Balancing Extracurriculars and Good Grades on Your College App

Colleges look for students who are successful yet challenge themselves, in and out of the classroom. Finding a middle ground can be hard.

When thinking about what it means to be a “well-balanced” high school student, I’m reminded of a montage from Wes Anderson’s 1998 film Rushmore, which follows the story of Max Fischer, a well-intentioned, yet misguided, fifteen year old.

The montage recounts Fischer’s extra-curricular activities, which include Editor-in-Chief and publisher of the Yankee Review, President of the French Club, Russian ambassador of the Model U.N., Vice President of the Stamp and Coin Club, Captain of the Debate Team, Manager of the lacrosse team, President of the Calligraphy Club, Founder of the Astronomy Society, and the list goes on.

Throughout all of this, the movie’s main character struggles to keep his grades above failing, always teetering on expulsion.

While this anecdote may seem extreme, and it is, the struggle for students to prioritize extra-curricular activities and schoolwork is a real one. Students can become shortsighted, putting more emphasis on some activities and not enough on others.

When it comes to academics, the formula is simple. Follow your interests and challenge yourself appropriately. There’s no sense in failing an Advanced Placement course just to have “AP” on your transcript. Still, a colleges do want to see that you’re challenging yourself, so if you think you could acquire a hard-earned B or C, then go for it.

When it comes to extracurricular activities, however, the right approach isn’t as apparent. Of course, colleges look for students to have passions and involvement in the community. For them, this will likely transfer to campus life and will prevent the student body from being comprised of undergrad hunkered down in their dorms playing “Call of Duty”.

Again, like with your transcripts, a balance needs to be struck. According to Conor Brosnan, M.Ed., a guidance counselor at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, Massachusetts, “Colleges are not overly impressed with twenty page long resumes because it means the applicant is not putting his full attention on any one passion. Colleges want to see that a student has and follows his interests.”

So unlike Max Fischer, you don’t want to be involved in as many clubs and sports as possible. Instead, select the ones about which you are most passionate and commit to them over the course of your high school career. If you want to be a part of the decision making that goes on at your school, join student government and stick with it. If community service is more your speed, make it a goal to help out at the local food pantry every month. Doing so will not only persuade the university of your ability to stay committed to your undertakings, but it will provide you with a sense that you can continue this trend after graduation.

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