Help your teen understand what counts as an extra-curricular activity.

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Your best friend is lamenting that their high school senior has too many things to list on the Activities section of the Common App. You admit you and your senior are scrambling to come up with activities to fill half of the 10 slots. Instead of wasting time complaining that you should’ve pushed your kid to participate more, open your mind to what can constitute an extra-curricular activity.

Start here An extra-curricular activity doesn’t have to be school-related, it just needs to take place outside the classroom. What does your student do when they’re not in class? Sit with your teen and help them make a list of how they spend their time after school and on weekends—anything and everything they do that’s not homework and sleeping.

Look at what they do consistently Playing video games, scrolling through their social media and/or walking the dog are probably not the most impressive highlights. But a paying job of some type, even if only for five or 10 hours a week is. Helping a younger sibling with homework a few times a week or making dinner for the family at least one night a week is. So is watching younger siblings after school until you get home. Chores like weekly vacuuming and emptying the trash don’t count.

IMG_1666On the weekend, does your teen visit their grandparent(s) and take care of yard work or small household chores? If a grandparent or other relative is in a nursing home, does your child go there weekly or monthly and help them participate in some of the organized activities? Maybe they interact with some of the other residents regularly, too—helping them with their bingo cards or assisting in another group activity.

Has your teen been learning how to play an instrument or knit on their own? Maybe they use the recording programs on their computer or have been making and editing their own videos. Or maybe they’ve spent a lot of time developing their photography and photo editing skills. Have they created a website or YouTube channel with a specific focus? Have they set up an e-business where they sell items online?

All of these count as extra-curricular activities, especially if presented in the right way.

Take a closer look at volunteering If your teen informally tutors friends, helps family and friends set up their computers and smartphones or serves refreshments once a month after a religious service, but doesn’t get paid for it, then these constitute volunteer activities. So does setting up someone’s e-business on Etsy or Ebay for free.

Find activities If your teen isn’t finishing up the second half of their senior year, brainstorm some activities they can start now that will help round out their high school resume before they need to fill out their college applications. Focus on what they like to do because colleges want to know what applicants are interested in. Plus, your student will enjoy it more.

  • Check in with the children’s librarian at your local public library to find out if they can use someone to assist with the students who come in after school, whether it’s with homework help or learning computer skills.
  • If your teen does play a lot of video games, can they organize a local tournament for gamers that raises money for a charity?
  • An avid reader can start a book club among friends or through school, the local library or community center.
  • Does a homeless shelter in your area need toys, video games and consoles, books, toiletries, socks or other items? Your teen can set up a drive to gather these used and new items.
  • Have your student take on some additional responsibilities at home that can transfer to their application, like cooking dinner for the family once or twice a week, which can highlight their culinary and meal-planning skills.
  • Talk with your teen about what they want to major in and try to find related activities. An internship for high school students can work here.

Start a business If they like animals, your student can become a dog walker for someone who works late. Or check with the neighbors if they need someone to take in the mail, water their garden, feed their cat and/or mow their lawn while they’re on vacation.

In high school, my son shoveled snow for neighbors who couldn’t do their own. He did it to be kind, but the neighbors insisted on paying him and he was able to turn that, and mowing their lawns in the summer, into a job that he could list on his college application.

Be creative Taking a closer look at how your teen spends their time and highlighting their more unique extra-curriculars will help them stand out on their college applications. Use their lack of traditional activities to their advantage.