In a preliminary consultation, I always ask students to itemize for me their activities and interests, including the number of years they have pursued each one, ways in which they have demonstrated leadership, and the amount of time they generally devote to a given pursuit. I probe a little bit to determine the pastimes about which they feel passionate, the ones to which they devote a special level of commitment. The overall picture that I get from this discussion helps me characterize a student as a leader, a committed participant, a casual joiner, an independent spirit, a special talent, some combination of the above, or somebody not currently pursuing activities or interests at all. Admissions officers make similar characterizations as they read a folder and, ideally, see in a student’s essays or letters of recommendation evidence of a particular trait that a student’s interests or activities underscore.
Activities and interests give your child the opportunity to show colleges and universities who she is based on what she does – whether that means gourmet cooking or ice hockey or both. Admissions officers understand that pursuing activities and interests builds leadership, social skills, and self-esteem — benefits that have positive implications for the college or university that your child attends. The characteristics that admissions officers at selective institutions are seeking — leadership, commitment, contributions to school and community, and, where it exists, talent — can come through in almost any pursuit, depending on how your child engages in it, including babysitting, bagging groceries, or shouldering household responsibilities to help out at home. The “golden rule” of activities and interests, if such a rule exists, boils down to this: what your child does matters far less than why and how she does it.
What is your child’s activities and interests profile? Take a look together at the attached worksheet to start fleshing out the narrative (ECprofile). Then follow this topic in upcoming blog posts for ideas on how to move forward, if you and your child agree that some adjustments make sense.
Next up: Why the narrative that activities and interests tell matters