Stick to What Matters Most

Jonah Brown, Assistant Director of Admissions

I’m entering my second year as a college admissions counselor at Transylvania.  Of all the things I’ve experienced in my first year, the most interesting has been the reading of applications.  Ten to fifteen pages to tell a life story.  Students pour their lives into these few pages – heartfelt essays, an uncomfortable examination of every grade they’ve every earned (or been punished with), statements of recommendation from teachers and counselors who may or may not actually know or like these students, and much more.  But one of the most telling aspects of the application is the page devoted to extra-curricular activities and community service. 

Here’s how I look at it – students can literally say anything about who they are, what they’ve accomplished, and what they care about.  But the most effective way to SHOW me these things is through their time.   I love that our application asks students to list all of their activities and programs of involvement, mainly because it also asks “How many hours did you spend each week?” That tiny little column is where I determine who the student really is.

Don’t let this discourage the over-involved to give up their clubs and groups entirely, and don’t let it force you to spend 25 hours in a 24-hour day trying to give equal time to everything you’re involved in.  Instead, the lesson should be simple – STICK TO WHAT MATTERS MOST.

Avoid the urge to sign up for 10 different school groups just for your college application.   When I was in high school, I was guilty of joining every group that sounded remotely interesting, but rarely got seriously involved in most of the clubs, (if I showed up at all).  It was easier to have my name on the roster, and simply take credit for the real hard work of  my fellow classmates.

If I could go back, I would much rather have lended my name as well as the lion share of my time to the two or three things that meant the most to me.  I was a band geek every day from 2-6.  I spent at least 10 hours a week in my church youth fellowship.  I went to every Spanish club meeting and community service project, and I was in the Student Council.  That was plenty.   I didn’t need to sign up for “Spanish National Honors Society, Students Against Daily Homework Assignments, Students for Pizza Hut Pizza Everyday, Beta Club, Fans of Beta Club, Beta Club Friends and Supporters of Richmond, and Guys who Played Playstation During Lunch” just so that I could say I’m involved in 50 different clubs.  This was neither interesting nor realistic.

The same rule should apply to volunteer work and community service.  I love seeing students who make time to give back to their community.  But you serve your community much better when your time is focused and concentrated on one or two efforts.  (Seriously, don’t be the guy or girl who goes from Habitat House to Habitat House, never lifting a hammer, but only contributing to morale by telling jokes to the cute guy/girl from your AP English class whose actually been working all day. No one likes that guy/girl.)  Think about a need or a problem in your community that you’d really like to improve, and pour your heart, body, soul and TIME into that.  You’ll feel better and you’ll have actually been effective with your time.

When you arrive at Transylvania (or whatever college you ultimately choose), you’ll have countless opportunities to get involved in a number of clubs and organizations, fraternities and sororities, academic study groups, and community service projects.  Resist the urge to join everything (even if you’re tempted with free pizza, free t-shirts, free keychains, free puppies…you get the point).   Instead, look for groups with causes that you are strongly passionate about, or clubs that will let you meet new people in areas you’ve never explored, or orgs that you know you’ll have fun with.  You’ll still be well-rounded, but with a narrowed focus.

When I read an application, I look for the student’s impact on those around them.  I look for their impact in their school and community.  I look for the impact that they hope to make when they get to college.  As you begin your college application, keep these questions in the front of your mind – “what kind of impact have I already made, and what kind of impact do I want to make next?”

– Jonah Brown
Assistant Director of Admissions

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