No awards - how common is this?

My daughter (rising senior) is a pretty typical well-rounded student with a mini-spike in political activism. (In a nutshell, 3.8 UW GPA, 35 ACT, and founder/president of her school’s ACLU club.) She’s filling out some applications for diversity fly-in programs (she’s half Japanese, so I’m not even sure that qualifies, but at least it might help show demonstrated interest) and several of the applications ask for a list of awards.

As far as I know, she hasn’t received any. She’s a member of Model UN, but never received an award for it. Her ACLU Club is very active, but again, no award. She’s a volunteer tutor on Sundays at the local library, but no award for that either. And she doesn’t play any sports. The only thing even resembling an award I can think of is that she has been playing piano since about 1st grade and has gotten a score of Superior at the annual piano ratings thing every year. (Not even sure what it’s called!)

Is her lack of any awards going to be considered a detriment? Was she supposed to be on the lookout for competitions she could enter so she could win a few?

What about stuff like national foreign language tests? AP scholar? School subject awards?

She will probably qualify for AP Scholar with Distinction (average score of at least 3.5 on all AP Exams taken, and scores of 3 or higher on five or more of these exams) once she gets the results of this year’s AP exams. (She has 2 5s on APs and took 3 more AP tests this year.)

What kind of foreign language tests grant awards? She took AP Japanese as a freshman since she had gone to Japanese Saturday school from Kindergarten through 6th grade. She’s a little rusty since she hasn’t really studied it much since 9th grade, but I’m sure she could prepare enough for a test.

I’m not familiar with school subject awards. What are those? She just takes her classes and gets a grade. I’m not sure any awards are given even for the best student in each class. Or is it something different?

My daughter’s school did an academic awards night every year where top students were recognized in the various subjects. The school also gave leadership awards based on various criteria. Teachers also made nominations for regional awards. They also had the kids do the state and national academic competitions. If your school doesn’t do any of that, maybe ask the guidance counselor to write a blurb about that in their letter of recommendation.

Usually the national language exams are in the spring so that shipped has sailed.

I wouldn’t worry too much about this though and just have your daughter focus on her strengths on the application.

Focus on what your D has done, not on what she hasn’t done.

Awards weren’t really a big thing at my high school either because it was so big with like 2,000 people. So I agree with the others on focusing on what she has done. The experience that she has gotten as well as the lessons she learned will speak for itself far more than any award or recognition she earned, which is only really a title.

Thanks for all the feedback. I was just a little worried that leaving a section blank would look bad. Hopefully NHS and AP Scholar with Distinction will make that bit look a little less empty.

Some schools, and it really isn’t necessarily tied to size, give out awards like participation trophies for elementary-school soccer. Other schools give out few. Some kids are interested in the sort of subjects that have many competitions they can pursue competing in, others not.

Big picture, every kid is also evaluated in the context of their school and community—if your kid goes to a high school that hands out trophies for first and second place in every single academic subject, plus a bunch of fuzzy “achievement” and “character” awards, and a ton of kids engage in and succeed in debate, science competitions, student government, etc., then your kid may be at a slight disadvantage. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

Good to know. I don’t think my D’s school gives out lots of participation trophies. At least I haven’t heard of my daughter or any of her friends getting one, and they’d be the ones to get one! (Her friends, anyway. :slight_smile: )

Something that could be worth looking into are scholarships – some schools have scholarships you can apply to by the time you are a senior and there are a bunch online as well. IMO that is something you can list on an application and it comes with money too! So better than just an award haha, and all you really have to do is submit the things that you have been doing and write an essay or two – something that she might later be able to reuse for college apps anyway. Worth looking into if you haven’t already.

I get the feeling that some parts of the US are way bigger into handing out academic awards for every little thing than others. Or maybe it’s individual by school rather than regional, but for example, it seemed like my nieces in Texas were always getting all sorts of awards for everything and my own kids in CA who are equally bright/ good students barely ever get recognized by their schools for anything.

Could be. We live in a relatively affluent well-educated area. Lots of kids taking tons of AP classes and getting straight As. I’m guessing if they gave out awards for everything, they’d wind up having to get everyone tons of awards - or the bar for receiving one would wind up being almost arbitrary.

If she’s not interested in competitions, she shouldn’t be looking for some just to add to her app. On the other hand, since you’re starting the search, a very helpful post by one of the forum’s long time posters will save you huge amounts of time and grief since it appears to apply to your daughter. It’s about how and where to look and how even excellent kids do best when they’re realistic about how their app fits in with the current field. Good luck.

Depending on where she’s doing the fly-in programs, diversity programs are usually for URM students, “underrepresented” minorities=African-American, Native-American, etc.

As a half-Japanese student, she would probably be considered as half “Asian”; students in this category are “overrepresented” in most colleges that are not in the midwest and south.
Make sure there are no “specifics” for those fly-in programs because it may appear as if she’s trying to “game” the system.

@“aunt bea” - we read and interpreted the original post differently. I assumed (maybe incorrectly?) that the daughter was half Japanese but that the other half was American Indian, black or hispanic - the races that most colleges consider URMs.

If the daughter was 1/2 URM (AI, black or hispanic), then being half Japanese wouldn’t necessarily mean she was considered Asian, right? But yes, I agree with the idea that if she’s not URM at all, only white and/or Asian, it would be a bit of a faux pas to apply for diversity fly in programs.

Some schools do consider Asian students for such programs, for example Wellesley ( and Vassar (

You should add that to the other thread asking for a list of schools which are seeking Asian students - that is very helpful to know.

Most of the schools are a bit ambiguous on this point. To the extent they list out races explicitly, they have all included Asian. I haven’t seen any say something like Asian, but not including Japanese, Chinese, or Korean - though there’s a chance that’s what they really mean. Some have said anyone who “self-identifies as a person of color” would qualify as well. She considers herself gender nonbinary, which is almost always asked on the applications, so that might also count. I’m not sure.

I wonder if maybe it would be a good idea to ask before applying. I wouldn’t want any of this to count against her.

@Silverkey, ^ This is why I said:

@milee30, absolutely agree.