By JUSTIN YEH
As colleges applications open up to the public, seniors are making a desperate, last attempt to compile an overcrowded list of extracurriculars in the hopes of standing out to admissions officers.
However, admissions officers are ambiguous about the relevance of overly extensive lists of activities, rarely disclosing that they are actually looking for students with specific passions and not general interests. Colleges are even more vague when describing their ideal applicant, and as a result, the likelihood of a student’s admission into his or her dream school decreases.
An unappealing college application can in part be blamed on this lack of verbal communication between admissions officers and applicants. There is a common misconception that students must participate in every kind of activity to demonstrate well-roundedness.
This misunderstanding spreads to misinformed students who seek but cannot grasp clarity about what to include when the application asks them to list and describe their activities. In short, colleges ask about extracurriculars to learn about the person behind the application, placing less of an emphasis on the different types of activities in which one may be involved. When looking over an application, colleges want to see students include only activities that reflect what they are truly passionate about.
Admissions officers now prefer students who explore their options but stick to a few specific interests, as opposed to the proverbially well-rounded student with a long list of activities that may not mean much to him. Colleges strive to assemble a class of students who are all deeply knowledgeable in just a few areas of study, thereby contributing to an overall well-rounded class. Ultimately, applicants who contribute to a college’s diverse community are more likely to be admitted than students who are barely satisfactory in a wide array of skills.
Unfortunately, the importance of standing out to colleges has resulted in a dangerous arms race of résumé building. Due to the lack of clarity, most high school students spread themselves too thin in order to to participate in as many extracurriculars as possible, which takes a serious toll on their health.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the average teenager is chronically sleep-deprived, leading to inattentiveness, hyperactivity and substance abuse. In fact, a third of high school students sleep less than six hours on an average school night, despite studies indicating that most teenagers need exactly nine and one-fourth hours of sleep.
Students are overextending themselves because of the follied belief that a never-ending list of activities will strengthen their chances of college acceptance. While a plethora of extracurriculars will not give you an advantage, there are other aspects of a student that admissions officers prioritize.
Most elite universities describe their admissions policies as being “holistic,” meaning admissions officers take the totality of an applicant’s grades, test scores, activities and so forth into consideration. However, there are distinct patterns unbeknownst to applicants that may reveal how to increase one’s odds of acceptance.
First and foremost, high school students who have completed calculus have an eighty-four percent greater chance of being accepted to an elite college than students who have not taken calculus. In addition, athletes are four times more likely to be admitted to an Ivy League school than non-athletes. Students with SAT scores between 1500 and 1600 are twenty-five times more likely to be accepted to an elite college than students with scores less than 1000. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, those who apply via the early-action (EA) program are twenty to thirty percent more likely to be accepted than applicants who apply on the standard January through April timetable.
The fact of the matter is that high school students need to work smarter, not harder. By understanding what colleges specifically desire in a candidate, students can better increase their odds of acceptance. Rather than allowing students to strive to become the perfect well-rounded student, colleges need to take the responsibility of debunking this misconception. Only then will applicants have a proper chance for college admission.