The Great Activities Myth: What Looks Great On College Applications?

12 Aug 2019

“It looks great on college applications.”

I ask you right now, how many times have you either A) said this to your student or B) heard your student or one of their friends say this about an activity?

“Join that club, it’ll look great on college applications.”

“Take that extra class, it’ll look great on college applications.”

“Well, I’m only in three clubs. I should probably add a few more because that looks better on college applications.”

Increasingly, this is the trend among students that leave them overworked, stressed, and going through the motions instead of dedicating themselves to activities that they’re truly passionate about. Not only do they suffer, but they’re doing the organizations and clubs that they’re involved with a disservice by going through the motions and not truly dedicating themselves to the activity.

This myth, this trend has to stop.

Why do we keep urging students to be as overworked as possible? Is it the competitive nature of college admissions? 

College admissions officers aren’t interested in the student who can balance fifteen activities anymore. They want students who have developed a passion for something and demonstrated an independent, in-depth interest in that passion. Being the president of five clubs on campus is no longer seen in the same favorable light that it was fifteen years ago. In fact, admissions officers would much rather see a student who had an interest in film and started filming small documentaries about his than five club presidencies under his belt. 

We’re doing students a huge disservice by forcing them into activities for one reason and one reason alone instead of encouraging them to further develop their passions and learn in a way that speaks to them. In fact, all of my clients light up the minute we start planning out how to take one of their interests and turn them into activities to further their expertise instead of joining more clubs or activities at school that they’re not interested in joining in the first place. 

Take my brother, for example. His entire life, he loved video games. That’s all he did in his spare time growing up, other than the occasional skateboarding trick or sports team. Developing that interest against the advice of nearly everyone around him, it paid off: he was a subject matter expert in his field, won competitions for a particular game, and is now working for the industry. It was his interest that kept him going school, made money to pay for school, and eventually turned into a career. 

While not every student will turn their hobby into a career, the journey that they take in learning more about a subject interest will do far more for their own self-development than sitting bored in a club meeting at lunch for twenty minutes a week. 

I know you’re thinking to yourself: how do I help my student find this passion? He/She doesn’t seem to be interested in much.

Here are a few ways to find that interest and brainstorm activities to make that interest grow into something incredible. 

1. What does your student spend most of their time doing? If it’s not a particular activity, is there a skill set or a quality about many activities they do that appeal to them?

2. Do they have an interest that you’re not sure you want to because you can’t match a career to it? Be careful here, because even students who have an interest in training homing pigeons will learn something about the nature of animals, develop responsibility, and might even develop teaching skills later on as they pass their wisdom on to future homing pigeon trainers. 

3. Does your student have a unique expertise that they could teach to others?  The expanse of the internet has opened up opportunities for entrepreneurs, giving your student the chance to write an ebook or develop a YouTube channel teaching their expertise.

Now, take that particular expertise and start brainstorming ways to develop new activities around that field. For example:

Does your student like taking pictures? Perhaps they can document the history or social events in your town. They could teach younger kids about photography, even if it’s how to take amazing iPhone pictures. They could compile a collection of photos and enter photography competitions or see about getting their work in a gallery. The list goes on and on…

Before school starts this year, sit down with your student and list out all of the activities they’re planning on participating in and ask them why they picked each one, or the reasoning behind each one. Then start narrowing down the list by the activities that your student is truly interested in pursuing as opposed to the activities that would “look good.” Brainstorm new or exciting ways your student can develop their own interests in activities they want to be a part of. Also, don’t be afraid to make suggestions or cross activities off of the list to make room for new ones or extra time. Your student should have time to be a teenager too.

Remember, admissions officers want to know what you’re truly interested in doing, not a list of activities that “look good.” Or, as quoted in a recent New York Times article:

“Be authentic. We want to know what your real interests and passions are, not what you think we want you to be interested in.” — Dr. Tom Bowling, Vice President for Student and Educational Services, Frostburg State University

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Email

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post: