Wow! I bet you never thought you'd see this title for an article from a college admissions consultant.
I recently read an article about pushback to adding a Health course for a high school that some of my students attend. As a mom and IEC, I like to think that I get an insider perspective about the pros and cons of different competitive high schools in the area. I thought I had found a "perfect" one for my own kids one day based on the students I worked with from there. My students worked hard, but were genuinely grounded, thoughtful, and well-adjusted happy kids. Teachers were motivational and unique in the way they helped their students to delve further into topics of interest while offering consistent feedback along the way.
Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I read about the influx in suicide interventions both at the high school and middle school level for that district. I was saddened to say the least as parents pushed back that adding a health class to better teach students about the importance of not only physical but emotional and mental health would actually make the problem worse as it took away time that students could use for study hall to spend on homework or other items to catch up on.
So here's what I hate about the college admissions process-when parents and students can't recognize when enough is enough. I once asked a student what he changed to improve his grades from A's and B's to straight A's after his freshman year of high school.
"I just realized that if I give up sleep, then I can get everything done and get straight A's."
As a college admissions consultant, I am put in a difficult position as I try to counsel that while I respect his dedication and work, that sleep is an important component to helping our brains run efficiently.
The truth is, your child doesn't need to do everything their peers are doing to get into college. For some of my students, accelerated classes come easy to them and they can score A's in the class with minimal effort while their peers need to spend 2 to 3 hours a night on that course to get a B. By all means, a B is a great grade, but this behavior comes at a cost.
A student who used to spend their time pondering deep problems of the world and invest time in their intellectual interests is now is forced to operate like a robot to "compete" with their peers. While grades and scores are important, they are just the qualifier - they don't actually get the student accepted into college - especially at competitive elite universities.
So, whenever my student ask me about whether or not they should add something to their plate, we have a discussion to weigh the pros and cons and at what cost. This ranges from class selection to extracurricular activities. Sometimes there are better options out there and sometimes its okay to walk away.
We can stop the madness together. Let's help students make choices that are right for them. For many schools these days, college admissions is a holistic process. Let's help them shine within boundaries they feel comfortable stretching in.
After coming back from a very insightful IECA Conference in Los Angeles where I had the opportunity to speak and learn from college admissions representatives, one trait that they mentioned repeatedly was resilience.
Reading any article these days will tell you that stress, depression, anxiety, and suicide are at an all-time high at colleges across the country. Therefore, it is more important than ever to let students know that its okay to try new things, take on new challenges, struggle, but then figure out how to rise above.
Challenges can arise from taking on harder academic classes, but it can also just be setback they face personally. I've had students whose grades may have suffered due to being bullied at school or perhaps experiencing the loss of a loved one, but the key was they all came through the experience stronger. They learned to communicate the challenges they were having with their teachers and parents. They learned to ask for help and resources to help them overcome.
Tough situations teach us so much about a student's character. Are they humble enough to ask for help? And can they do it on their own instead of having their parents step in? Are they persistent enough to work through the problem? What attitude do they approach these difficult situations with? How creative and resourceful do they get with the solution?
Whether it is reflected in their letters of recommendation or additional information essay, it's a great opportunity to touch on an area that college admissions really cares about. After all, they are trying to create the best community they can and that means bringing on students that are not afraid to ask for help when they are struggling and it is common to struggle that first semester as students adapt to college life and being away from home.
While resilience is a key factor that is important for college admissions, I think it is a critical life skill for anyone. So, as they say, falling isn't bad as long as you pick yourself up.
These are the questions that I often get peppered with from my students. Whether you're just staring out as a freshman or trying to round out your resume as a junior, activities are a hot topic in college admissions. Let's cover what you need to know as it relates to extracurricular activities.
How important are extracurricular activities for college?
For most schools, extracurricular activities are 'considered' in the admissions process. To understand how important they are to specific college you are interested in, simply google "college name" + "common data set". The Common Data Set will provide and list out the importance of different factors they consider when making a decision.
How many do I need to do?
There isn't a correct number, necessarily, but just know that there are 10 spots for activities on the Common Application. Some students have less than 10, some have more than 10. The number of activities isn't important. When college admission officers review your activities, they are trying to figure out what your interests are, where do you spend your time, and what do you value. When reviewing your activities, colleges are looking at the hours per week and weeks per year to understand your commitment. If you are a student who plays a sport or plays music in school, it would be difficult to be involved in many other activities, as sports and band require a lot of time.
What activities should I do?
Depending on your social circle, you may hear that you "have to play a sport" or "have to play an instrument" or "be the leader of debate club", etc for college. Another common misconception is that you have to be "well-rounded" and therefore need to do a little bit of everything. The truth is you should pick activities you genuinely enjoy spend time working on. There are no "right" activities. Pick activities that either help you further your intellectual or personal interests. Activities can be done during the school year, during the summer, or all year round. Lastly, schools are looking to create a well-rounded community of students, which consist of students that are passionate about different things. Therefore, think about having your activities focused on two or three main interests.
How important is community service?
I've had a few students who have received certificates for achieving 100+ hours of community service. The point of community service isn't the total number of hours achieved. Again, its the consistency in which you dedicate yourself to bettering your community. Community service matters in that colleges are looking for students that care about others.
So, what kind of community service should you do if you want to do it?
Ideally, you want to pick community service activities that are again aligned to your intellectual, academic, or personal interests. I once interviewed a student who loved music and created an organization in which she would collect used instruments and donate them to schools that couldn't afford instruments in their music program. I loved seeing how her interest in music flowed into other areas of her life as well.
You don't have to go halfway around the world for an activity.
Whether it be volunteering or participating in an internship, you don't have to spend a lot of money for it to matter. In fact, colleges would much rather see you volunteer and help your local community rather than one that's thousands of miles away.
Does an activity have to be in school to count?
Nope, not at all. Some students don't have time to participate in school activities sometimes, because of family obligations or because they work a job. These count as activities too. Remember, admissions is just trying to get a picture for where you spend your time, because that's usually correlated to what is important to you.
So why do them?
If anything, I hope you've taken away that they are another way for you to have fun and explore your interests! As you try different things, be sure to jot them down as you'll eventually need to drop them into your college applications, so its great to start keeping a resume as soon as you can in high school.
What other questions do you have as it relates to extracurricular activities? Let me know in your comments below.