Extracurricular Activities & COVID-19: SOS

by Bethany Goldszer | Last Updated: August 17, 2020
extracurricular activities

In the school year of COVID-19, there will be limited opportunities to participate in in-person, socializing-type extracurricular activities, including volunteering. However, if you are a college-bound teen, this doesn’t mean that you should do nothing. While virtual, there are many things you can do in your community and beyond to help those in need. I’ve put together a guide to help you explore what you should do and how to get started and involved in extracurricular activities this school year. 

Before I dive into suggestions for extracurricular activities, a note about your concerns for each of the grades as you peruse this list.

9th Grade

Being a new student in high school, you face the challenge of navigating a new environment in uncertain and unfamiliar times. During the first semester, your focus should be on catching up (from 8th-grade skills missed), understanding classes, your teacher, and working out a study and homework schedule. This is important and sets you up for success in high school. After you have completed the first quarter and have received a report card, if you’ve established a solid footing, you will be ready to explore virtual extracurricular experiences. If not, then work with your teacher and parents to get at the root of your challenges. Demonstrating a strong academic record is the most important factor in college admissions.

10th and 11th Grades

Last year was likely a blur to you. You can hardly remember what it was like to be in high school, with the year being cut short and shifted to virtual. Unfortunately, you’ve lost a lot of time in the prime of your learning and testing life. Before you dive into extracurricular activities, do a self-inventory of where you are academically. Usually, by sophomore and junior years, you would devote most of your outside-of-school time to *fun* activities, like sports, school clubs, or volunteer service. Some time would be spent on test prep for the ACT or SAT exams. But this year, you’ll also likely need to allocate additional time to catching up on missed skills in reading, writing, and math to ensure you’ll be ready for college-level coursework and standardized tests that require skills in these areas. Many schools will be enhancing instruction with online peer or teacher-led tutoring for students. Also, there are free resources like those offered by Khan Academy that can provide additional enrichment.

12th Grade

You made it through high school, but may be concerned about the SAT and ACT exams. If you took the exam, you’re one of the lucky ones that do not have this worry. If you did not take it, you’re worried about if you’ll ever get to (or need to), with the exam cancellations and uncertainty around if one will ever happen. My advice is to finalize your college list as soon as you can and learn what colleges’ policies are on the exam. This information is readily available on admissions department websites. If you find that many are test-optional, then decide if you are going to take it. If a school you’re applying to is not test-optional, focus on how you’ll get the exam done (e.g., traveling to another community or in the worse scenario, another state). It’s vital to act early and with confidence before slots fill up. Once you know what you’re doing, this will lift a huge burden off your shoulders so that you can focus on other college prep activities, like extracurriculars, in your final semesters of high school.

Extracurricular Activities

Start here for ideas on what you can do this school year during the COVID-19 pandemic to get and stay involved in school.

Arts activities include theater/drama, music, dance, graphic design, drawing, creative writing, scrapbooking and other creative pursuits.

COVID-19 alternatives this school year for your resume can include:

  • Create a self-directed digital scrapbook using Google Slides or a Pinterest board of images and journal notes about your thoughts and experiences. As an alternative, you can create a physical album from items purchased at a local craft store.
  • Enroll in a virtual art course offered by your local library or museum, or drama or dance class at your local dance center or theater.
  • Take creative writing or drawing courses such as one offered by the Museum of Modern Art for teens.
  • Subscribe to a master musician’s YouTube channel and follow along to build musicianship, read music, or play various music pieces. You can continue to practice solo, improve, and plan a Zoom concert with you as star and classmates as featured artists.

If your religious group is virtual, there are likely many opportunities for you to get involved. Many congregants may be unemployed, home stricken, or overwhelmed with balancing work-from-home and homeschool for their kids. Reach out to the leaders of your religious institution and ask how you can help. For example, you can:

  • Assist with outreach to spread the word about upcoming member activities or services to those in the local community by email and phone.
  • Help with phone bank thank-a-thons to those who donated food or money to help those in need.
  • Cook meals and assist with no-contact food delivery of food to senior citizens and the sick.
  • If you’re a creative, assist with music, video production, or artwork for virtual services.
  • Teach religious beliefs to the younger children in the congregation, or offer to host 1-on-1 virtual tutoring to help with academic subjects.
  • Conduct online missionary work or help plan future missionary retreats that require many steps such as fundraising and recruitment, which can start now.

 Many school clubs, such as mathletes, mock trial, debate, key club, sierra club, language clubs, film club, cultural groups, to name a few, may be virtual. Check with the leader of the club to see where group activities are being hosted. Some groups, such as the Red Cross Club, National Honor Society, or Key Club, provide help to chapter leaders on hosting virtual groups using tools such as Facebook Groups or Zoom.

If your school club is not online, you can do something about it. Contact the club’s student leader or teacher sponsor to offer assistance with transitioning the group online. Make the case that maintaining continuity and cohesion, as well as engagement, is vital for the student body personally and academically.

To get inspired, read about how the Key Club is working with students worldwide to take their clubs and volunteer leadership opportunities virtually.

This year, many high schools have canceled fall sports, including football, cross country, soccer, cheerleading, etc. If you’re a highly accomplished athlete, you may be concerned about what this will mean for the recruiting process at your top choice colleges.

But from the pro-level to the college level, sports are on hold. Your best bet will be solo practices, virtual directed practices, practicing with a pod of teammates to your and your parents’ comfort level, and working out and conditioning to keep your skill and physique in its best shape.

Use a fitness journal to track your improvement for your resume and capture achievements on video if you can to help you get recruited later.

Some clubs offered at school have volunteer service components, such as Key Club, Habitat for Humanity, and the Rotary Club. However, your school may not provide these options. Instead, you’ll have to take the initiative and seek out opportunities to volunteer. Here are some options:

  • Volunteer Match, to search through a database of opportunities posted by nonprofit organizations looking for volunteers by zip code.
  • Points of Light also offers a database of volunteer opportunities for teens and adults. You can search by keyword or zip code.

Unfortunately, many agencies prefer volunteers who are over 18 years old for liability reasons. With the market flooded with teens looking to volunteer with formal organizations, your best bet may be to look hyper-local and in your community. This is good news since this level of community service and civic participation is exactly where colleges want to see you make a difference. Also, the closer an issue, change, and impact is to you, the more likely you will stay involved over the long term. Here are some easy to start, self-directed virtual volunteering opportunities:

  • Outreach for your religious institution or a community-based nonprofit organization to recruit youth for services or activity.
  • Adopt a highway, such as this program offered in New York State, where volunteers commit to picking up litter, planting flowers and vegetation, and other general maintenance along a stretch of two miles along the section of a state highway, two to four times a year for two years. As long as there is parental involvement, adopters can be as young as 12-years-old in New York. If you’re not in NY, check with your state’s program by conducting a Google search.
  • Hosting an online fundraiser for a cause and donating proceeds to the parent nonprofit such as the American Cancer Society (e.g., Zoom dance-a-thon, bake sale, cake auction).
  • Coordinating logistics for a local food pantry for food pick up and delivery.
  • Calling or writing letters to elderly patients at nursing homes with strict visitor policies.
  • Dressing up as a cartoon or silly, fun character and doing drive-by “happy birthday” visits to little kids in your neighborhood.
  • Online tutoring for children you know in the neighborhood, of extended family or friends, or members of your religious institution. If you have younger siblings and tutor them in-person, this is considered an activity to colleges on the Common App. 
  • Asking your teacher from previous school years or middle school about being a virtual teacher’s assistant for the incoming students.
  • Leading Google Classrooms 101 or Zoom workshops for parents and other family members who may struggle with the platform for their children’s home school. I first learned about Zoom from a high school student, who showed me how to use all the features.

In the Common App, for example, paid work is not considered an activity. But it’s still important to colleges as it builds character, responsibility, teamwork, and problem solving. If you’d like to work, speak with your parents about their comfort level. Grocery stores and fast food restaurants, known to be friendly to high school students, are still hiring as the demand for food increases.

To get a paid job, you’ll need to check with places that are hiring to complete an application. Also, to stand out, you’ll need a resume. If you do not have one, download this resume template to get started.

If you’re a parent reading, you’ll need to help your teen take initiative and build opportunities to get and stay involved in extracurricular activities this school year of COVID-19. Below is a list of basic resources.

Books to Read for Ideas, Motivation, and Inspiration

Empower You: Insights and Tips for Teens, a highly anticipated book written for teens about volunteering and making a difference in their communities.

Chicken Noodle Soup for Teens: 101 Stories of Inspiration and Support for Teens, stories written by teenagers about happy moments, sad moments, and the ups and downs of adolescent life. This was my favorite book series as a high school student and nudged me to get involved in my community. 

Thank You for Coming to My TED Talk: A Teen Guide to Great Public Speaking, for tips on speaking and presenting in front of an audience on Zoom.


Tools to Launch Self-Directed Extracurricular Activities 

Project Binder, to organize notes, flyers, drawings, and materials.

Flash Drives, to store project plans, virtual Zoom backgrounds, e-tools, and materials.

Mini White Board, to display notes for Zoom sessions.

Colorful Dry Erase Markers, to write, draw, and doodle on the white board.

Sketchbook, for writing, drawing, doodling, and painting.

Watercolor Paints, a set of 24 vibrant colors to bring paintings to life.

Water Based Markers, to draw, color, take and display notes.

Glue Sticks

Construction Paper

Washi Tape


Journal to Track Progress and Hours

Academic Planner, for 2021-2022 school year to track school assignments and extracurricular experience.

Extracurricular Activity Planner, printable PDF worksheet to track activity and hours for the semester.

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Bethany Goldszer is top college admissions and financial aid expert. She's been featured in HuffPost, USA Today, Newsday, Queens Gazette, and Official Black Wall Street & voted Best of Long Island. Faced with the overwhelming stress of applying, getting admitted to and financing her University of Chicago education, she started Stand Out College Prep LLC in 2012 so that no student or parent would have to go through this process alone. Over the last 15 years, Bethany has worked with over 1,500 students, helping them and their parents get into their top choice colleges and secure more than $20M in financial aid and scholarships. And each year, she continues to help more students stand out in the college admissions process and their parents navigate financial aid and scholarships.