While admission personnel look at a student's grade point average and test scores first, the deciding factor for many is the extracurricular activities of the student. The school cares about what kind of person they're admitting to their college. That student will go on to become an important part of the student body of the college, so they do check activities. The type of person you are is influenced by the activities you are involved with at school and at home.
Quality of Activities
It doesn't often matter what kind of activity the student wishes to participate in for extracurricular activities as long as the student was immersed in the activity. Admission departments would rather see a student with 2 or 3 activities over a 4 year period than 12 activities, which they didn't immerse themselves in at all. A student who was involved in a club for years or played a sport for their 4 years of high school, the admissions department will look favorably on this activity.
If the student didn't have one activity that lasted for years, the student should be able to show that the activity made a difference in someone's life. If the student created a new activity or organized a club that enriched other student's lives, that is a meaningful activity that might not have lasted for years. If you learned something or developed a talent that didn't become a long-lasting activity, that's still meaningful involvement that is worth mentioning to the admissions office.
If you've been the captain, leader, president or founder of something like your sports team or the editor of your school newspaper, the admissions office will want to hear about that. They want leaders who want to attend their college. They know that leaders are an asset when it comes to having a respected and innovative student body.
Students who have received awards, trophies or accolades for their achievements will want to share that with admissions departments. They do care about outside awards and appreciation you've received for your activities. It shows that you have been recognized by others for your achievements, which means you've excelled at the task or activity.
The Best Activities
For those students who are thinking about activities, and what they can start doing, there are a few choices. You can get involved with school, community or volunteer activities. If you are at the end of your high school academic career, you might want to consider a work or volunteer opportunity where you are helping others. Visit a local animal shelter or even the elementary school in your town. You can volunteer to read to children at the local library too.
The activity that you choose should center around your interests and what you plan on continuing as a career if possible. Colleges look at how adventurous you are as well as how responsible, curious and committed you are to the activities you've chosen. They respond well to those who show an interest in the lives of others in the community.