Since the first day of freshman year, this idea is built in our minds that you must take part in anything and everything because you want to like a ‘well-rounded’ student on your college application. You must do sports, clubs, student government, etc. because otherwise you will fall behind in the race towards the perfect college application— a race that won’t teach you how to pay taxes, or to build relationships, or to enjoy the little things in life, but it will make you look perfect to colleges.
“Good grades aren’t enough though, you must do sports, it looks really good on college application,” is what got to me sign up for outdoor track my sophomore year. Without thinking how difficult track would be, I signed up for it to put be able to put it on my college application. Half the season, I struggled to even run a mile, I didn’t care about my PRs or winning the race. I only cared about putting “Outdoor Track 2018” on my application. I didn’t care if I was the last person to finish the race, I cared about winning the race towards the perfect college application.
Having good grades every year since elementary school, I had rarely known what failure felt like. However, always finishing last and not first, and facing the upset face of my coach and peers gave me a sense of failure. Initially I didn’t care. But the sense of failure really started to get to me. Suddenly, I started to care about having a good PR, and to continuously better myself. Suddenly, I didn’t care about my college application and, suddenly, my goal had become to prove myself, to myself, and not to colleges. I fell over hurdles, and during long jumps, numerous times, but I got up, dusted myself and continued to try. Unlike my first try, when I wasn’t even able to get a PR, I was now improving myself. The joy, the excitement, and the pride that came to my face and my coach’s when I was getting a better and better PR was too pure. Not that I was suddenly winning an award, but I was feeling satisfied and powerful. During my races, running as fast as I could, now that I was actually trying, I heard motivating cheers from my peers. I was doing something, I was trying to be good at running instead of just doing it for the sake of college applications. Now, mentioning outdoor track on my college application would actually mean something, unlike before when I didn’t even try to run, yet ‘did track’. After that track season was over, I contemplated over my track journey. I had started track thinking I could put a sport on my application and ended the season with not even caring about that but just feeling content about the fact that I was able to find a weakness in myself and improve it.
The reason why our elders tell us to be involved and do a variety of activities in school is not to just ‘prove yourself’ to the colleges or have a perfect application, but to have the best experience out of high school. Doing a variety of activities will lead you to know your strengths and weaknesses and to work on your weaknesses. If I hadn’t signed up for track, I wouldn’t have truly felt failure and the feeling of rising up from your own failure.
It is critical to understand that stating numerous clubs, activites, sports, and leadership roles in your college application will get you nowhere if you haven’t learned anything from that club or sport, or inspired others through your leadership. Based on a survey conducted at Lincoln High School, many students are in this race to nowhere, attempting to get the best grades, being in the most clubs and doing sports all year round to have a good college application when in reality they are not learning anything in their classes and have no interest in the sports they play. They treat college applications like a testimony trying to prove to colleges that they are ‘well-rounded’. But how can you prove to colleges that you are ‘well-rounded’ when you yourself don’t know that, when you yourself have never tried to seek what your imperfections are because you were blind in the race towards the perfect college application? These kind of students sacrifice their social life, their relationships and happiness to create the perfect application and they still don’t think they are good enough.
Based on the survey conducted at Lincoln High School, 56.3% of the students felt that their college application wasn’t good enough while they had also mentioned that they were involved in numerous clubs, sports, internships, and volunteer work. What was the point of doing so many activities when these students couldn’t even satisfy themselves. It is due to the tense environment that is created in most high schools that you need to have anything and everything done— sports, 4.0 gpa, high SAT scores, internships, etc—that these kids force themselves to take part in activities that they don’t care about but do so to put it on their application. In fact, Nicole Lezon, a highly capable senior at Lincoln High School reported, “I have joined clubs and organizations that I would not have otherwise participated in if I was not able to put it on my college application.” Although, she learned and improved herself a lot through these activities, most students don’t. Most students do activities due to the pressure of looking perfect to colleges. College application standards cause immense stress to kids that often ruin their personal life, relationship with other people and their happiness. In the survey, 20 students reported that grades and college application standards have caused them stress to the point of depression. Although this was only 23.8% of the students, it is still a significant number. Getting a perfect college application by having 20 kids cause themselves stress to the point of depression is not worth it.
Students often spend their entire high school experience in creating a perfect college application, “I have worked so hard for years to build my college application,” as Abdullah Ahmad reported, and even though they must’ve gained some intel from it, it would be a lot better if there wasn’t constant reminder in people’s head that ‘you need to do this for your college application’ because they would be able to truly devote their stress free mind to that particular activity and gain insight from it.
The stress of college application standards is, in fact, developing some negative qualities in students. For instance, a student reported, “I spice up the things I do to make the activities sound more important than they actually are.” Since there is so much pressure to be ‘perfect’, students start to lose the importance of doing a variety of activities. Instead of accepting their weaknesses and improving, students misrepresent themselves trying to prove that they are perfect. In addition, trying to get every kind of activity done takes away from student’s high school experience. Allison Plante reports, “Taken honors courses and other courses that I can barely handle so it will look better that I tried at a hard level than not at all.” Although it is a good idea to challenge yourself and try harder but there is a fine line between a challenge and something that is inconceivable. Many kids take honors and AP classes to make themselves look like an extremely hardworking student even if they are not able to handle it. Some of those students end up dropping out of that class in the middle of the year because they are not able to maintain even a passing grade. Even though they drop out, it ruins their self esteem and leaves a bad impression on their transcript, something far from what they had intended to do. If there wasn’t so much unnecessary pressure to be a ‘perfect’ student, students would be give themselves a slight challenge that wouldn’t ruin their self confidence but allow them to improve with baby steps.
Although majority of the students reported that they take part in many activities just to look good on college application, there were also some students who didn’t let the college application standards’ pressure get to them and they have truly experienced the good aspects of high school and teenage life. Instead of trying to grab every single kind of sport, club, or internship, they focused on activities relating specifically to their major and personal interests. These students also have relatively good grades and SAT/PSAT scores. They don’t stress themselves out and go through high school enjoying the little things that won’t ever be available in our adulthood. Yiru Li, being an excellent student already, reported, “I participate in a few musical ensembles outside of school. I felt like I had to do some kind of non-academic related activity… Music served that purpose, because I find it to be genuinely refreshing.” Taking time away from school to just satisfy oneself and to learn new skill allows students to make the most out of their high school experience. Instead of constantly worrying about college applications, students should try to explore their interests, strengths and weaknesses. Following this path, the ‘well-roundedness’ should come naturally. Jarrett Allen, a junior at LHS, reported that he doesn’t try to make himself look good on college application but that “it comes to him naturally.” This doesn’t mean that he hasn’t done any activities throughout high school but that he explored activities in school and outside of school solely because of his personal interest or curiosity and, thus, the ‘well-roundedness’ is achieved naturally.
Let’s try to explore; explore our strengths, weakness, our curiosities. Worrying about college applications will only develop pseudo ‘well-roundedness’ because, despite of taking part in numerous activities, you might not have the rich and alluring high school experience that others, who don’t overstress about college applications, would. Adulthood is already about enough stress so let’s not allow it to invade our youth and have no memories to look back at. Don’t blackmail your present to ruin a beautiful future. Instead, explore different activities, not for the purpose of putting it on your application but for the purpose of experiencing it. Even if you fall or lag behind, get up and fix yourself. The ‘well-roundedness will come naturally and the high school experience will be worth looking back at.