Choosing Extracurricular Activities
Contributed by Ronald F. Bernard
Students frequently call upon their high school counselors in desperate search of insight, wisdom and, ultimately, enlightenment. OR - alternatively - we counselors would prefer that that be the situation, especially when these young people are in the process of choosing extracurricular activities. (You know, those are the endeavors outside the classroom that make parents proud and contribute to the graying of coaches.)
It seems to me that, far too often, what should be instructive and constructive recreation becomes instead an exercise for the high school student aimed at satisfying her perception of an ever widening college admissions performance maw, i.e. the perceived notion that First Choice University (FRU) is going to require evidence of world class well roundedness in order for a student to be among the select few who are both accepted and receive financial incentives to attend.
So, let's for a moment discuss this topic of choosing extracurricular activities from both the college admissions perspective, and from what I would refer to as the healthy student developmental side, better said, what's best for the student herself.
Having spoken with dozens of college officers over the years, I have come away with the overwhelming impression that the well-rounded student is not what admissions people are looking for. What they want is a well-rounded student body. That is, a group of students each with at least one well developed skill that will contribute to the vitality of campus life.
It is quite clear to me that a student who demonstrates to a college admissions officer at a campus with a vacancy in the marching band that she can play the clarinet superbly is going to be recruited ahead of, and be granted a better financial offer than, a student who has participated in six different extracurricular activities in high school developing none of them to any depth.
There are a few rules that I normally ask students to consider when choosing extracurricular activities. These rules are not always popular, but, I am confident, lead not only to a better high school experience, but also to greater opportunities at FRU.
RULE ONE: The student should never choose an activity that is going to take away from the primary reason he is attending high school in the first place, that is, to benefit to the fullest extent possible from the classroom experience. A student of high school age should be getting at least nine hours of sound sleep each night. Some students need more. If the student is depending on Starbucks to stay awake in the classroom that is an indication that the student may be running a sleep or nutrition related deficit.
RULE TWO: The student should consider long and hard whether he wants to participate in any activity that clearly endangers him. If the activity subjects the student to the possibility of permanent injury, serious consideration is required. Counselors realize that high school students on some level are invested with a concept of personal invincibility. And, I would be the last to forbid dangerous fun. However, that does not prevent me from sending up a flag from the counselor's office.
RULE THREE: The activity or activities that the student participates in should be those that will either develop a life enriching skill (public speaking, music, social sport), ideally combined with an actual interest or affection for the endeavor.
A high school career should be navigated in such a way so as to:
a) Satisfy natural curiosities through intellectual effort and achievement (How about mastering algebra, science and English communication);
b) Develop socially through activities that invite people to work and play cooperatively in a way that is not harmful to body or mind;
c) Develop one or two life enhancing skills in depth (music, social sport, speech, leadership); and,
d) Keep everything in balance from the standpoint of proper rest and nutrition.
I recently overheard the following in a college admissions office: "Too many of our freshman, especially our young men, are arriving on our campus as damaged goods."
I believe that parents and counselors should encourage high school students to focus on developing the kinds of skills that prepare them to greet their futures with confidence and enthusiasm.
After all, for them, things are just getting underway.