College applications always have a section where applicants are asked to list their extracurricular activities – and there’s a reason for that.
Colleges look at your extracurricular activities and examine how long you’ve been involved in them, how much time you dedicate to them, and how you’ve balanced your activities with your academic work. The admissions committee wants to determine how you might contribute to their campus outside of the classroom.
It’s not necessarily important that you continue the same activity once you’re at college. But they do want to see that you are likely to take the initiative to be involved in and contribute to the college community in a significant way.
What does that mean for applicants who have trouble committing time to extracurricular or volunteer activities because of family or work commitments? Or for applicants whose eclectic interests have led them to pursue a wide range of interests, but with only a limited commitment to any one group or topic?
The best strategy is to explain why you made the choices you did. If your extracurricular activities changed every year, or if you have only recently started participating, let the college know why that was. Also let the college know what activities you are hoping to continue and to be involved in once you get to their campus.
If you are working or helping to care for siblings or an ill parent, etcetera, instead of getting involved in extracurriculars, let the admissions committee know that, too, by including the amount of time devoted to these responsibilities on your applications. The important thing to remember is why the admissions committees are asking about your extracurricular activities in the first place. Paid employment or helping out at home can also demonstrate your time management skills, i.e. ability to balance other activities with schoolwork, and your likelihood to get involved with the campus community.