My son works 20 hours a week to pay for his car. This job takes up all of his time outside of school and leaves him little opportunity to get involved in other activities. Will admissions officers understand and accept the way in which he has chosen to spend his time or will his lack of organized activities hurt his chances?
Some will and some won’t, depending on the institution, on the rest of your son’s profile (academic transcript, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, family/school/community context), and on the story he tells about why having a car matters to him. Let’s assume for now that your son is applying to a college or university where the rest of his profile would not rule him out. He needs to clarify the context in which he has decided to work 20 hours per week to finance his car. Does he use the car to go to the mall, go out on dates, and drive around with friends or does he use it to get to the closest large city and take advantage of resources there? Has he learned any automotive mechanics to maintain the car himself? Are cars or automotive mechanics his passion? Is his car a 30-year old Mustang that he restored himself?
Without understanding these circumstances and with all other factors remaining equal, I would tell you that a student working to support her family comes across as more powerful and compelling than a student working to buy luxury items or material possessions. As I have said in previous posts, though, context influences everything in college admissions. Explore with your son how having a car and working to pay for it have exposed him to new experiences and have helped him to develop unexplored sides of himself. Including in his application essay the points that come up in this conversation could paint this part of your son’s profile in a more meaningful light than simply listing the job as his sole extracurricular activity without providing any additional context.
Next up: Foregoing extracurricular activities to spend time with family and friends