There Is No Wrong Way To Spend An Afternoon

There Is No Wrong Way To Spend An Afternoon

Courtney M. Skerritt
Director of College Counseling
The Hockaday School

Like many independent schools around the country, The Hockaday School recently hosted a College Admissions Deans Panel. This event serves as an opportunity for experienced admission officers to share their expertise with students and parents. While on our campus, when prompted with the question about extracurricular involvement, Kirk Brennan, Director of Admission at the University of Southern California, shared a wonderful anecdote about the joy of watching the clouds roll by. In fact, he told the audience, I wish all of the students would just take some time to do just that. I share this story to tell students that they can watch the clouds and still be admitted to college.  Why? Because there is no wrong way to spend an afternoon.

When meeting with students, college counselors are often asked about the resume. “Does my resume seem too light?” a student will ask or I’ll hear “Have I done enough?” My response is always “What do you love to do?” And we dive into a conversation of curiosities, play, and exploration. It is my hope that a student leaves that conversation with confidence in what they’ve already started to explore and, perhaps, new ideas on ways to get further involved.

You see, there is no perfect recipe for an activity resume that leads to an acceptance letter. Students often ask questions about their involvement because they doubt that their interests will matter to the college. Perhaps they are not an elected leader in their class. Perhaps they’ve looked up and realized most of their free time was spent behind the scenes of the theater with no involvement in athletics or community service. Should they do more? Be more? The answer is always – just be you. But, I will counsel each of you reading this to be involved in something because your school community, or religious community, or local community needs you. It needs your energy, your ideas, your commitment.

A college application is a vehicle that takes your ideas and interests to college admission offices. Any admission officer, regardless of the selectivity of the institution, will want to read that you have engaged in the world around you. Extracurricular activities provide opportunities for leadership development, exploration of interests, and interactions with others. Not to mention joy and fun! Admissions officers want to understand how you spend your time now so that they can forecast the type of citizen you will be on their campus.

So when you sit down to work on your applications, it is wise to remember that it isn’t a matter of what you did, but why you did it. How you craft your responses, capturing lessons learned, moments to be remembered, and hopes for continuing learning on a college campus is what will truly capture the reader’s attention.

So along these lines, when thinking about involvement, students should be motivated by their own authentic interests, not by what they think the colleges want to see. Spend freshman and sophomore years adjusting to high school, trying out new experiences, and meeting friends. Junior and senior years provide the opportunities for deeper involvement, greater influence as you get older, and a chance to leave your community in a more positive place than when you started.

Whatever you decide to do, relish it. Question it. Have fun with it. And, be sure to take an afternoon to watch the clouds roll by. 

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