibilities are limitless. Brainstorm ideas for how you can share or experience your passion in a new way.

Final Thoughts…

Admissions officers understand that the COVID-19 crisis has cancelled almost every activity and changed just about every facet of human life. They will be looking to see how you adapt to these new circumstances. Passion, dedication, and curiosity are valued in the admissions process and can serve to enhance the quality and depth of your application. Colleges sincerely value many types of individuals who they feel can make different contributions to their campus environment, so use this time to set yourself apart.

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