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The Importance of Extracurriculars, the Identity Question, and Chocolate Cake

Jul 03, 2009

If you invite someone out to dinner and really want to impress your guest, you would probably do dinner first and then something else to seal the deal, like dessert or a show. Then imagine that your "guest" is an admissions officer at X College or University and "dinner" represents your academic performance. Thousands of other applicants from across the nation and even across the globe either have grades that are similar to yours or even better. Yes, some students probably have worse grades than you, but you can disregard them for right now because you want to compete with the best of the best anyway. And you're on this website because you care about school, right? Right. Or you got lost while looking frantically for outlines to print out five minutes before your AP US History class starts.

Either way, now you know that your grades alone will not cut it, regardless of how stellar your grades may be. Thus you need the "dessert" portion, which colors your application and separates you from the rest of the crowd. And in case you suddenly got the idea of actually sending real desserts of any sort, I would highly advise against it. Believe it or not, people have tried. UPS can work wonders, but it does not do a particularly good job of preserving that fresh-out-of-the-oven taste. To see what you can send, see my article about supplementary materials [http://www.course-notes.org/blog/grizzlee9129/Applying_to_College_Supple....

What I mean by "dessert" includes your mini resumé of clubs, extracurriculars, and evidence of leadership. You can study until your brains melt and write essays until your fingers fall off. Good for you. But your molten brain and fingerless state do not make you special. What does make you a valuable asset to a college campus? What can you contribute to the academic and social atmosphere at X College or University? You certainly do not have to speak eight languages and experiment with the Large Hadron Collider in your spare time. You also do not have to be the captain or president of every single club and sports team in and outside of your school.

Rather, admissions officers look for applicants who have a sense of identity and passion. Maybe school makes you ecstatic and your life worth living, but there must be some other activity or hobby that you love such as drawing, playing soccer, building model airplanes, helping out at the local soup kitchen, or expressing your opinion in the school newspaper. And even if you are crazy about your chemistry class, you can always join or create a chemistry club. Here are some important tips that you may want to know:

1. Do It For Yourself: As much as people emphasize how crucial it is to impress the admissions counsel, that should not be your be all and end all. Of course you want admissions to want you at their college or university, but everything you do in your high school years cannot be centered around impressing admissions or anyone else, for that matter. Too often students join clubs and teams simply because it "looks good on their application." Those people really do stick out like a sore thumb on an application because they show no true passion in the section that asks the applicant to write in detail about one of their extracurriculars.

2. Explore: One of the most important things to remember is to follow your passions. But how does one go about doing that? Your school probably has an activities fair sometime in the year, where each club promotes itself. You can walk around and find out more information about each. Even then if you have no idea, you can always attend a club meeting and see if you are interested. There is nothing wrong with taste-testing. For example, you will never know if you are a fan of curling, unless you try it, right? If you join a bunch of clubs and you really do not enjoy some of them, then there is never any harm in dropping out. That does not apply to school in general, by the way. Stay in school.

3. Sometimes Less Is More: I suppose being a member of fifteen clubs at your school is worth commending because that takes time and effort, and maybe you have a really hard time choosing between them because you love them all equally. DO pick favorites, by all means, and invest the most time into a few core clubs rather than running from club to club everyday. Honest effort beats half-hearted attempts any day. And if you have looked at the Common App, you only have space for your most important clubs and activities anyway. You will also see a section that asks for the duration of your participation in the club. You cannot underestimate the importance of this part; having been a member of three clubs for four years is far superior to having been a member of six clubs for a year each. Joining a club earlier in your high school career is also a definite plus.

4. Leadership: Not everyone can be the captain or president or whatever position in a club or team. Usually other members elect or senior members choose their successors, so there is no sure way to become club officers. However, there are ways to definitely boost your chances. If you look at your school's club or team officers, they are usually confident, ambitious, motivated, and most of all, invested in their respective clubs or teams. Attaining that officer status is almost like winning a medal. It certainly is an honor to be leading your peers and definitely something to brag about on your application. Why is it so impressive? You do not look like a failure if you are not a captain or whatever, but if you are extended the privilege, take it! Take it like Gollum would snatch the Ring of Power in the Lord of the Rings! It boosts your image because it shows how much time, energy, and effort you have put into your activity. It exudes commitment, responsibility, and maturity. You could also try creating your own club.

All of the extracurriculars and clubs in which you participate inevitably will contribute to shaping who you are as a person and to making you realize valuable information about yourself. You may find yourself asking the age-old identity question: Who am I? Hopefully the admissions officers will be able to see the answer to that question. That is why your clubs and activities create the "dessert" that no one can skip. You are more than grades and test scores. You are you.

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