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Class of 2021-Extracurriculars

Admission offices in the United States are not only looking for students with strong grades, they also want to admit applicants who will be interesting, dynamic members of the community. Certainly every evaluation process begins with grades but the next step involves a careful consideration of the applicant’s involvement in extracurricular activities.

When it comes to the role of extracurricular activities in the college admission process, myths abound. Some students feel pressure to do “everything, ” thinking that the colleges are looking for a teenage “renaissance person;” the next Leonardo Da Vinci so to speak. Other students have heard that it is important to be exceptionally good at ONE thing to get into a top university. They use all of their free time focusing on robotics, math club or a sport. Some have bought into the community service myth, believing that admission offers go to the student who has spent an inordinate number of hours building houses for the homeless or feeding the poor. Sadly, thee myths cause unnecessary anxiety about what colleges are looking for and pushing applicants to devote time to something they mistakenly believed will be valued in the application evaluation process.

The reality is there is no ideal mix of extracurricular activities that will guarantee admission to the college of your dreams. Therefore, students should pursue activities that truly interest them. That is what admission officers really want to see – students being their authentic selves. Don’t believe me? Ok, let’s take a look at what the MIT admission office has to say about extracurricular activities:

“Some students feel so much pressure to get into the “right” college that they want to make sure they do everything “right” – even do the “right” extracurricular activities. Fortunately, the only right answer is to do what’s right for you – not what you think is right for us.

Choose your activities because they really delight, intrigue and challenge you, not because you think they’ll look impressive on your application. Go out of your way to find projects, activities and experiences that stimulate your creativity and leadership, that connect you with peers and adults who bring out your best, that please you so much you don’t mind the work involved. Some students find room for many activities; others prefer to concentrate on just a few. Either way, the test for any extracurricular should be whether it makes you happy – whether it feels right for you.

By the same token, some applicants struggle to turn themselves into clones of the “ideal” MIT student – you know, the one who gets triple 800s on the SAT. Fortunately, cloning is still for sheep. What we really want to see on your application is you being you – pursuing the things you love, growing, changing, taking risks, learning from your mistakes, all in your own distinctive way. College is not a costume party; you’re not supposed to come dressed as someone else. Instead, college is an intense, irreplaceable four-year opportunity to become more yourself than you’ve ever been. What you need to show us is that you’re ready to try.”

So, what is my advice? First, do not try to do EVERYTHING unless you are interested in everything. And, do not force yourself to become a specialist, unless you are truly passionate about chess or robotics, painting or poetry. The truth is, what the colleges are really looking for are teens that fearlessly try things; students who really commit to a project or activity. Figure out what you care about and then do those things with gusto, integrity and commitment.

About Author Martin Walsh

Passionate about history and culture, I spent twelve years living and teaching in a variety of countries, including Cambodia, Russia and Venezuela.

Author: Martin Walsh

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