Applying to colleges part 1: less is more


Colleges value committing to few groups- like field hockey- for the love of the game.

High school students will be happy to know that creating an appealing college resume doesn’t necessarily mean impeccable grades and an extensive list of extracurriculars. Although good grades and standardized test scores are very important parts of a successful application, colleges like students who lead interesting, passionate lives, even at the expense of a grade or two. Making it into your top schools doesn’t always mean pushing yourself to the extreme in a carefully designed plan of busy schedules and lots of homework.
Instead, according to Cal Newport, author of How to be a High School Superstar, “it can be a stress-free reward for living a happy, interesting life.”

If you find what makes you happy and stick to it, you can put more time and effort into it which will make you more appealing to colleges, as well as happier. If you belong to too many clubs and activities, it is hard to do well in all of them. “The more you immerse yourself in the world surrounding an activity, the more success with the activity you’ll experience,” says Newport, therefore dedicating more time to a single activity helps students become more skilled, and also makes them look more persistent. “When you have a more long term commitment to fewer clubs and sports it can be even more impressive than several because it shows you can stick to something you start,” says Kayla Barron ‘15. It shows leadership skills and initiative, qualities Sandra Bent, guidance counselor at HB, says are very important.

“Interestingness cannot be forced or planned in advance. It is generated, instead, as a natural by-product of a “deep interest,” which is a long-term pursuit that a student returns to voluntarily and eagerly whenever given a chance,” says Newport. Don’t just pursue an activity because it will ‘look good’. Bent says not to “volunteer so you can write down ‘I volunteered’. Volunteer because you want to.” These students have that “interestingness”, they stand out, and will bring something new and special to a school.

An excellent way to become this student is to pursue something you are extremely passionate about and dedicate a lot of time to it. Bent says that “[i]t really is [about] finding your passion and being willing to grow within it.” “Colleges want students that are passionate about something, [and] to have their activities reflect that passion,” she says. “W]hen you say you’re interested and you have a passion, show that.”

If colleges don’t want you, believe it or not, you probably don’t want them either. Admissions officers are actually trying to help you have the best college experience you can, and they do this by judging you based on your application. If your application doesn’t represent you accurately, they may make the wrong choice. So do what inspires you, what makes you happy. If your life is an accurate picture of who you are, colleges will make a better decision. Getting into the best school you can has a lot more to do with being yourself than with accomplishing certain things “colleges like to see”.

Pursuing one or two things you are really passionate about will not only make the prospect of college less stressful, it will of course make you happier because you will be doing the things you love. You can show colleges what interests you most, what makes you special, and what differentiates you from other students, as opposed to how many thing you can “do” at once. Newport says that [g]etting into a good college doesn’t have to be a reward for extreme sacrifice; it can be, instead, a side effect of the much grander goal of building a meaningful and engaging life.”