Before applying to colleges or universities, many teens' first step is to build their résumé. To set themselves apart, students might enroll in more rigorous classes, work toward boosting their GPA and prepare to obtain a high score on the SAT or ACT.
But there's another equally important part of the process: extracurricular activities.
That's right: Colleges aren't only interested in impressive academic achievements; they're drawn to well-rounded applicants with diverse interests.
"Extracurricular activities can really make you stand out from your peers and show universities that you are interested in more than just your grades," said Lisa Goldman, a gifted educator at Santa Fe High, adding that it shows "you are worried about your community and other things that affect more than just you."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau reports, an average of 57 percent of students between the age of 6 and 17 participate in at least one extracurricular activity annually in the U.S. Participating in out-of-school experiences, such as sports, arts or music "looks a lot better on college transcripts," Goldman saod.
"It's showing you go above and beyond," Goldman added, noting that success is much more than earning straight A's or a 4.0 GPA.
Participating in sports, in particular, introduces kids to the importance of taking care of their bodies and staying healthy. Additionally, it teaches them the value of time management, responsibility and working well with others.
A key part of being on a sports team is showing sportsmanship and support to teammates, said Jessica Dumond, an instructor at Zia Gymnastics. In these communities, "your teammates become your best friends, and you support each other through the struggles, celebrate the successes and have fun," she said.
Plus, "sports encourage determination. This desire to succeed carries over to their academics," she added. "You train to be the best in the classroom, as you would train to be the best in the gym.”
If a student trains hard enough and is outstanding at what they do, universities likely will offer athletic scholarships, she said.
Maximilliano Quintana, a sophomore at Capital High School, said he enjoys running varsity track and cross-country. He said he hopes these sports will help set him apart in the future and potentially earn him a scholarship to run at the University of New Mexico.
Though playing sports can also present injuries and mental stressors, Dumond said if athletes are positive and aware of their limits, physical activities will only help students, both in college and in life.
“Chin up or the crown slips,” she said.
Richard Pitman, a science teacher at Santa Fe High School involved with the National Honor Society, said there are similar benefits in joining an academic or more mind-focused extracurricular activity.
"With joining a club, you meet other like-minded individuals, in a non-classroom setting, and get opportunities to serve the community," he said. "If you do connect with a community organization that is related to a field of academics you are interested in, you can get a lot of crossover of a field of your interest.”
Dalila Santos, a freshman at Santa Fe High, said she's always been interested in politics and joined student government in hopes "that it would give me a taste of how the real government works. Although it is not completely like what I expected, I do enjoy the events we organize, such as homecoming."
Pitman said the tricky part about being in a club is that students oftentimes must have strong grades in school in order to enroll and maintain membership. For example, students in the National Honor Society must have at least a 3.25 GPA.
Goldman said that while there are countless perks of being involved in extracurricular activities, such activities can also be a source of stress.
“Sometimes extracurricular activities put additional pressure on students, and, especially now, I see a lot of students suffering with anxiety from the pressures of extracurricular activities," she said, adding that students have tight schedules with little time to relax.
Quintana said she's familiar with the grind.
“I go to school for eight hours and stay an additional two for practice. I don’t get home until about 7. Then it can take me up to three hours to do my homework," she said. "It is absolutely very stressful."
Ultimately, Goldman said, it comes down to setting priorities based on what matters most to the individual.
"I think students need to manage what is most important to them, not what is most important to someone else," she said.
Still, for those who don't participate in extracurricular activities, life can feel flat and limited, said Barbara Marquez, a senior at Tierra Encantada Charter School.
Marquez said that because Tierra Encantada's options for sports or clubs are limited, she feels like she's missed out on opportunities that other teens have had.
"It didn't give me the chance to meet new people or learn new skills," she said.
Dumond said this is why it's so critical for teens to pursue whatever interests them.
"If you are wanting to try an activity, then do not hesitate," she said. "You can learn so much about yourself. If you try something and don't like it, then try another! There is something for everyone."
Valeria Ramirez is a freshman at Santa Fe High School. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.