Extracurricular Activities

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Making Your Extracurricular Activities Count In The College Application Process

Dobler College ConsultingLast week I talked about expectations in the college search and application process. If you missed the post, check it out and come on back. I wanted to continue that trend this week but I wanted to put the focus on one specific area that tends to come up frequently this time of year:

Extracurricular Activities.

I’m often asked questions like, “What are the best activities for me to be involved in?” or “Is it better for me to continue playing music or join the student newspaper?” Problem is, these questions are only answered in the context of who you are as a person.

If you’re interested in music then getting involved in your school band or writing your own lyrics is what you should do. If you want to be a writer, or work in public relations you should write. If you want to be a nurse, volunteering at the local hospital is where you should be. Engineer? Join a robotics club or participate in a competition. Criminal justice? Talk to the local police department about a ride-along program or join the Young Explorer’s Club.

In other words, the best extracurricular activities you choose will:

– Be something you VALUE

– Be something in which you have a true INTEREST

– Be something that relates to your PERSONALITY

– Be something that allows you to show off your SKILLS

Your values, interests, personality and skills make up what I call your VIPS. And these VIPS should help you develop and sustain your brand as a person. And it’s your brand that will stand out to college admission counselors as they review your application and ask the fundamental question, “Who is this applicant?”

Keep in mind that admission counselors are reviewing thousands of applications. That’s a lot of writers, music lovers, and future engineers. But by investing your time in activities that relate to your major and which are supported by your VIPS, you’ve taken an important step in making the most of your college application.

And that’s an important factor in this process. You have to really think about what you are going to do with your applications, how you are going to make the most of the opportunities presented to you and what you want admission counselors to know about you.

If you can get behind that idea, very good things can happen.

If you have any questions about extracurricular activities, branding or VIPS, please use the comment section below.

You can also email me directly at eric@doblercollegeconsulting.com for help with any aspect of your college search and application process.

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Why Your Application Needs To Stand Out

Each year the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) puts out a report called, The State Of College Admission. The report is free for NACAC members while non-members can purchase a copy for $25. The report talks about trends in college admission as reported by college admission officers and high school counselors from around the country. One of the statistics from this year’s report that I wanted to share with you today was the average number of applications that each admission counselor reads.

According to the report, the average college admission counselor in 2005 read 359 applications. By 2011 that number had nearly doubled to 662.

Think about that for a second. You are one of nearly several hundred applications that will cross an admission counselor’s desk in a very short period of time. Having reviewed thousands of applications in my old admission days, I can tell you that admission counselors do their best to give each application the time and attention it deserves. But when your application underwhelms or does not tell your story in full color, well, that review and the decision to say “no” can be painfully quick. Admission counselors want to connect with you as an applicant. They want to get excited about you. And they want to say “yes.” But sometimes it becomes very hard for them to do just that simply because you didn’t make the most of your application.

So, instead of putting off your college search to the last minute, start researching schools now and then visit some college campuses this spring. Think about what you might want to say in your personal statement and then record your ideas for when you get down to the writing process over the summer. Think about who you would want a recommendation from and plan on talking to them before the end of the school year. Create an account on the Common App and go through each section to familiarize yourself with how it works and what information is required. This will be great practice for when the new one launches on August 1st. Start a list of your activities, honors and accomplishments – great or small, so that you don’t forget anything when it comes time to completing applications in the fall.

At the end of the day, ask yourself what you want an admission counselor to know about you and why it should matter to them. Then, as you go through the next several months, spend time putting together an application and supporting materials that ensure your application will be one that motivates an admission counselor to say, “YES!”

Have something to say? Use the comment box below or email me at eric@doblercollegeconsulting.com. If you think this makes a lot of sense, consider sharing it with someone you know.

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Do You Need A Resume?

A couple weeks ago I invited Sharon Epstein, an award-winning essay writing and college interview coach, to talk about tips for awesome essays. If you didn’t get a chance to read the post, here it is. Read it. It’s really good!

This week, Sharon invited me to write about resumes for her blog, Applying to College.

Check it out and, and always, let me know what you think!

Eric Dobler is the president and founder of Dobler College Consulting. Follow him on Twitter.

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Extracurricular Activities That Matter

Today’s blog post is from a friend and colleague, Craig Gonzalez. Craig is an awesome tutor and one of the most interesting academic professionals I know! A couple weeks ago, Craig and I talked about the world of college admissions and I asked him if he would share some of his insight on the role of extracurricular activities.Here’s what he had to say:
The college admissions process, despite popular belief, is not some tricky, bewildering, magical thing. Extracurricular activities are not things you do to get accepted to a university, they are things you do because you love them. But you DO want to go to a great school and you DO need to be aware of that when you decide to join a club. To figure out which activities matter, read on.
Are These Good Enough For My University?

It is absolutely hilarious to hear the above question. “Is writing for the newspaper good enough to get me into Harvard?” It’s almost as silly as the fake modesty you get on college confidential. You know what I’m talking about. The “I have a 4.0 and am President of everything and cured cancer, and I know I’m so dumb, but do I have a chance at any decent school?”

Let’s call that what it is: attention seeking. It’s the same reason the super-hot girl calls herself ugly or the buff guy calls himself fat: validation.

But you are not here seeking validation. You are here because you don’t know if your extracurricular activities are going to help you get into a great school. So, let’s figure this out, shall we?

It’s not what you do, but how you do it

Why do you think schools want you to take extracurricular activities? There are several reasons that all lead to one specific reason. First of all, do you think the school cares if you like swimming, polo, dancing, or theater? Not really. So asking if newspaper is better than theater is like asking if Lady Gaga is better than Natalie Portman.

Gaga makes music and Portman makes hearts melt (re: movies). They are not comparable. Likewise, picking extracurricular activities without a basis for comparison is insane.

Theater is better if you want to act; newspaper is better if you want to write. Right?

Second, schools really want to see if you are more than a number on a page. Grades prove that you have the intellectual ability to read and understand material, understand teachers and testing, and manage your time. The SAT does the same. Extracurricular activities prove who you are outside of academics. And that’s really what colleges should be about. Preparing you for the world outside of school.

The activities you do outside of school prove if you will be a future leader or follower. If you will sacrifice your free time for some greater good or if you care more about munchies and YouTube than the written word, sports, or poor people.

The problem is picking activities that you are good at, that you can become a leader in, and that look good on an application.

Passion Is The New Currency

Now look, If you are doing it for some ulterior motive (getting into a university), then you suck. Seriously. It’s like me learning to salsa just so I can pick up girls. I love salsa. And yes, it’s awesome for picking up girls. But that’s a nice bonus. Getting into a school because of your clubs is a great bonus, but if you are not interested in the club, that will show and just make you look like a sycophant.

The best extracurricular activity you can choose will:

– Be related to your big picture goals

– Be something you are really interested in

– Be something that you can rise to the top in

– Be something that you would be proud to tell people about

You want to succeed in life. You want to do really, really well in life. Seriously. But you also want to be happy.

Imagine this:

I am really interested in rock climbing. So, my extracurricular activity in high school was to rock climb. Now, that’s not a team sport, so how can I take what I love and make it awesomely application-worthy? I organize a rock climbing trip with kids from the inner city.

I do what I love, and I help people. And I can write a passionate essay about that. And, doing something like that might get picked up in the paper, so in my application I can refer to the time the newspaper wrote about me being an awesome human.

You need to join clubs that you will grow into. Schools need future leaders. That is a fact. “True story, bro.” So, pick something that you will succeed at. People tend to get passionate around success and uninterested in failure. So, succeed. You succeed, and everything else will fall into place.

Thanks, but where is the cake?

Let’s get some easy steps in place so you can really, thoroughly, legitimately, and awesomely find a great activity or activities to get involved in.

(1) What are you into? What is your thing?

This is open-ended. Just write down all the stuff that makes you smile, happy, laugh, get excited about. Most of you know what you are into. If you don’t know, then figure it out. What are you into? Movies, girls, boys, sports, helping people, TV, writing, poetry, food? Figure that out.

(2) Of those things that you are into, what can you probably be good at?

Helping people is easy, right? Just help. But let’s say you are really into basketball. But you are like 5 foot nothing, cannot sprint, and only know how to shoot granny style. Well, being a varsity captain is not in your future. But, you could do something auxiliary (cheerleading, mascot, film, reporting) that deals with your passion. Write it all down.

(3) Of those things that you could be capable of, which are offered in some capacity by your school?

Let’s say you are all into Christian stuff, but your school does not offer Christian stuff. Then Christian stuff needs to go into your “outside of school” pile.

If you want to be an actor, but your school does not have a film or theater department, don’t cross it out, but move it to “outside of school”.

(4) Of those things that are not listed in your school but you really love, hit up your counselor, your parents, and Google and figure out who does that stuff in your town.

Where could you go outside of school to get involved in knitting, or pet care, or magic? Do your research and write things down. If you want to write poetry but your school isn’t into that, find any poetry meet ups or poetry publishers in town. If you like water polo but your school doesn’t have a pool, find a club in town that has a team.

(5) Pick some on-campus activities and at least one off-campus activity.

Go out, ask to be on the team, apply, call the YMCA, call the local newspaper, intern, write, work, play for free. Just get yourself busy. If you join these things (pick 2-4 that you can totally dominate) or do these things, you will naturally move up the ranks, because you are into it. If you think about how cool it will be to finish school and write, workout, fight, climb, sing, or act, then you have found an extracurricular activity that you are passionate about. And that, my friends, is an extracurricular activity that matters. Because you will write about this activity, and you will tell people about it, and you will BE defined by it. So make sure you pick something that you are proud of.

NOTE: Please note that there are some exceptions to these rules. If you are really into sex, drugs, racism, or ultra-violence, you should definitely NOT get involved in those things as a way to get into college. Fight club all you want in your own time, but that’s not really the mark of a future leader. Also, don’t be a racist; racism sucks.

What are your current extracurricular activities? Will you become captain (or captain equivalent) anytime soon? If not, why not?

*Craig is an awesome dude who runs Craig Gonzales Tutoring. He has put together a pretty stellar SAT Tutorial Kit that he gives away for free. You should find him, like him, email him, and let him help you rock that SAT.

If you have any thoughts you would like to share on writing an extracurricular activities, please use the comment box below – I would love to hear from you! You can also email me at eric@doblercollegeconsulting.com or Craig at craig@craiggonzalestutoring.com.

Eric Dobler is the president and founder of Dobler College Consulting. Follow him on Twitter.

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