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The Changing Face of Extracurriculars Amid the Pandemic

Pandemic-Proof Extracurriculars for High School Students

Extracurricular activities are central to many high school communities: extracurriculars are how high school students make friends, demonstrate their passions, and explore interests not served in the standard curriculum. As COVID-19 continues to disrupt high school life globally, but especially in the US, it’s worth examining how extracurriculars are changing amid the pandemic. This is especially important in the US, where extracurriculars are an important part of the college application and where many selective universities are either adopting test-optional admissions policies or not considering standardized tests at all. Since Horizon Academic is an online research program for high school students, we thought a round-up of what’s happening with extracurriculars this fall might be useful!

First, a word about admissions. Jeremy Alder, founder and managing editor of College Consensus, told CNBC that, “There’s already been a trend towards test-optional because more and more schools are recognizing some of the problems with standardized testing and some of the bias in there,” which seems increasingly true as judges have gone as far as to rule that the University of California system cannot use SAT or ACT scores in admissions decisions.

According to Alder, “A lot of schools take extracurricular activities into account. They want to see what you’re doing beyond school in terms of volunteer work and sports and all that…But those aren’t really available right now, so students are going to have to be creative in finding ways to make themselves stand out.”

Some activities, like online internships or online research programs for high school students like the Horizon Academic Research Program, have seen an uptick in interest. For high school students interested in learning new skills or doing independent research projects, online programs like Horizon Academic might offer a new outlet to continue activities that are difficult or impossible amid the pandemic, such as medical internships or working in college laboratories under professors.

Activities like speech and debate are more conducive to online formats. The Yale Debate Invitational migrated completely online in September 2020, and in June, the National Speech & Debate Tournament, hosted by the NSDA, saw more than 6,000 students compete online. Drama activities have sometimes migrated online as well, using recorded audio plays, short films and table readings over video calls, instead of traditional in-person performances.

Activities like business case competitions have also migrated online to some degree, such as the economics competitions run by the Harvard Undergraduate Economics Association and many of the competitions run by FBLA and DECA. Mathletes and Science Olympiad have seen much of the same, with the Harvard Math Tournament migrating online this November, with many spring 2021 events tentatively offline for now.

"High-level high school athletes may be the most affected by COVID-19. To stand out in the recruitment process, athletes need to compete," Mandee Heller Adler, founder and president of Florida-based International College Counselors, wrote in an email to US News. Similarly, chorus and choir have inherent difficulties going online, since students sing together, and singing may increase the risks of viral super-spreader events from airborne particles. Going online with song and dance can be especially hard, because online connections feature some kind of connection lag, which means that singing in concert is next to impossible.

As high school students look for pandemic-proof extracurricular activities, it’s worth exploring online programs such as Horizon Academic. Particularly for students interested in topics like psychology, genetics, neuroscience, chemistry, environmental science, and pre-med topics that are difficult to do offline, Horizon Academic may be worth looking into. And for students interested in topics like international relations, political theory, economics, philosophy, machine learning, and computer science, it’s never been easier to do college-level research projects online as a high school student.

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