What if I told you that the way you’re spending your free time in college can be the difference between getting hired for your dream job and receiving a disappointing rejection email?
It’s no secret that summer internships and on-campus jobs are highly competitive, which can make it difficult to build relevant work experience as a college student. Luckily, investing time in the right hobbies can help you overcome this challenge by building useful skills at your own pace.
The activities in this article serve a dual purpose: They’re enjoyable and they’ll improve your resume.
The key is thinking about 1) a few ways you’d like to spend your free time and 2) how each hobby could add to your professional skillset.
Eager to get started? Let’s take a look at the best hobbies for college students.
Why should you put interests on your resume?
Let’s face it, many college-level resumes are clones of one another. Same school, same internship, same… yawn. Putting activities on your resume can help you stand out—if you go about it strategically.
Let’s take a look at a few examples…
Hobbies can demonstrate transferrable skills
If you were to write “member of the debate team” on your resume, it wouldn’t just show recruiters that you’re good at convincing your friends where to eat. It would allow you to spotlight skills like leadership, critical thinking, and effective communication.
Many hobbies offer these kinds of foundational skills that are highly sought after in the professional world.
Just make sure that the activities you include demonstrate skills that are applicable to the job you’re applying to. Otherwise, recruiters will wonder why you chose to use precious white space on your resume for something they don’t care about.
Interests and activities highlight shared values
Think of company culture as the personality of a workplace. Your hobbies can be a litmus test for how well you’d vibe with that personality.
Your passion for sustainable living might align perfectly with a company’s green initiatives. Or your love for board games could resonate with a firm that values strategic thinking.
When you have something in common, you build rapport
Let’s not forget the power of “Did we just become best friends?” moments. Shared hobbies can be fantastic icebreakers during interviews or networking events. Imagine bonding with a hiring manager over a mutual love for underwater photography or hiking.
While work and education experiences are obviously important, this kind of instant connection is best achieved through shared interests. It’s unlikely that people will get as excited over both having studied finance in college.
Productive hobbies for college students: building hard skills
Hard skills are specific, measurable abilities that you’ve acquired through training or experience. For example, a general attribute like “organized” is not a hard skill, while “project management”—a role that requires a ton of process-oriented know-how—is.
When employers see hard skills on a resume, they recognize a candidate’s potential for immediate contribution and long-term growth. There’s no question about your current capabilities and these learned skills can set you apart in the competitive job market.
Coding and programming
From automating mundane tasks to revolutionizing entire sectors like healthcare and entertainment, coding is a vital skill across all professional fields.
With platforms like Codecademy offering structured courses and college coding clubs fostering collaborative environments, there are many options for learning.
Even many professionals in the software development industry were never formally educated in their craft. According to a survey from CodinGame and CoderPad, nearly one-third of developers consider themselves self-taught, with little to no university training.
Foreign language learning
In an increasingly globalized world, speaking one language is so last century.
Embracing multilingualism isn’t just about ordering croissants in Paris without resorting to wild hand gestures; it’s a significant personal and professional asset.
Mastering multiple languages sharpens memory, enhances multitasking abilities, and improves decisiveness.
From a career standpoint, sectors like international business, tourism, and diplomacy are always on the lookout for multilingual talents, valuing their ability to bridge cultures and connect on a global scale.
In fact, ACTFL conducted a survey in 2019 and found that 90% of employers in the United States reported their reliance on employees who can speak languages other than English.
Considering only 20% of Americans can speak two or more languages, multilingualism gives you access to a job market with far less competition.
If you’re wondering where to start, languages like Mandarin, with its vast number of speakers, Spanish, with its global influence, or Arabic, with its rich cultural tapestry, are excellent choices.
Platforms like Duolingo make learning a language accessible, while college courses offer a more rigorous, in-depth option.
I took a Japanese 101 course for fun as a sophomore, and I enjoyed it so much that I continued taking Japanese language and culture classes for the remainder of my four years at college. After graduation, my language skills helped me secure a year-long internship in Japan with a Japanese company.
Even if you’re not looking to live in a foreign country long-term, there are still plenty of ways to immerse yourself in a foreign language while at college. Language meetups, study abroad opportunities, and foreign novels are great options for practicing a new language.
DIY and craftsmanship
In recent years, the allure of DIY and craftsmanship has made a comeback, proving that not everything requires a digital touch.
Engaging in hands-on projects isn’t just about creating something tangible; it’s therapeutic. It’s a break from screen time, a moment of mindfulness, and let’s be honest, there’s nothing quite like the bragging rights that come with saying, “I made that.”
From woodworking to pottery to sewing to building electronics, there’s a niche for every interest.
If you’re ready to get started, there’s no shortage of online tutorials for beginners, and many colleges have clubs dedicated to various crafts. Local communities often host workshops and events, making it easy to connect, learn, and create.
And if you’re looking to monetize these crafts, platforms like Etsy offer a space to turn passion projects into profit. Running your own craft business is a great way to demonstrate sales and branding expertise to employers, which is applicable across many different fields.
Financial literacy and investing
The words “college students” and “money” typically aren’t used in the same sentence too often—unless there’s a “don’t have” in between them.
But the great thing about developing financial literacy is that it can be done using however much (or little) money you have.
Use this time of limited funds to create stellar financial habits for the future. You can do this by diving into online courses, joining college financial clubs, or attending workshops.
For those who break into a cold sweat at the thought of stocks and bonds (much like me), there’s no need to worry. The investment world has evolved, offering beginner-friendly platforms like robo-advisors and micro-investing apps. Acorns, Charles Schwab, and Betterment are good places to start for complete beginners.
But here’s the cherry on top: Showcasing your financial literacy and investment know-how isn’t just good for your wallet—it’s a resume booster. Employers value candidates who demonstrate sound financial judgment, seeing it as a reflection of responsibility and strategic planning.
As is often said about properly managing your finances, the best day to start was yesterday, but the second best day is today. Create stable habits and invest your money wisely while you’re young, and your efforts will compound into something to be proud of down the line.
Graphic design and multimedia production
In an era where a meme can break the internet and a well-designed logo can make a brand, graphic design and multimedia production have become sought-after skills that are accessible to anyone who owns a device with a screen.
Graphic design is often overlooked, but it’s an integral part of pretty much every piece of digital content we view on a daily basis. All advertisements, websites, and social media accounts are (or at least should be) created with visual design in mind, making it a useful skill across countless fields and mediums.
Multimedia production is all about bringing stories to life. Whether it’s through a heart-tugging animation or a podcast that becomes part of your morning ritual, it’s storytelling for the modern age. And with tools like Adobe Creative Suite for design and Final Cut Pro for video editing—many of which offer student discounts—getting started has never been easier.
For either skill, a digital portfolio is a must, a testament to your skills and creativity. Not only does a portfolio provide a way for employers to view your work, but it also allows them to see your eye for visual design and organization in how you structure the portfolio itself.
And in today’s gig economy, platforms like Upwork and Fiverr offer a playground for budding designers and multimedia artists to not only showcase their talent but also earn from it.
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine emailed a professional snowboarding videographer that he’d been following on social media for a while. He sent a compilation of animations he’d made, photos he’d taken, and videos he’d edited—all without any formal training—and asked the videographer to give him a shot as an editor.
That same friend just moved across the country to work full-time with him after two years of interning.
I tell you this story not to encourage DMing your favorite celebrity to ask for a job, but rather to show you the potential opportunities you can create for yourself with these self-taught skills.
Productive hobbies for college students: building soft skills
Soft skills are the traits that determine how you work, how you engage with others, and how you handle workplace challenges. Employers today are placing increasing importance on these skills, often valuing them as much as, if not more than, technical expertise.
As you navigate your college years, honing these skills can be just as crucial as acquiring specific abilities. So, let’s dive into some hobbies that can help you sharpen these valuable attributes.
Professional and social clubs
Clubs are one of the easiest ways to get involved on campus, and they’re also one of the easiest ways to develop useful soft skills.
Professional clubs like student government and business organizations may be better options for your resume, but social clubs can also offer you experiences that will make you a more appealing job candidate.
Step into any club meeting, and you’re in a live networking workshop. It’s not just about swapping contact details; it’s about forging genuine bonds with peers, alumni, and industry leaders. Through these interactions, you’ll master the arts of active listening, empathy, and clear communication.
If you choose to step into a leadership role, you’ll experience plenty of conflicts and challenges that will help you improve your understanding of team dynamics, strategic decision-making, and conflict resolution. You’ll also likely get the opportunity to exercise your public speaking muscles a few times.
Of course, the skills you learn from your time in a club depend largely on the type of club you join and your amount of involvement.
At best, you have a great new addition to your resume; at worst, you made some new connections and learned a little about a subject you’re interested in. It’s definitely worth a try.
At its core, team sports are all about collaboration. It’s a great place to learn how work as part of a team, as well as how to leverage each player’s strengths.
For those on a varsity or club team, sports can also offer a great structure for improving time management. Balancing games and practices with classes and assignments will push your schedule to its limit, forcing you to learn how to juggle multiple responsibilities at the same time.
Recruiters love hiring college athletes because they already come equipped with the self-motivated drive to wake up for early practices, sacrifice free time, and better themselves in the name of reaching a goal.
For a more relaxed experience, intramural sports are available to students of all skill levels. (I could really drive this point home if I included a clip of me playing intramural volleyball my freshman year.) Although these lose some of the skill-developing rigor, they’re still a great way to meet new people and stay in shape.
Strategy board games
Strategy board games are no longer reserved for rainy days or family gatherings; they’ve found a fervent fanbase among college students.
Beyond the feeling of superiority that comes with besting your friends, these games also offer a chance to hone your mind. Any given round may require critical thinking, foresight, negotiation, and strategic deception—all of which (besides deception, hopefully) are great tools to bring to a professional setting.
The beauty of these games lies in their pacing. They teach patience, making you wait for that opportune moment to make your move. They also often require adaptability and thinking on the fly, as not every plan works out how it’s supposed to.
For those eager to jump into the world of strategy games, here’s a starter pack: Settlers of Catan for trading and resource management, Chess for pure strategy, and One Night Ultimate Werewolf for a chance to deceive your friends.
Fingers crossed these games don’t cost you too many friendships. 😉
Volunteering and community service
Volunteering your time and energy is far more than just a way to feel good about yourself—it allows you to gain work experience without having to compete with thousands of other applicants.
Your responsibilities will vary based on your position, but some common ones include fundraising, interacting with people, mentoring youth, or managing a team. These are all great skills that are worth putting on your resume.
Collaborating with fellow volunteers is teamwork at its finest. It’s about valuing diverse perspectives and working together to achieve shared goals.
In essence, volunteering is a two-way street. You give to the community, and in return, you gain invaluable skills, connections, and experiences. Here are some tips for getting started:
Consider the causes that mean something to you. This experience will be more personally significant if you’re excited about it. Animal shelters, soup kitchens, hospitals, retirement homes, and homeless shelters are some common options.
Find an organization in your area. There are sites like volunteermatch.org that can help you find ways to get involved wherever you are. Otherwise, you can reach out to someone you know who already volunteers for an org that you’re interested in.
Be clear about what you want when you apply. There’s no need to exaggerate the number of hours you’re willing to volunteer. You should also be clear about the type of role you’re looking to fill and your skill set. If you’re open to anything, this isn’t as important. But if you’re volunteering to develop a certain skill, you shouldn’t sign on for a position that you’ll soon abandon.
Blogging or journaling
Whether you’re able to develop a loyal fanbase or you’re shouting into a digital void, blogging is a great, accessible way to work on your writing.
The beauty of blogging is that you can make it anything you want. You can use it to review foods or movies, share your thoughts on current events, or just talk about whatever is on your mind that day. You can tailor your blog to any writing genre you’d like to improve.
And if you end up being proud of the work you’ve created, your blog can immediately serve as a digital portfolio without any extra hassle.
In contrast, journaling is a more introspective endeavor. It’s an opportunity to reflect on your daily experiences, aspirations, and challenges. As someone trying to figure out the complexities of young adulthood, journaling has been an important tool in helping me process emotions and make strides toward self-improvement.
A friend of mine has written in his journal once a day for the past four years without missing a single day. While I’m not claiming that this level of commitment is necessary, it’s undoubtedly true that the consistent practice of journaling cultivates a deep self-awareness, a trait invaluable in both personal and professional realms.
If you’ve tried to start journaling in the past and struggled to stay consistent, force yourself to write on a regular schedule, even if you don’t feel like it. What starts as an obligation will become a habit, which will make the process feel more natural.
Both blogging and journaling not only enhance communication skills but also foster a deeper understanding of oneself and the world.
Formatting activities for your resume
Crafting a resume is an art, and every section counts. If you’re applying to a job for which you don’t have much applicable work experience, your relevant activities can be the subtle nudge that tilts the scales in your favor with potential employers.
Just remember: “Relevant” is the keyword here. In the same way that a law firm likely won’t care about your love of photography, an art studio won’t be too interested in your time volunteering as a legal receptionist.
Choosing the right hobbies
Begin by listing all the hobbies, clubs, and extracurriculars you’ve been a part of during college. With this comprehensive list in hand, it’s time to be selective.
Choose activities that resonate with the job you’re eyeing, emphasizing those transferable skills. And as you list them, keep them in reverse chronological order, as is standard for most resumes.
Framing your activities
Much like the rest of your resume, you want to make your activities sound as impressive as possible, without exaggerating.
When describing each activity, start with a compelling action verb. You should also attach numbers to your involvement wherever possible, such as the amount of money you raised or the number of people you recruited.
For instance, instead of “Was part of the marathon committee,” how about “Spearheaded the annual college marathon, raising $5,000 for charity”? See the difference?
Below the activity description, you can highlight the specific skills you’ve developed, be it leadership, collaboration, or a knack for event management.
Placement and formatting
Once your content is ready, it deserves its rightful place on your resume. Create a section titled “Activities” or “Extracurriculars”—whatever makes the most sense. And remember, presentation matters. Ensure consistency in fonts, bullet points, and date formats.
A common mistake? Overloading this section. While it’s tempting to list every single activity, be selective and prioritize quality over quantity. At the end of the day, applicable work experiences are more valuable than hobbies 99 times out of 100. The key is to be very discerning in how you choose to fill this space on your resume.
College is more fun and rewarding when you try out new hobbies
Deciding where to allocate your time in college isn’t easy.
Although it may seem like you have forever when you start your freshman year, it truly goes by in a flash—meaning that every day is incredibly valuable.
Academics are important, of course, but the way you choose to spend your time outside of the classroom deserves just as much attention. The clubs you join or the hobbies you pick up might be no more than fun experiences you reminisce about in the future, but they could also have a profound impact on your career and life as a whole.