College want students to show individuality

November 06, 2006|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

Any school counselor has experience with the Super Student.

This is the student that has it all - perfect grades, extracurricular activities and an impressive number of community service hours. They might be the captain of the football team, president of the student council or class valedictorian. Their future seems locked up - acceptance to their college of choice accompanied by a hefty scholarship package.

Counselors will tell you nothing is guaranteed.

College admission offices want strong students, but they don't expect every applicant to have a 4.0 grade-point average and a perfect 36 on the ACT. Academics definitely are important, but colleges also want students who have heart, enthusiasm and a desire to succeed, meaning even the Super Student might not make the final cut. One way students can demonstrate their passion is through extracurricular activities.

Almost every high school in the United States offers extracurricular activities, such as music, academic clubs and sports. Extracurricular activities play multiple roles for students - they promote teamwork, encourage individual responsibility and establish school and community spirit.


Extracurricular activities also enhance college applications. According to a 2003 study by Child Trends researchers, teens who consistently participated in extracurricular activities from eighth through 12th grade were 70 percent more likely to attend college. This information is similar to a 1992 study from the National Center for Education Statistics, where the percentage of extracurricular-involved students planning to earn a bachelor's degree or higher outnumbered the students who weren't involved in activities - 68.2 percent compared to 48.2 percent. However, the research doesn't suggest students run out and join every club and activity available in their school and community.

Admission officers don't have a checklist of requirements when it comes to extracurriculars, and it isn't about "doing it all." They would rather see a person's individuality and commitment. Still, students need to explore the possibilities before they find something in which they really excel or truly enjoy. And that's fine. In fact, it's encouraged.

Colleges won't look down on someone who sampled six activities his freshmen year of high school and dropped half at the start of 10th grade. Likewise, they won't raise the red flag when the show choir suddenly appears on an applicant's form their senior year. People change. Interests change.

ACT's college planning checklist suggests students join or continue at least one extracurricular activity each year of high school. Again, this does not mean the same activity from year to year, as circumstances can change. I knew a young man who played basketball since he was 10. The autumn before his junior year, he broke his leg, benching him for most of the basketball season. Bored without his regular after-school practices, he sat in on a friend's improvisational acting meeting. Intrigued with the spontaneous dialogue, he began participating, eventually performing in that year's state high school improvisational competition.

However, practices for basketball and improvisational acting overlapped one another. He couldn't do both. So he made the choice his senior year to leave basketball in favor of the high school's theater arts group. He said it was the best decision. He later studied theater in college, helping form an improvisational comedy troupe that toured throughout the Midwest. He graduated last winter as a theater arts major and with several acting credits to his name.

Extracurricular activities open the door to many possibilities. Don't be afraid to explore them, but don't take on too much, either. At the end of the day, when it comes to extracurricular activities and college admissions, choose quality over quantity.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. Have a question you want answered in a future column? E-mail Rose at

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