“Lord, won’t she just stop already? – How many clubs is she in, like ten? Has nobody told her, ‘Hun, calm it down, you’re gonna get into college’ yet?”

I can’t lie, I’ve been guilty of thinking in such a naive manner. Heck, I’ve even said it out loud. I think I can speak for every high schooler, attending and graduated, when I say that we all knew that one girl or boy who applied to be a miscellaneous member of student council every year, was a part of the Human Relations club, and the debate team…and the Frisbee team…and the Mathletes…and the Reptile Club…and the People Who Wear Pants Club (do you see where I’m going with this?).

But this person really never excelled in any of these extracurriculars; they were just kind of there, standing awkwardly far away in the club year book pictures. These teens, the all-day-errr-day-anywhere-anytime-after-school students, have always been a curiosity to me. What was their motive? Where was their gain?

I believe there are two type of extracurricular students. There are the pure hearted high schoolers on a journey of self-discovery and defining moments, and then the mistakenly obsessive students looking to fill their resumes up with hours upon hours of community servic, and zillions of clubs that they hold just enough interest in to keep up a conversation with a college admission officer.

As high schoolers, we are told by our guidance counselors that colleges are looking for the ‘total package’. We are told they are not only looking for ‘rigorous’ academic history in our applications but also ‘commitment’ and ‘involvement’ outside of the classroom and in our communities. What we are never told is how much is too much, and how much is not enough.

This is where many teenagers become lost, where the lines between being themselves and being a college’s mannequin are blurred, where a student’s extracurriculars can easily become hollow and loose in meaning and content, even if the process began with the best intentions. We all know how easy it is to sign up for a club in high school–a quick email to a teacher, a name written in chicken scratch next to the date. Some students get a little club happy. Feeling the pressures from universities, they find themselves apart of ten different clubs, only two of which they really wanted to be apart of in the first place. Do you think the students who got club happy are really going to attend club meetings for the eight other organizations they signed up for? No, probably not, but at the end of the year, they’ll still be able to write it down on their resumes.

High schoolers tend to have this odd idea that colleges won’t be able to see through to their true intentions. But as you might have guessed, what colleges are looking for isn’t quantity. It’s quality, a detail that our counselors sometimes forget to mention to us. Meghan Montelibano, who works with Gonzaga University’s Office of Admissions, reassures that, “Admissions officers can definitely spot the difference between padding and passion. Padding can be defined as something you do because it looks good, and passion is something you do because it’s meaningful.”

There is nothing wrong with being apart of one or two clubs. If you’re dedicated and hardworking in them, there should be no reason for you to worry about what admission officers will feel about them. Eric Aldieri, a freshman at Villanova University, adds his two cents, saying, “Maybe it’s idealistic of me, but I’d like to think that a small number of meaningful activities that the applicant is clearly very passionate about will always outweigh that kid who has done everything under the sun but got no true enjoyment or enrichment out of it.”

The downside of some of these super students is that in the process of trying to look attractive to college admission officers, they forget about themselves. It’s okay to be focused, but every now and then you need to take a step back and ask, ‘Am I doing this for myself?’. If the answer is no, then don’t do it.

Honesty Time

I had this preconceived judgement that every kid who was part of more than three clubs was a farce, or if not a farce, then an overachiever. Sometimes I would even look at them and think, “Why don’t you just stop it, you have nothing to worry about, YOU, you’re going to get into college.” This was because I was unable to see what they gained from it.

I couldn’t understand what had them rushing around in such a tizzy. I spent my time discovering myself in the gym; that’s where I figured out who I was and who I wanted to be. When I looked at these kids who were doing so much in school with their extracurricular activities, I never thought it was because it was a way for them to figure who they wanted to be and what they wanted to be apart of. Obviously, I was mistaken.

I think a lot of students make this mistake when they see a peer in many clubs, or throwing themselves into community service activities. Joanna Flores, entering Fordham University as a freshman this year, explains her struggle in high school. “Between being called a control freak, getting teased for being an ‘overachieving short/female/minority’, and being told frequently to ‘let go’ of an activity or two, I truly believed and loved (or had a love/hate relationship with) everything I did. And I never wanted to give in to all of the comments,” she explains.

“I participated in things inside high school (tennis, Science Olympiad, Public Service Academy, Peer Conflict Mediation, GATE) and outside high school (fencing, Catholic ministry) and I saw things in them I loved, and I would see ideas and adoration of things I could possibly bring to (or do for) the activity.” Before you judge the kid doing more than you would do yourself, really look at them to see their reasons and motivations. There’s always going to be that kid doing it all for the wrong reasons, but don’t let that one kid make you reflect badly on the others.

Heart To Heart

We get so obsessed with the idea of being appealing to these high caliber colleges that sometimes we lose sight of what really matters: Who is it we really want to be?

If you don’t want to spend your weekend reading to little children because you don’t like their snotty noses and their sticky hands, then don’t. If you hate sweating, but you love brownies, forgo the track team and join the baking club. If you want to go straight home after school and catch an episode of Jerry Springer while finishing the stale bag of Cheetos from your cabinet and then passing out, then fine. Do it.

And of course, if being yourself means joining every club in high school you can until you find your niche, well, that’s just swell too. Your high school experience will be what you make of it. Don’t leave with any regrets, and don’t leave not knowing who you are. It’s not your responsibility to appease every college’s demands; you just need to focus on your own. But if you think jumping through hoops for universities is going to get you to where you want to be, then you do what you need to do and screw what other people have to say. If you dedicate yourself to something and it’s something you’re captivated by, colleges are going to see that, and that’s the trait they want to see the most in you. They want to see you fangirling over something other then your high GPA or flashy SAT scores.

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  1. Aida on August 22, 2013

    I was the overachiever in high school and everyone knew it. But I was also the one who loved what I was involved in. I also had leadership positions in some of them, and colleges did notice; my acceptance letter from SMU included a notation that my position as Treasurer in NHS stood out to them. But it was luck that I found this out, and it’s important other kids find that out. Great article!

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