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Quality, not quantity, of activities builds well-rounded pupils

May 10, 2004|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

Ask high school students what "well-rounded" means, and they're likely to tell you that it's a person with a very long list of clubs under the "activities" column on a college application. But being well-rounded has a lot less to do with numbers, and a lot more to do with balance - balancing school and activities, balancing service and studying.

A college admissions counselor once told me that on a college application, she'd rather see a list of three extracurricular activities a student devoted time to throughout high school than a list of 15 different activities that changed with every new school year.

A well-rounded student learns a whole lot more than just how to impress the admissions counselors. Extracurricular activities teach students valuable time-management skills, something every college student, and every adult, needs. Students also learn more about the subjects they're studying when they get involved in some activities - students in the Spanish club learn more about the culture and language, students who work on the high school paper can apply what they've learned about writing, page layout and photography. Many extracurricular activities also teach students teamwork. Team sports, 4-H and student council are all activities that teach students how to get along in group settings - that's something that everyone needs to be able to do.

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Being well-rounded means students can't disregard their homework. Grades in high school definitely matter when it comes time to apply to college, but maybe not the way you think. Even if they don't get straight A's, students should take the most challenging classes possible in high school. Colleges know that when students push themselves to learn, they may not always make a 4.0.

Admissions officers know that learning doesn't only happen on school grounds. Many high schools today include a "service learning" requirement for graduation. That means that a student must do some kind of community service in order to graduate. Schools know that students who get involved early in their communities tend to stay involved. Even if your student's high school doesn't make community service mandatory, it's a good way to help teenagers see that they are part of a bigger community. Students often feel a sense of accomplishment and perspective when they are able to reach beyond themselves.

Using this "triple advantage" of scholarship, activities and service can help students increase their chances of receiving scholarships and recognition. I recently met a student who is enrolled at both Harvard and MIT-not easy schools to get into, even if you apply to just one. It sounds like a lot for one person to handle, but Robert prepared for the challenge by working hard in high school, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Robert is the winner of the 2003 Wendy's High School Heisman award. It's just one of a number of recognition and scholarship programs that reward students for working hard in school and in their communities. Robert's school nominated him for the award because he was at the top of his class, was involved in sports and his school newspaper, and worked with a number of community service programs.

Whether your child is just starting middle school, is a freshman or even a senior in high school, it's never too late to encourage them to get involved. It's not only important for getting into college; it can help prepare them for wherever life may take them.

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