With the new school year fast approaching, we know that the admissions process has you increasingly inundated with information that ranges from valuable, to slightly overhyped, to just plain untrue. This month, we’re mythbusting! We’ll take a look at the biggest misconceptions about what it takes to get into schools that always seem to spread and cause quite a bit of confusion.
This week, we uncover one of the biggest debates in college admissions history, the question that has bounced around high school halls since the dawn of time: which is more important, grades or extracurriculars?
The trend toward building a perfect resume has certainly reached a fever pitch, and while you may realize that neither having perfect grades and zero extracurriculars, nor an amazing roster of varsity sports, community service, and arts accolades along with straight Ds is the ticket to the college of your choice. But what’s the balance?
It comes down to time. College admissions reps want to see how you filled your time when you were in high school. Far more important than being extremely busy—in fact, being too busy is going to hurt more than it helps because it indicates you aren’t the best at managing your time and risk being spread too thin—is a thoughtful commitment to meaningful activities that you enjoyed and that made you grow as a person.
Colleges understand that activities take time, especially if you’re going to make significant progress—and, no, that doesn’t mean you have to reach all-American status or win the science fair. Simply being able to demonstrate a positive change from when you started should suffice.
Rather than sign up for every club, triple-book every single evening, and jam-pack your weekend with every available activity within a 50-mile radius of your house, pick one or two things each season and be awesome at those things. Anyone reading your application can see right through the superficiality of the first tactic, but the latter will have them wanting to read more about you.
If you are reading this, about to leave for your next shift at the mall, concerned that your part-time job—which takes up a lot of your free time—won’t be sophisticated/interesting/unique enough for a college admissions officer, think again: it takes real maturity and responsibility to earn your own money, and they absolutely, 100% understand that not everyone has the freedom to fill their free time with the fun stuff. A job you’ve held consistently, that earns you the money you need to save for college, is just as much a resume-building extracurricular than a summer on a sailboat.
Community service is another arena in which you can really spread your wings and make an impact on the strength of your resume while also doing so out in the world. Anyone can volunteer, so as long as you have a willingness to help—and stick with it—that’s a great track to take.
Back to school hours, grades are still the most important thing—they’re just not the only thing. So, if you’re finding that in order to get those straight As you have absolutely no life outside your textbooks, you should figure out how you can strike a slightly better balance. Knowing that you don’t have to do 100 things should help, so working with a counselor or parent to find one or two things to get your mind off your classes will not only be fun and plump up your resume, you’ll probably find it helps your study skills in the long run.