Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, the college application process was an entirely different experience. First and foremost, applications were done using paper. You heard that right. Acceptance letters were actual letters, delivered by a real live mailman to your physical mailbox. Applications were sent in, with essays printed out and the same forms filled out time and time again. The Common Application didn’t exist, and neither did the horrific glitches and backlogged systems that come with it.
But most importantly, and most drastically different from today, admissions were based almost solely on academic merit. Standardized tests and grades were the meat of an application, the main tool used to differentiate between students. Now, it’s safe to say that we’re all juggling a million different activities at once, involved in a precarious balancing act between sanity and utter chaos.
There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Sleep, a social life, or grades: choose two.” This statement presents an exceedingly bleak outlook on high school, but it holds some truth: it’s difficult to excel at all three. Plus, it neglects one huge component of high school life: extracurriculars.
Ah yes, extracurriculars, a concept that probably didn’t exist when your parents were applying for college. This blanket term involves nearly everything that doesn’t fit into one of the aforementioned categories. It includes, among other things, sports, music, clubs, volunteering, and paid work. For many people, all of these activities are a huge part of daily life, along with the usual schoolwork.
While it may seem like a good idea to take on so many commitments, balance is key. This precarious situation has a definite tipping point. Choosing to join a club sport team, for example, could take away from study time. In order to maintain grades, either sleep or social activity will have to go. What’s most upsetting is that both of these things are vital to releasing stress and having a great high school experience. It’s no fun to walk around tired all the time, nor is it fun to stay in and do work every Friday night. Taking on another activity that you don’t have time for will benefit no one; you’ll become stressed and, as a result, won’t be able to give it all of your energy. It’s simply a lose-lose situation.
“But I need to get into college,” you say. Will that one extra club really make or break your application? It’s been said before, but depth is most certainly better than breadth. Becoming president of your Quiz Bowl team is more meaningful than joining yet another charity club. The benefits to this approach are numerous. For one, you’ll likely save time and energy in the long run by concentrating your efforts on a single group. Secondly, your personal gain will be greater; involving yourself wholeheartedly in an activity ensures that no one gets shortchanged and increases your focus and dedication to the group. Finally, colleges will appreciate your approach. It’s easy to see through the padded resumé, one that’s loaded with dozens of meaningless clubs that each take up a minute fraction of your time. Approaching activities with the goal of getting involved will prove beneficial in the long run.
The high school juggling act is one that comes with significant frustration and little sleep. Stress often comes in waves, though; there will be weeks of utter madness followed by a period of calm and decompression. And although the college application process can be downright maddening, it can also inspire a deep sense of fulfillment. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with scrolling through the Common App’s activities section, reading over the things you’ve done for the past four years and seeing the ways that you’ve made a difference.
For those who have started (or finished) applying, make sure to give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve earned it. And for the juniors and sophomores who have yet to embark on the application journey, know that everything you do is worth it. Whether they make it into your application or not, high school experiences shape you into the person you are. All of the late nights and inevitable tears will give you fortitude, motivation, and at the end of it all, an immense feeling of pride.