09/29/2016 05:59 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2017

How to Choose the Right High School Extracurriculars

The college admissions process can sometimes seem as though it grows more competitive with each passing year. While a high school student might have once asked, "Should I participate in extracurriculars?" the question is now, "Which extracurriculars should I pursue?" This is especially important if you wish to attend an elite school. Here are five tips to guide your selection process:

1. Emphasize opportunities with leadership potential
Admissions committees often seek high school students who are capable of acting with initiative and earning the respect of their peers. You can prove that you are such a student by joining extracurriculars that will eventually allow you to hold leadership positions. For example, you might captain an intramural sports team or hold the debate club presidency. You can also start a new extracurricular activity at your high school.

2. Select extracurriculars that connect to your major
This strategy can suggest that you are truly passionate about your future major, and that you are willing to explore it outside of the classroom. If you are a potential communications major, for instance, this might mean writing for your school newspaper.

However, you should also think beyond these more obvious extracurriculars because almost all of the students that you will compete against for admission to elite colleges will also be in these clubs. So, if you are pursuing a business major, you could join the debate team and explain in your personal statement how this will help you give future business pitches.

Remember that you can also engage in activities that are not connected to your school. For example, future software developers can try their hand at building apps or websites.

3. Choose activities or clubs that highlight your time management skills
College courses are simply more challenging than high school classes. Studying for quizzes and tests and completing projects is typically more involved--in fact, most schools claim that for every hour you spend in the classroom, you will spend two to three hours on outside work.

This is why colleges look for well-rounded students who can handle multiple AP or honors courses and time-intensive extracurriculars. The French club that meets once per month may not be as impressive as the sports team that meets four times a week.

4. Cultivate a record of success
The college admissions process is competitive. So is the internship or employment application process. Schools wish to admit students who will challenge themselves to rise above this competition and to succeed, so target opportunities that will enable you to be on a city- or state-championship caliber team (or to work toward this goal). This can show that you and your teammates collaborated together for the sake of accomplishing a greater achievement.

5. Follow your passions
Ultimately, extracurriculars should be enjoyable. Do not be afraid to join a club that you are interested in even if it will not dramatically enhance your college application. Simply ensure that you are also saving enough time to join the academically challenging activities that schools expect to see.