While it’s nice to fill all the blanks in the “extracurricular” section of college applications, it’s more important that the activities students join are meaningful. Attend any high school recognition ceremony and you will hear laundry lists that make you wonder when students have time to sleep: “Johnny has a 4.5 GPA and is a member of the wrestling team, the science club, the art club, the math club, the P.E. club, the after-school club, the before-school club, and the during school club.” What does Johnny do in all of those clubs? Probably not much but pose for the yearbook picture.
I’ll admit, I joined every club I could when I was in high school, as did many of my friends. I was happy to “pad” my application with the long list of clubs I joined, mostly for that purpose alone, but my experiences in those clubs did not “pad” my life. In fact, I more aptly learned how to cut corners.
After-school activities should serve as further education for students. They need to learn about choice, commitment and teamwork. Those are the skills that will not only get them into college, but will also get them through college. In addition, if an admissions officer directly asks about a club that a student barely participated in, then the student will be stumped. That’s way worse than having an impressively long resume of after-school activities.
When choosing how to spend after school time, students should consider which organizations will make the most of those hours. Sports and service clubs teach students how to work to earn money to make their clubs grow, how to serve the community, and how to recruit new students. Student councils also provide meaningful learning experiences. Students learn about self-government, extensive event planning, the election process, and, often, humility. The more students put into these efforts, the more experience they will redeem.
Non-school related activities can also be priceless. Music lessons, bands, internships, volunteer work, and even jobs can help students learn how to manage time, serve their communities, and explore their worlds.
Students should participate in extracurriculars to do more than “pad” their college applications. They should join to enhance their lives.