It’s the reason why we juggle a minimum wage job with sports and homework. It’s the reason why we’re drowning under three AP classes. It’s the reason why we attend meetings of a club that, quite frankly, bores us.
Why do we do the things we do?
Because it looks good on a college application.
This universal truth has taken over the lives of far too many high school students—myself included. It’s ripped us from our free time, our passions, and sometimes our sense of self. In the competitive world of college admission, everything we do once we enter high school is to bolster the contents of our résumés. From clubs to sports to classes to volunteer projects to leadership roles, the race to stockpile as many accomplishments as possible slowly deteriorates our sense of self. A student might ask himself why he’s dedicated a significant fraction of his life to running the Animal Awareness club at school when his wish was to learn an instrument purely for personal enjoyment. The answer, I’ve found, is the same for many students: Because it looks good on a college application.
Participating in clubs, classes, and sports has been limited to what can offer the most impressive bullet point on a résumé or application. Students are no longer doing things because they truly enjoy them but to impress college admission officers. Activities designed to look good on a résumé and college application become a priority in a student’s life, edging out his hobbies that may only offer intrinsic benefits. Students stop pursuing their passion—because if a hobby doesn’t have a marketable angle, it is of no worth to colleges.
This is a damaging practice. In the midst of the fierce competition and harsh standards of getting into college, students should stay true to themselves in the process. Fortunately, there are ways to keep a firm hold on your identity while still staying competitive for college admission.
It’s pretty simple, really: pick clubs, activities, and classes that you are truly interested in. Although a non-honors class might not offer the same rigor or weighted GPA, if the course is something you are truly passionate about, it can offer different advantages. First, finding a field you love can be helpful in deciding on a major and future career. Specific to college applications, enrolling in courses and activities that are important to you ensure that you will be able to represent the activity in the best light. Whether writing about its influence in a personal essay or gushing about your involvement in an interview, the authenticity of your interest in that activity is bound to show through. And, believe it or not, admission officers actually do want to see those activities—they’re looking for passion and dedication, not a perfect robot student who plays varsity, sings opera, and volunteers 20 hours a week.
Participating in activities for pure enjoyment will give you the most rewards. You should challenge yourself in your classes and clubs, but don’t compromise your interests for the sake of “sounding good” on your college applications. After all, you need to live your life in a way that makes you happy, not a college admission representative. The ultimate goal is to find activities that can provide both prestige and enjoyment, but in the pursuit of college acceptance, your identity should never be compromised.