An Eligible College Student takes advantage of their free time Outside of School Hours to pursue their passions. Even if commitments like work and family may limit your free time, how you take advantage of that limited time is/should be a reflection of your interests. It can also be your opportunity to do good things and be a great person.
I’ve been on a lot of college tours, and the phrase I hear at nearly every college is “We want to know what you are passionate about.” While the classes you take may reflect your passions, the fact is that there are a lot of classes that students take because they feel they have to, not because they love that subject. How a student spends their free time is an important reflection of what they are passionate about. In my mind, someone who is passionate is more interesting, and often more happy.
If you are busy outside of school with work, volunteering, babysitting, etc, there is not much time for you to participate in extracurricular activities. That doesn’t mean you can’t do great things During School Hours. It is also important to make time to be with friends – don’t replace socializing with Social Media.
DEMONSTRATE YOUR PASSION
Admissions Officers can easily identify the student that added a bunch of activities the end of their Junior year, to build their resume. But more important than your academic resume, is feeling fulfilled in life. Find something you enjoy or feel passionate about, do it well, and that will likely make you happier AND represent you well in your application. If you have been thoughtful in how you spent your free time Outside School Hours and why, you will be able to create a narrative that describes yourself and that process.
HOW TO DEMONSTRATE PASSION
If I hear that you have played soccer for 12 years, then I would think you are probably passionate about soccer, although that conclusion is more of an assumption than a fact. If in your free time, you organize a group of friends to coach soccer at your former Middle School, you referee games on the weekend and you organize an annual “all comers” soccer tournament, then I KNOW you are passionate about soccer. One hallmark of passion is if you thoroughly enjoy an activity, you want others to enjoy it as well, so you make time to share that passion with others. Another way I define passion is doing way more than the typical person – your team may be made up of 10 kids who have participated in soccer since 1st grade, so while your 12 years of soccer demonstrate lots of good qualities like perseverance, it will take more to truly impress. This, of course, means work – in the words of Tom Hanks, “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great”.
Think about an Admission Officer reading 700 applications, and they pick up your application, which is half way through their pile. The only item under your extracurriculars is playing soccer for 12 years. Sure, that is a big accomplishment – hours of practices in tough weather, working together toward the greater good of the team, etc. But maybe half of the applicants participated in sports, although some to a lesser degree. How are you going to stand out from that crowd? The bonus to being thoughtful in how you spend your free time is that you are likely to feel more fulfilled.
ARE YOU TOO BUSY OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL TO PARTICIPATE IN EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES?
If you are busy outside of school with work, babysitting, etc, there is not much time for you to participate in extracurricular activities. As long as you explain how you have spent your time outside of school, colleges respect that you had responsibilities that prevented you from participating in extracurricular activities. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be involved during school hours – there might be clubs that meet during lunch or before school. This is a great chance for you to socialize and feel that you belong. It’s worth the extra effort.
Busy people make up for lack of time by approaching tasks smartly. Step back and figure out how you can improve your life through thoughtful organization and smart shortcuts. The proverb “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” may feel like a conflicting message if you are so busy with school and work that making time for an extracurricular activity feels like work, not play. But that effort may result in finding something outside of your responsibilities that makes you feel fulfilled and gives you a opportunity to socialize.
HOW TO DEMONSTRATE PASSION IF YOU CAN’T PARTICIPATE IN EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
Is your family struggling to make ends meet, so you babysit every day after school to earn money to help your family? That demonstrates a reliable person who is willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. Imagine yourself as an Admissions Officer or an employer – wouldn’t those adjectives be something you would value? Have you decided you want to become a teacher, and noticed that the children you babysit don’t appear to be getting a good education in their public school in their poorer neighborhood? Talk about that in a thoughtful way (don’t state the fact, explain why it happens and suggest a well thought out solution). Think about what (realistically) needs to happen to improve the situation. If you don’t have the time or resources to work on a solution right then (convincing your classmates to offer free tutoring to kids in the neighborhood, for example), then be thoughtful on what needs to happen and how you can make change in the future. Action speaks louder than words (maybe you can make time to organize your classmates to tutor in the neighborhood), but demonstrating your thoughtfulness and your desire to make a change can also be powerful.
Demonstrate your passion. If you don’t have a passion, you need to spend time thinking about what you enjoy and how to make time for that activity. This is important not only for your College application, but to be happy in life.
It’s a good idea to do things because you want to, not because of your resume. Although on the surface the saying Tis better to give than receive is reminding us to be less selfish, it’s also a powerful reminder that we actually feel better about ourselves (and may find more good things happen to us) when we give our time and resources towards helping others. Although you may find that volunteering started out as something you felt you had to do, it may be the thing that makes you feel the happiest.
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