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Stop Building a Resume!

By Robert LeVine

“What extracurricular activities do I need to get into a top school?”

Um … it doesn’t work that way. If it did, I would write a book with checklists about building a resume for college, and I’d become an instant millionaire.

Yet we always hear what you’re “supposed” to do. Go to a summer program at a prestigious university (which is usually counter-productive for admissions purposes). Do a personal project (which often looks like a manufactured effort). Start a charity (which is a red flag because it requires the assistance of adults).

This may seem controversial, but I am so tired of young people acting like they’re going to change the world because they did something while collecting required community service hours. If you’re actually going to change the world, you would have already started changing the world. Ask me about our student who – at age 11 – started an information campaign about human trafficking that led to a shelter for emancipated sex slaves. Before she graduated high school, they had saved and rehabilitated over 50 girls who had been kidnapped, enslaved and used.

And you think that serving food once a week for a few months makes you a world-changer?

As another example, have you ever heard of Greta Thunberg? She started trying to change the world at age 15. I doubt that her original inspiration for speaking out about climate change was to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, but it happened.

Stop focusing on building a resume. Build a person. Do your best, be your best, and the resume will develop organically.

No, there is no extracurricular checklist for college success. However, there are some “minimums” if you wish to impress admissions representatives.

First, somehow, somewhere, have some leadership on your resume. In reviewing a list of activities, our eyes naturally search for words like “President” and “Founder.” Even the title “Vice President” works pretty well (being “second” certainly did not hurt my application to Harvard). In the uber-competitive world of college admissions, the best candidates have leadership positions. You should too.

Second, perform some meaningful community service. That should not be hard to achieve. After all, students are usually required by curriculum or scholarship opportunities to perform a certain number of service hours. But can you imagine reading an applicant’s resume that does not demonstrate any form of philanthropy? Just do it.

Third – and this is something that many people neglect – use your body, not just your mind. Whether it’s competitive athletics, club sports, an exercise regime or dog walking, do something physical. Why is this important? Not only does a healthy body lead to a healthy mind, but the universities have identified that those who are physically active during college donate three times more money as alumni than those who are not physically active. Hmm …

So what should you do? Do whatever you want, but do it well. Yes, be active and impactful in your school clubs and outside group activities, but definitely do YOUR thing. In our experience, the students who achieve the best success in admissions have one consistent attribute: they are “do-ers.” Recognize what you already enjoy doing, and do more of that. Go hard, go deep, be great.

Now here is some important advice for parents. No helicoptering. No Tiger Moms. Pulling and pushing your child does not develop a proactive mindset. Don’t tell them what to do.

Show them what to do.

As an adult, be a role model, not a dictator. Even more than what we say, what we do trains young people. They copy our behaviors, good and bad. Be good. Be happy, healthy, kind and productive. Are you serving the community? Are you involved in any organizations? Are you following a healthy lifestyle?

Perhaps, you have heard the phrase “Physician, Heal Thyself.” Or maybe you prefer “Be the Change.” If you aren’t that kind of person, why do you expect your child to understand those values? Because you say so? No, we all have to walk the walk.

Please, stop trying to navigate a path to success. If you want to be truly great, when do you want to begin?

We recommend starting now. This day. This minute. This moment. Now.

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit www.universitycoa.com

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