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Extracurricular Activities: Well-Rounded or Well-Lopsided?

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A prospective client wrote to ask a question. He is a 10th grader at a large public high school. He wanted to know how colleges look at and evaluate extracurricular activities. He is involved in a lot of different activities, but he’s not sure how to best focus his efforts.
Here’s his question (with a bit of editing):
“Hey, Mark. I really need to prioritize what I’m doing. I’m taking a total of 8 classes this year, even though I’m only allowed to take 7 (my school INSISTS that I have a lunch period). My band director is letting me take Jazz B class during my lunch, however, even though I’m not getting credit for it. So, now I have Symphonic Band, in addition to jazz.
I’m very into the arts and music. I’m also in the marching band; this was my 2nd year. I’m also interested in studying architecture in college, so I’m taking drawing and drafting.  I did swim team for my school last year as well, and this year I’m going to go out for rugby. Do you think I should try and get into some OTHER clubs the sports I do? Should I do community service, like Habitat for Humanity, for example? I’m not quite sure what colleges look for specifically. Do they look at ALL the activities/clubs you do?”
Here is how I responded to this student’s excellent question:
Howdy. The basic strategy these days is to choose a few extracurricular activities and do them very well. You want to demonstrate some leadership and/or some exceptional talent and passion.
Since you’re interested in architecture, you need to keep working on the drawing and drafting. Enter your work in contests, if you can. Arrange to have a show of your work at a church or other public building.
You love music, it seems, so keep going with that. Practice, perform, and move up in the ranks as far as possible. If you can try out for All-State, make sure you do.
As for sports, it’s better to have one that you do really well than to dabble in dozens. The same principle is true for community service. It would be great if you did Habitat for Humanity, as long as you do it relatively regularly and continuously over the next 2.5 years.
Colleges are looking for talent, passion, persistence, and accomplishment. They are not looking for particular activities. They want to see that you do what you love and that you excel in those things.”
The fact is that in these competitive times, students must strive for excellence. They need to develop a passion and pursue it as far as they can. They need to become “well-lopsided” in their activities and involvements, so that they can demonstrate excellence, mastery, commitment, and consistency.
Admissions officers want to select students whom they think will contribute to the social and intellectual community they are constructing. The universities want a “well-rounded” community. In order to build that community, they want to admit talented, “well-lopsided” individuals.
Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consulting

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