Transcripts and test scores play the biggest roles in determining college admissions but they’re not the only determining factors. Believe it or not, extracurricular activities can help your student stand out from the crowd. They’re a great way to show a student’s individuality and demonstrate key qualities. But it’s also important to show a student is being thoughtful about what they do with their time. An extracurricular activity shouldn’t be a check in the box but a genuine interest.
When asking Janet Lavin Rapelye, the Dean of Admission at Princeton University, “What extracurricular activities students should focus on?” Her reply is, “Let your children enjoy their youth.” That’s because many educators have noticed that students are becoming burned out. Many parents start students on the college track early, at kindergarten or pre-kindergarten. The primary drive of student burnout is the growing competitiveness of getting into top-tier institutions. Dean Rapelye suggests if offered, a student should consider making themself available to taking courses such as four years of a foreign language, at least 2 years of physics and chemistry or two years of history. She says students who take advantage of these opportunities will not only improve their chances of admission to selective schools but they will be better prepared to handle the challenging course work required at the college level.
As for extracurricular activities, Dean Rapelye recommends that students follow their individual interests in the special talents they want to develop in the visual and performing arts, athletics, leadership activities, and that they engage themselves civically. But they should choose these activities wisely and they shouldn’t overload themselves. Colleges want students with extracurricular activities not because it’s a requirement, but because they want to see demonstrated passion. Why passion? Because people with passion are the ones that do things and inspire others. Those are the people who make a college’s name even more illustrious and the ones who send in hefty donations years down the road.
The number one thing to remember about extracurricular activities is that it’s not the number that counts, but the depth of your involvement in the activity. Whether it’s volunteer work at a soup kitchen or a starring role on the basketball team, college admissions boards want to see passion, dedication and involvement over the long haul. That’s what colleges are looking for; it’s much more desirable to have two or three extracurriculars to which you are truly devoted, than to load up on superficial activities that you don’t care much about.
I discussed this topic and more with my guest Jo-Ann “Sockolov” Byrne, Executive Director of the Redwood City Education Foundation and Candidate for Trustee, San Mateo County Board of Education, District 7.
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