We get this question a lot, and there is no one size fits all answer here. We understand that at its core, what this question really asks is how students can best position themselves to get into college. The truth is that there is no one club that sends your application straight to the accepted pile.
These days, there’s a lot of pressure on students to cultivate the right suite of extra-curriculars. Often times, kids join too many clubs or take on too many volunteer opportunities and miss the mark on demonstrating that they’ve committed to one area of expertise. But developing depth in an area doesn’t have to be limited to unpaid activity. In this post, we talk about how work experience can be a great addition to the resume.
We have been conditioned to believe that there is a very specific checklist of requirements to get into a great college. First comes the mandatory minimums of excellent grades and scores, followed by knockout essays. On the second tier lie the extra-curriculars, the recommendations and of course, the impressive hours of community service you’re supposed to somehow cram in instead of sleeping. But one thing on the list is not like the others; colleges require you to submit test scores, grades, essays, recommendations and a resume, but what a lot of kids don’t realize is that contrary to popular belief, community service can really be extra.
When you hear the words “junior year” what do you think of? SATs? College tours? Applications? AP exams? 11th grade is often billed as THE “college year,” but any 9th or 10th grader knows that it’s not like students spend the other years twiddling their thumbs. This is a misconception. Consider that every year of high school is a “college year.” In this post, we talk about what you need to be focused on your junior year. Spoiler alert: it is extracurriculars.
Hey, all you rising sophomores, welcome to limbo! Sophomore year is a weird time. You don’t feel like you’re allowed to be doe-eyed and lost anymore because Junior year is within arms reach, but you still kind of are that confused freshman who wants to be able to check out of class sometimes because everyone’s been telling you that your grades don’t really matter...yet. (For the record, we completely reject that idea and grades don’t always matter, but so goes cultural programming.)
Community service trip, end of blog post.
Let’s talk about Charles. He does a lot of extracurricular activities. His commitments include:
- Treasurer, Student government
- Volunteer Club committee
- Vice President of the Finance Club
- Soccer team
There are a lot of problems with short-term service trips, or voluntourism as it’s often called. There are social problems, there are economic problems, there are cultural problems, and there are problem problems, but none of those are the problems we’re going to talk about here. Analyzing the socio-political side effects of importing unskilled teens into impoverished countries with the (mis)intention of saving the day isn’t our specialty...or it isn’t here, at least. Our specialty is getting great kids into stellar colleges, and so we’re going to focus on why sending your kid on a service trip isn’t going to help make that happen.
Summer is upon us. Ok, it’s not, but the time to think about and solidify your summer plans is certainly upon us.
We strongly advise against anything that could be considered what we like to call “resume building.” We are anti-resume building, and by resume building, we mean engaging in activities for the sole purpose of listing it on your resume because you think it will “look good.” Spoiler alert: admissions officers can tell when a resume has been padded by “look good” items and you attempting to hide your lackluster interest under a thing you did with a catchy cause or at an exclusive institution.
We get these questions a lot from parents and students alike: should I be doing community service? If so, how much? How does it look on my application? Unfortunately, there’s not just one answer because it depends on a lot of things, but our inclination without having more information is to say: “no.” Here’s why:
Hopefully you are beginning the college process on the best possible footing. By this we mean you have achieved excellent grades in difficult classes, received high scores on not only your primary standardized test but any subject tests as well, and have a litany of highly-developed interests and extracurriculars. But we understand, this isn’t always the case.
We know freshmen year sounds too early to begin the college process. You (or your child) just finished middle school, you’ve just started high school, and already it’s overwhelming. There’s no time for adjusting because you’re thrown right in and the prospect of taking on more than you’re already doing seems unreasonable. We hear you. But, there are small things you can (and should!) do during 9th grade. Remember that the college process is a marathon, not a sprint, and colleges will look at what you did 9th grade, even if it’s not weighted as heavily as what you do your junior year. This doesn’t mean you have to cure cancer or start a sustainable agriculture program, but you do have to fill your time with something.
We always say that colleges love extremes. They don’t want students who passively participate in a few clubs, play a sport for fun, and spend their summers at the beach. They want students who know what they love and pursue it with passion.
The end of junior year can be one of the most stressful times of the college process. Everything begins to pile up at once and friends start to get competitive. You have to stay focused, organized, and do everything you can to alleviate your stress. To that end, here’s a list of the six things you should be doing at the end of the Second Semester to maximize your time and be efficient:
You’re a leader even if you don’t know it yet. If you want to go to a highly competitive school, you already know how much your extracurriculars matter. But, it is the quality of those extracurriculars and your work within them that matters. Schools want leaders who are going to be excited about impacting their college community, not followers looking for a way to stuff their resume.
Dear Aspiring College Applicant,
I know you’re telling yourself you’re not going to get into college. Everyone around you is so much more qualified than you are. You could have higher grades, better test scores, more impressive extracurriculars. If you had just put one more hour into studying, you would have gotten an A instead of an A- in that class. That class is the reason why you’re not going to get into Brown. You’ve convinced yourself you’re going to get rejected from literally everywhere you apply, leading to shame, embarrassment, and regret.
The college process starts earlier every year. In our home base in New York City, it seems that it begins around age two when parents start looking at options for Pre-K. By the beginning of middle school many parents are already looking for independent college counselors, consultants, and ACT tutors. This approach might seem aggressive to some, and while we don’t think a ten year old should be thinking about college, ninth grade is an appropriate time to start talking about the future.
Think of extracurriculars like a side dish at a restaraunt. They may not be the main event, but they’re chosen deliberately by the chef and without them you’d be disappointed and left with an incomplete meal. The extracurriculars are not the main portion of your application—your grades, scores, and essays will always be more important—but your application, like your meal, would be incomplete without them. You need to decide which activities are going to be the best for you, keeping in mind that they need to elevate you and bring out your best qualities. Colleges don’t want students who spend all their time in the classroom and the library. The more active a member of the community, the better you are as a candidate.