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"Will This Look Good ... ?" [What did you do for the sake of applications (ONLY)?]

Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone Posts: 2,605CC Admissions Expert Senior Member
edited April 2010 in College Admissions
I write the "Ask the Dean" column for College Confidential, and I wish I had a nickel for each time someone has asked me, "If I [join this team, found this club, launch this magazine, etc.], how will it look to college admission officials?

Occasionally, I think that the student is asking this because he or she really wants to do the activity in question but is fearful that the college folks may frown on the choice (e.g., "How will it look if I drop out of the school orchestra to play in a reggae band that rehearses at the same time?").

But, more commonly, I get the vibe that these questions are submitted by students who will pursue the new endeavor exclusively--or at least primarily--for the purposes of college-application fodder. There was one girl, for instance, who said that she loved tutoring at an inner-city elementary school through her high school Key Club, but she had been warned by an older friend that it looked "too boring" on applications. The friend was urging her to instead create her own community service club from scratch, even if it meant giving up the project she liked so much.

So here are a few questions:

If you are a current or recent college student (or a high school senior) ...

Did you undertake any extracurricular endeavor ONLY (or mostly) because you thought it would impress admission committees? If so, what was it?

With hindsight, are you glad or sorry that you did it? Why?


(Parents, feel free to chime in, too, especially if you urged a child to take a particular path largely because of its admission-decision potential. How did it work out?)
Post edited by Sally_Rubenstone on
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Replies to: "Will This Look Good ... ?" [What did you do for the sake of applications (ONLY)?]

  • nyyankees2012nyyankees2012 Posts: 319Registered User Member
    I honestly never did such things. I did what I was interested in and was still successful in college admissions. But since I've graduated high school I've seen the "I'm doing this activity because it looks good for college applications" attitude come to dominate. It's unfortunate, but it is what it is. I think some of it has to do with where you grow up.
  • ArtemisDeaArtemisDea Posts: 643Registered User Member
    I participated in Yale Model United Nations solely for applications. I was offered a spot because of my previous involvement with the History Dept at my school, so I just said "sure" and decided to tag along. I think it was the right decision because I otherwise would've just spent that time in class (ie not contributing anything to my apps or resume). I went to two days of the program and then came down with a severe case of the stomach flu so I spent the remaining 2 days vomiting in the hotel and feeling miserable. Actually, though, I think it was a wonderful experience because:
    a) I got to write it on my application
    b) Being horribly ill in the hotel was MUCH better than being horribly ill in our health center (I'm a boarder at a boarding school) because I was left alone to sleep, vomit, watch TV, and drink ginger ale in peace without the nurses there bothering me.
    c) My partner was excellent at YMUN and so we won "Honorable Mention Best Delegate" for our section. I put this on my application along with my actual participation in the program. (I technically missed a day and a half of the program)

    This is the only instance where I did something only for applications. All of my other ECs were from activities that I genuinely wanted to participate in, regardless of how they would look for admissions. For me, the thought of adding YMUN to my application is what swayed me to try something new and give it a shot rather than just go to class and opt out of the trip.

    *edit (location: New England college prep boarding school)
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone Posts: 2,605CC Admissions Expert Senior Member
    I think some of it has to do with where you grow up


    I agree that the "Where" factor can be big ... and also the "When." I grew up in a Philadelphia suburb where I suspect that there is a lot of admissions angst now that didn't exist in my day, four decades ago. I went to a private high school. A huge chunk of the class enrolled in Ivies and other so-called "elite" colleges, yet I really don't think that anyone undertook a single activity ... or even chose any particular class ... primarily for application purposes. I doubt that this is true today, either in the community or in the school.

    For those of you who answer this question and say that you pursued various endeavors for their admissions potential, it would be interesting to know where you live, if you're willing to say so.
  • GofygureGofygure Posts: 56Registered User Junior Member
    I will admit that I stuck with one of my clubs primarily because of college applications- I had already devoted four years to it and didn't want my application to show me dropping it in senior year. However, I have never joined an EC with only university in mind. Where I come from, most of the better students head to the University of Washington or other Northwest universities, so competitive EC's aren't a big deal. If there is a club that kids join mainly for resume padding, it's NHS.
  • R124687R124687 Posts: 1,513Registered User Senior Member
    My D is the OPPOSITE, and it's SO going to work against her. She totally hides her light under a basket. I said "Did you make sure to use the words STATE CHAMPIONS?" She says, well...it was a team effort, not individual, I don't really even think it's important.

    I said ... "Did you explain WHY you had one semester with less than stellar grades...it's a valid explanation that you moved schools midyear". She said "No, others went through more and their grades didn't suffer".

    She later told me..."Oh, I think I forgot to add National Merit Semifinalist" (but she did get that added before submitting).

    I said "Did you just put drama as an EC or did you write that you play the lead?" She says "No one cares about that".

    Whereas her peers are out stalking every possible opportunity, creating random clubs so they can be president, trying to publish inane data referencing topics in which they're not really interested, in barely recognizable publications JUST to get a line on a resume.

    But...let's face it. It works a LOT of the time. The TRULY passionate, bright kid who doesn't "game" they system gets looked over. Unfortunately, in many ways rightly so. Your application has to do the talking FOR you. One shouldn't MAKE UP things, but MAKING opportunities...that's another story. That CAN show initiative. But then...people trying to make something from nothing CAN end up in jail someday (cough cough Madoff cough cough).
  • dzhou92dzhou92 Posts: 29Registered User New Member
    I never was a fig fan of community service, but ended up doing it so I could fill up the volunteer aspect of my resume. Nothing I minded, I just had a hard time working up to do volunteer work.. :\

    I'd probably do humanitarian work anyways, but I think that resume padding gave me the extra incentive to go and act
  • revelationsrevelations Posts: 46Registered User Junior Member
    Even as a pre-med student now, I still think that the competition at my (public) high school was more intense than anything I've ever seen -- in terms of activities simply for applications. Most of this was at our guidance counselor's encouragement.

    I did the honors societies (there were tons of them in addition to NHS, for things like art, music, tech, english, ss), but I hated them. There was no substance, just a bunch of other kids like me who made the requirements and thought it would be helpful.

    The sad thing is there are still things I do today just to keep up with other premed students, like our undergrad student medical association. It offers absolutely no function other than as fuel to "up the ante" on other students. The competitiveness is really disheartening.
  • rymdrymd Posts: 1,055- Member
    I really hate resume padders. Its so obvious when some people run for president or do a wide array of random, "good looking," activities, they're only doing it to put on their CV/applications and don't actually have a true interest in it.
    Though there may be good in it as a result, such as someone finding a hidden passion, the intent overall saddens me. The dirty nature of competition is sick.
    Resume padding is definitely different from trying new things though. There's a very fine line between being forced to participate in something by your parents or being peer pressured into participating in an activity, but then adding it on your resume if you've achieved something, vs participating in an activity JUST to put on your resume.
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone Posts: 2,605CC Admissions Expert Senior Member
    I did the honors societies (there were tons of them in addition to NHS, for things like art, music, tech, english, ss), but I hated them. There was no substance, just a bunch of other kids like me who made the requirements and thought it would be helpful.

    If you haven't seen it already, you might be interested in this article from "The Choice" (New York Times admissions blog): If Everyone Is in an Honor Society, Has the Honor Been Cheapened? - The Choice Blog - NYTimes.com
  • soozievtsoozievt Posts: 29,294Registered User, ! Senior Member
    I'm just a parent. The concept of doing an activity to "look good for college" never hit me until I found CC when my oldest child was starting her junior year of HS. This concept was foreign to my two kids' experiences. My kids were extremely active in extracurricular endeavors due to deep seated interest in these activities, most of which they got interested in well before HS. The idea of picking something to look good for college never arose in their thinking. The only thing they ever did related to "getting into college" was to do well academically (though even with that endeavor, they like to do well and set high standards for themselves). But when it came to activities, they did them because they loved them. I feel with 100% certainty that had they never applied to college, they would have been immersed in the same activities anyway. In fact, many of these continued into their college years as they didn't want to give them up.

    They grew up in a rural area attending a public high school. This way of thinking of what you need to do to look good for college was not prevalent at all at their school. They did not compete with other students either (for example, nobody discussed SATs, class rank, vying for val.....even though one of my kids did end up as val) and so on.

    I recall visiting a friend of mine whose kids attended a well regarded private school in another state and my oldest was a senior in HS at the time and the friend said to me, "now that your D's apps are all filed, is she gonna bother with ski team this year?" and I felt aghast at that notion. That never occurred to me. Of course she was gonna participate! She loved it with a passion (skied competitively all through college in fact and while she is now in grad school, today she is home visiting and helping out with her old high school's ski race in fact!).

    I also recall a teacher at the HS (not my oldest D's own teacher) who made a nasty remark to her that "all the kids in the Student Senate are in it for their college app resumes" and my D was very insulted as a member for four years, and in fact, one year, wasn't elected to the Senate and served on it anyway and was a founder of two initiatives, one of which she led for two years to get a new policy for the school and all the way to the school board where she presented the new policy she had developed and it was passed and has made a significant change at the school for those who came after she graduated. She cared about that issue and didn't personally benefit as it did not take effect until after she graduated. To have a teacher insinuate that students only put in this kind of time to look good for college apps felt like a huge insult when she was genuinely and passionately involved in various causes she initiated and cared about.

    In any case, I have read MANY posts on CC by students and even parents about picking activities to look good for college. I am not into that at all. I feel you should pursue your genuine interests regardless of college and be dedicated to them over time, achieve something, initiate, lead, etc. I don't think colleges care as much as to WHAT the activities are but more what you achieved, contributed, and the level of dedication over time, which should be significant. When our kids were little, they were exposed to many things, and these activities kept mushrooming when they got older. At that age, who was thinking of college? But their HS endeavors all started very young. One of my kids' EC activities even turned into her college major and career!

    I agree that some of this attitude of doing things for the sake of apps is a product of where you live to some measure. I just did not observe it where we live when our kids were in HS but I observe it a lot on CC. Also, we never suggested an EC activity for our kids to do or made them do any of them. The opposite was true. They loved a lot of things and pushed us to let them do them all. I can't see making a kid do an EC, but apparently some do that.
  • ChoklitRainChoklitRain Posts: 2,625- Senior Member
    I didn't start doing anything because of college. I did stuff I wanted to do. But I probably stuck with my activities and worked hard at them partly because I knew colleges would be looking for achievement in those activities. So in the absence of college admissions, I probably would have done the same three or four things, but less diligently.
  • Senior0991Senior0991 Posts: 2,380Registered User Senior Member
    I wasn't a resume padder, thanks to the encouragement of one of my HS teachers who's words are pretty much my guidance in life even now, three years later. I think yeah I would have been better off in the college admissions process had I done more activities, but I just didn't feel the urge to. I actually started joining things and becoming more committed after I submitted my apps (2nd semester senior = more free time) when other people probably start falling out of their ECs a bit (at least at my HS).

    I think my main problem came when I tried to write my primary college essay about this topic. I definitely didn't really focus much on the problem (in fear of being overly critical) and spent most of the essay saying my solution. But I guess still I came off in the wrong light somehow. I assume this because I had two statistical matches-safeties that waitlisted me, and my essay is really the only legitimate reason I can think for this. Whatever, I guess being mature really doesn't count for much these days in the admissions process.
  • newest newbnewest newb Posts: 751- Member
    While a noble and interesting thread effort, I predict that it will not achieve the desired result.

    Most people who will post in this thread will say (either truthfully or, less often, merely claim) that they never did any sort of "resume padding, doing things for college, etc." We see this in every single post that precedes mine.

    People who do indeed partake in activities primarily to boost their application chances are going to avoid posting their "confessions" in this thread. Why? It's shameful, clearly, and the setup in this thread clearly paints it more like that. Who would admit to it, even if it were true?

    The same people who try to sneakily build up their resumes so that they look impressive to anyone (whether that be colleges, employers, society, whomever) are also the same people who would avoid publicly admitting to doing so.

    Unfortunate, but probably true. People with less than stellar character traits tend to have that quality in multiple aspects of their persona.


    Perhaps what could be done instead or as a separate project is to compile all of the substantial threads created that are perfect examples of wannabe high-achievers trying to figure out if Doing/Starting/Joining/Submitting XYZ will "look good/boost my chances/get me into Harvard." The number of cases on this website is astronomical and certainly some worthy examples to examine are easy to find.
  • glassesarechicglassesarechic Posts: 5,481Registered User Senior Member
    I think some of the worst resume padding comes from the schools somewhere between the poverty stricken inner-city and the private Northeast elites. My school is a middle-range public that fluctuates between the tail end of USNWR's ranking of best high schools and off the list altogether. We have a halfway decent IB program and usually send one or two kids (out of 2500, with a senior IB class of 100-120) to Ivies, but everyone seems to think that they're going to be the ones going to Harvard. Resume padding is intense, with everyone starting useless community service clubs that overlap with every other community service club, splitting the student body among hundreds of activities and leaving all of them virtually inactive. More intense activities like Debate are largely ignored because there is an enormous time commitment and a steep learning curve compared to starting a John Hughes film club, etc.

    I think we're a victim of the adage "a little knowledge is worse than none." People read one article in the local paper carved from a much-better researched NYTimes or WSJ article and think "extracurriculars!" More often than not, the kids that are most successful in admissions are largely focused on school and have one community service extracurricular and one related to their future career (art, Science Olympiad, HOSA, debate), but students and their parents somehow ignore this fact, I think because they want to find the easy way out--joining 5 clubs seems the easy alternative to buckling down on schoolwork and getting the A. The anecdotes of returning students who swear that their ECs got them into UNC, VT, Northwestern, etc (notice that none of these include the Ivy acceptances I was talking about) probably do little to qualm the EC-frenzy.
  • CountingDownCountingDown Posts: 10,480Registered User Senior Member
    There was a reason neither of my kids joined honor societies...they perceived them as resume padding. Neither went out and started non-profits or clubs, either. They both focused on activities they enjoyed, and did them well.

    I'd suspect that in some cases, the motivation to participate in an activity begins as sincere, but the end goal ("this will help with college") gets in the way of the higher purpose. I've also had first-hand reports of kids asking to join an activity because the kid's parents thought it would be good for the college app, in the name of being "well-rounded".
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