THE BRIDGE TO COLLEGE
Building a College Resume
American universities – particularly those that use the holistic method of evaluation – want to see more than academic performance. They also value non-academic pursuits, such as extracurricular activities, clubs, athletics, performing arts, hobbies, community service and work. In fact, the most selective colleges give a grade to non-academic activities in the same way (and with the same weight) they grade academic performance and potential.
Many clients ask “what should I do to improve my chances of admission?” The answer is “more,” but “more” does not necessarily mean quantity. Colleges are looking for achievement, effort and responsibility, not just participation. They want depth, not breadth. You cannot check a box to improve your chances at selective colleges.
As a general rule, students should put effort into three main areas: contribution inside the high school, effort outside the high school, and originality.
Contribution inside your high school helps a college predict that you will contribute inside their college. Be a vital contributor and leader within your high school.
Effort outside of high school means doing things that high school doesn’t feed to you. Whether athletics, musical performance, or even writing underground comic books, do something beyond the activities and clubs your high school lay at your feet. In doing so, remember to go far, not just deep. Colleges evaluate activities geographically – the further you make an impact, the better – so move beyond your local area. Continue to do what you do (show depth and length of time), but alter the trajectory to contribute in more places. Enlist others to help you in other jurisdictions. Teach what you have learned. If you need a hint on how to contribute worldwide, here’s one: the Internet.
Originality is often lacking in applicant resumes. Try to come up with something new. Improve upon the state-of-the-art. Don’t just repeat what you’ve seen or done; innovation is more impressive than replication. If you don’t know how to be original, brainstorm with friends, families, educators or consultants. Don’t look for easy answers which have likely been found by hundreds of your predecessors. Instead, identify the impossible and then solve it.
Keep this in mind: starting an official organization – a charitable organization, corporation, or other formal entity – suggests that you have had significant help from a parent. You don’t need to create a corporation or foundation to change the world, but if you do, understand that someone may read your achievement as something that was actually done by an adult. In most cases, a student is not old enough to create a legal entity without adult assistance. Don’t undercut your efforts by doing something that appears impressive but could indicate you were not really the driver.
There is no perfect path toward college acceptance. Colleges do not want to see dozens of shallow activities. They want to see achievement, effort and originality, which can be in one area or a few. However, there is one “must do”: try to incorporate some form of athletics into your life. It can be individual exercise or a team sport, competitive or casual, whatever you like. But colleges prefer applicants to be physically active. Why? One reason is that “a healthy body leads to a healthy mind.” A second reason (which is possibly more important) is that colleges have recognized that those who are physically active donate money as alumni at a rate that is three times greater than those who are not physically active.
One final tip: keep a list of everything you do during high school (not just within your high school) and include as many facts as possible: dates, places, names, descriptions and stories. When it’s time to fill out your college applications, you may rush to complete the lists of academic honors and non-academic activities, and you will likely forget details or even entire areas of effort. The lists built into applications (no, colleges seldom request actual resumes) are critical to the selection process, so be sure to collect your information as it happens to retain the best data for future use.
When Baby Steps are the Hardest for Parents to TAKE
A bride sobbing as she leaves her home is a familiar motif to any Indian who has even a glancing acquaintance with Bollywood; the hero stands around awkwardly while the mother wails and clutches her daughter like she is the last life preserver on the Titanic. Melodrama, I always scoffed, until my daughter announced that because she had won some district competition at school, she would be attending the state conference for the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA).
After years of being the mom who marked a “yes” on almost every single “If you’d like to chaperone, tick here and send $5” box all through elementary school, I was now told firmly that she’d like to see this one through on her own. For three entire nights. In Orlando – a whole hour away from me. Make that two; this was during spring break and we all know what Interstate 4 traffic is like.
I immediately felt the pain of every sari-clad overacting auntie in any Hindi movie ever made and had to reach for my Prilosec. I mean, we’re the family that doesn’t even allow sleepovers. Other than a weekend trip to Miami during which my parents watched our daughters in our house, neither of my kids had never been away from both of us overnight.
I feigned happiness, but immediately texted her friend’s mother who was in a similar thinly-cloaked state of panic. How would they be up and ready by 7:30 a.m. with no one there to wake them up and make them brush their teeth and shower? What if they got lost on the way to their workshops? And the main worry of every desi mom everywhere: What if they got hungry? The horror of it.
At least these were the concerns I shared with others. Cursed by an overactive imagination fed by too much news, I imagined way worse. A deranged shooter who picks a hotel swarming with kids as a target. Human traffickers with hidden cameras and vans with no windows waiting in the back. Innocent children channel surfing and stumbling across things we didn’t want them to know for at least another ten years. I kept these dark thoughts to myself, not wanting to unhinge other parents.
“Let her go, I guess,” said my husband. “It will be good for her.”
Good for her, but what about ME? Outnumbered, I took her shopping for business attire, which by the way, doesn’t come in 13-year-old sizes. I stockpiled a bag with food. “You do realize they’ll be in a hotel, don’t you?” my husband asked as I tried to stuff a giant container of croissants into a tote bag.
On an intellectual level, I understand that proper parenting is setting things up so that your children can survive without you. “In the final analysis, it is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings,” wrote Ann Landers. I get it, Ann, I do. I understand that independence is the goal, and that from the first step they take on their wobbly chubby baby legs, they are learning to do something that doesn’t require their parents.
But knowing that didn’t stop me from hopping on hotels.com and booking a room (just for one night) in the vicinity of the hotel in which our daughter would stay. We wouldn’t bother her, I promised; she wouldn’t even know we were in Orlando. The comforting knowledge of that room – minutes away from where she would be – is what helped me put her on the bus one beautiful Friday morning. We texted back and forth all Friday and on Saturday, I heaved a sigh of relief as I saw the outline of her hotel down the road from ours.
I was as good as gold, and we did our own thing for the most part. When we did stop by on Sunday morning to see her (just for a few minutes!), she seemed happy to see us, but waved goodbye just as cheerfully when she went off to have lunch with her friends. In the end, the kids did perfectly well. They took care of each other, made sure each of them reached their events on time and supported each other through wins and losses. They had a blast, and they never missed a meal. After she got back home at the end of the conference, she mused, “It’s weird how I’ve never done that before, but it felt so normal.”
I’m proud that even when we weren’t around, she behaved exactly as we’d have hoped. But still, there’s a twinge. A door cracked open briefly, and it was a glimpse into a future where being without us will be her new normal. I can shut that door for now, but not forever. Until then, I’ll sympathize with the Bollywood auntie, comfort myself with the thought that a little melodrama never hurt anyone, and ponder the words of the immortal Winnie the Pooh: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” Even if only for a weekend.
Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of www.YourEditingSolutions.com