The International Student’s Guide to Getting Involved in Extracurricular Activities

By Ryan Hickey

If you are an international student going to school at a U.S. university, extracurricular activities are a great way to get involved in American culture, meet new friends and continue your hobbies throughout your tenure. Although getting good grades in your classes is important, going to college is also about pursuing what interests you and growing as a person. Joining extracurriculars like student organizations and academic clubs, training with one of the competitive or club sports, and getting involved in Greek life can improve your overall American college experience.

Believe it or not, extracurriculars can even help you get admitted into a U.S. college. Admissions officers value students who are involved in activities outside of the classroom. When applying, be sure to highlight anything you do in your spare time, including playing an instrument, volunteering, professional work experience and notable hobbies. Schools are drawn to students who are well-rounded and want to pursue their personal and professional goals.

Likewise, if you plan to stay in the States, employers will notice these types of activities on your resume. Building a resume is part of American culture, so it is important to get involved with activities that interest you and help develop an arsenal of skills. Just like schools, employers want to know who the person is behind the numbers.

The only real question to ask yourself is, “What extracurricular activity should I get involved in?” The answer is completely up to you, and you should consider all of your options. What do you enjoy doing and what are you good at? Who do you want to surround yourself with and what kind of network do you want to build?

Colleges and universities offer a vast number of clubs and organizations for every type of student. Academic clubs are the most common student organizations and are as extensive as the amount of degrees, including clubs for aeronautics, engineering, psychology, English, theatre, entrepreneurship and degree-specific honor societies. There are also community service organizations if you want to do altruistic volunteer work, political and activist organizations, recreation and traditional sports organizations, student government and other leadership opportunities, and religious or spiritual organizations. Many international students will join an international student club on campus in addition to other clubs and organizations. There truly is an organization for everybody. Here’s how to get started:  

Use your university’s resources. Get in contact with your school’s admissions office, student life center, athletics department and other areas of interest. Ask them about how other students get involved and what types of extracurricular activities they offer. In almost every case, there will be a club, organization, sport or Greek society that will help you pursue your goals.

Think Greek. Fraternities and sororities are a great place to gain friendships for life. Greek organizations offer camaraderie and support during your time in college and beyond. Be sure to research all of the different Greek life organizations so that you find one where members share your own professional and personal interests. These are societies where you can become something larger than yourself, help your community, gain lasting connections and meet like-minded friends. Many Greek organizations do community service work, host events and parties, and members gain a sense of belonging away from home. 

Get moving. While there are recreational sports clubs that offer non-traditional activities like rock climbing, kayaking, ultimate frisbee, and dancing, most colleges will also have college-sponsored sports teams. Though it can be difficult to get on a team in the bigger schools, some of the smaller schools will offer the same sports at a lower competitive skill level. Even if you don’t think you were very good when you played sports in secondary school, if you want to compete in college, don’t discount trying out. Especially if it is a Division III or IV school, it’s worth the shot and a great way to meet new people doing something you enjoy.

No matter what your interests are, American colleges and universities offer extracurricular activities for nearly anything you are interested in. Being part of the campus life is essential for becoming a successful professional and active citizen. The first step is to decide what you want to do, and then start researching on your college’s website for what they have to offer. If all else fails, ask what the process is for creating your own organization. You never know where it could lead you.

About the Author

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL; editing essays and personal statements; and consulting directly with applicants.