Apathy, applications, and the issue of activity-stacking

With college application season officially at hand, seniors across the nation are working overtime, doing everything they can to make themselves seem desirable in the eyes of universities. Deadlines are approaching, final test dates are on the horizon, and the time has finally come for students to make decisions about where they will be spending the next four or more years of their lives. But amidst the hype, there’s a certain line that can be found in the hallways, classrooms, and crowded cafeterias where students, namely upperclassmen, are sure to be found:

“(Insert name of club/sport/leadership role) would look good on a college application.”

Let’s get something straight: clubs, sports, and extracurricular activities are all highly valued when it comes to typing up college resumes and sending in applications.  It’s no secret that these activities can have a positive, even significant impact on a school’s opinion – so from day one, students are encouraged to get involved in every way they can.  If that means taking up two sports in one season on top of AP classes, then so be it.  Already have a part in the fall play?  Surely you can fit in afterschool voice lessons.  And while you’re at it, how about that leadership conference coming up? It’ll look good on a college application, right?

Maybe not so much.  While it’s certainly admirable to be active and well-rounded in the school community, many students seem to be under the illusion that a long list of activities in high school will equal a long list of scholarship offers, come time for college.  However, this isn’t exactly the case, especially when admissions officials take into account sporadic club attendance or short-lived commitments to school and community organizations.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get involved.  Finding something that you care about, something that you can contribute your time and talents to, can be one of the most rewarding aspects of the high school experience.  But piling on the extracurricular activities and afterschool clubs isn’t always wise, especially when students know they’re not truly committed to the cause.  Sure, a college might like the way something looks, but it’s just as important to remember how to enjoy the present moment.

Unfortunately, overscheduling has become a major issue in today’s highly-competitive high school environment.  With often-lofty expectations set upon college-bound students, it can sometimes seem as if students are competing with one another to see how many activities can be packed into a schedule before the stress finally gets to them.  But truth be told, it’s not desirable or admirable to stress yourself out to the point of getting only three hours of sleep at night.  It’s unhealthy.

A real problem arises when students sign up for activities purely for with the intention of adding another line to their resumes.  What happens to enthusiasm and creativity when everyone arrives at the club meeting with no intention of working? Answer: it withers away, and eventually, it dies out.

In some of McNick’s larger student organizations, it’s not uncommon to have members attend a meeting or two, only to leave early or not return when it’s time to work.  Spirit Club President Emma McDermott expressed her disappointment in the lack of commitment in some of the members of this year’s student body.  As is the case with numerous student organizations, Spirit Club keeps a running list of attendees so that leaders can better determine who is truly involved.

“I feel like a lot of people, maybe 15 to 20, will put their name on the list, but when it’s time to start working, they’ll say ‘Oh, I have to go,’” McDermott said. “It’s fine if you actually have to be somewhere, but it would be nice if people had true commitment, and they weren’t just looking for something to put on their college resumes.”

Remember this: it’s not a competition.  Nobody should be racing to see who can join the greatest number of clubs or signing up for activities just because it seems everyone else has decided to.  If you’re truly interested in being part of a larger school community, go for it.  Chances are, it’ll be a wonderful experience.

“I like when a lot of students participate and the whole school can be involved,” McDermott said. “But I think people should choose to get involved with their hearts really in it.”

A word of advice to underclassmen: it’s okay to test the waters in a few different clubs or student organizations.  Find something that you’re passionate about – something that you can be enthusiastic about when it comes time for the weekly meeting, and stick with it.  If you know that you hate running, don’t put yourself through a year of cross country purely for the sake of having a sport on your resume.  If you find yourself grumbling over having to attend an afterschool meeting or whining your way through practice, perhaps it’s time to try something new.

“It’s always about quality rather than quantity – about doing things that matter to you,” University of Cincinnati English Professor Dr. Jon Kamholtz said.  “The activities you choose should create an arc. They should present a clearer vision of who you are based on what you do; they shouldn’t be random activities that tell college officials nothing about you.”

Upperclassmen, it’s time to start setting an example for your peers. Complaining about commitments might be fine on your own time, but do everyone a favor and keep it out of the hallways, lunchrooms, and anywhere where more impressionable underclassmen might be within earshot. Talking about how you only want to be a Eucharistic Minister or a Service Club member ‘because it looks good’ doesn’t paint anyone in a good light, and certainly doesn’t contribute anything to the good of the Rocket community.

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