What a college really wants

What looks better for college? What will an admissions officer want to see? Is it better to do community service or have an internship? Should I continue with my volleyball club team or dedicate more time to something entrepreneurial because I will be applying to business programs? I’m too busy to visit colleges, I’m studying for the SAT. Wait, they obviously want AP and honors classes so I’m going to stretch myself to fit those in. But how about a president title? I’ll need to write a note down to run next year. Hmmm, what about summer? I wonder what kind of summer program looks best? Maybe a college class at Stanford?

Pause. Just. Pause.

Everything about the first paragraph is most likely everything you’ve already heard before in passing conversations, dinner parties with parents and online college admission forums. But it’s all wrong. We have got it wrong.

College admission is just the beginning. Just the beginning to the larger path that is life. The path that will be full of ups and downs, triumphs and failures, ah ha moments and inspiration, career changes and a turn of events. But we’ve decided, the world has decided, to view college admission as the end game. The golden ticket to define your future. And it’s completely wrong.

Approaching high school as a means to build an exhaustive list of extra curricular activities and advanced coursework that has little meaning to you beyond the fact that it will look good for college is not only unnecessary, but really, really depleting.

You rob yourself the opportunity to explore in high school and get to know the strengths and interests and foster talents that are in your DNA. The ironic thing is when you turn towards the activities that matter to you, no matter how popular or “good” you think they will look, the more authentic and stellar your range will be in a college application.

A good friend and colleague, David Reynaldo founder of College Zoom shared with my juniors the idea that a title means nothing to colleges. You’re president of the DECA club…so what? You’re captain of the soccer team…so what? The title means nothing until we peel back the curtain and see the depth, the commitment, the growth and unique qualities that make up the experiences within those activities.

The activities themselves don’t make a difference to colleges. They really don’t. But they should make a difference to YOU. They should get you ticking, get you excited, get you thinking, challenge you to grow in a skill set and explore.

So do me a favor. Actually, do yourself a favor and no one else but yourself, and ALLOW yourself to lean into your unique interests and strengths and see what happens. Open up wide and see the possibilities. Because when you stop looking outward for an acceptance, whether that be a college admission letter, a friend group in high school or a family member, something amazing happens. You look inward. And who knows what you’ll find when you allow yourself that chance. So what are you waiting for?

Final food for thought:

There are thousands of colleges worldwide. David also mentioned something I preach often, you can find a top ranked program within an institution that you have never heard of, or isn’t selective. Allow yourself to search colleges based off of your needs, your learning style, the program of interest, the social and community climate, and you’ll place yourself in a school that will support and match your strengths to only ENHANCE your skills.

Want some search ideas? Check out the following:

What if a liberal arts college is the perfect learning environment for you? Lake Forest College, Illinois

Published by Casey Barneson

Author of The College Wellness Guide. Beverly Hills High School College Counselor.

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