“What is important is that students select activities that are truly meaningful to them and that they really get involved with them,” reads UCLA’s Admissions website. “We look for long-standing dedication and significant time commitment to an activity, and we notice students’ progression to positions of leadership or recognition of achievement.”
Some students keep what colleges like UCLA look for in mind as they plan their involvement in school clubs, and some even exaggerate the importance of their participation to boost chances of college admission.
Last year’s Leading Business Visionaries Club only ever held two meetings. It had grown out of the previous year’s Future Business Leaders of America Club, which had held meetings that “ended, like, after two minutes,” club member Kevin Ho ’14 said.
Because Leading Business Visionaries had done so little, Ho didn’t recall that he had been in some kind of business club during his senior year until he was reminded of Leading Business Visionaries by name.
“We were all so busy with college apps, it didn’t happen,” said Ho, who added that fellow club leaders talked about wanting to run the club solely for their college applications. At least three of them ended up including their involvement on their extracurricular activity lists, and Ho said he might have done so, too, if he had applied to business school.
The heavy student interest in becoming club founders or leaders led to the participation of 66 clubs in Activities Fair last month.
With so many clubs, deans have had to find ways to make each student’s participation in extra-curricular activities distinct.
“Without being dismissive of things like being captain of something or president of something or whatever, that isn’t the most significant thing that a kid can do — it’s really about the kind of impact the kid has had,” Dean Beth Slattery said. “So we really try to suss out for our letters of recommendation, the deans’ letters, what has been the impact, and that, I think, is how colleges distinguish.”
There is a vast difference in the activity levels of various clubs at Harvard-Westlake.
For three years, Soma Club founder Diana Kim ’15 has been taking weekly trips to disability centers and organizing concerts to raise money to buy wheelchairs. Meanwhile, clubs like Leading Business Visionaries petered out soon after they were founded.
As part of an increase in focus on school clubs, Prefect Council started providing some of the clubs grants last year. Prefects also contacted various club leaders to check whether they were continuing their activities, Head Prefect Sarah Winshel ’15 said.
“This year we’re definitely going to try to inspire people and motivate people and give them the actual practical tools they need to continue their clubs, even if it’s a simple follow-up to see ‘how’s this going,’” Winshel said. “If they make the conscious decision to not follow up with a club that’s totally fine, but we just want them to know that they have support if they do want to pursue it but don’t feel like they have the tools to do so.”
Kim understands why college prospects might influence students’ efforts to take leadership roles in clubs, but believes they should be rooted in actual interest. In addition to running Soma Club, she co-leads Science and Outreach Club, which plans monthly trips to a community center to teach children science through experiments, and participates in two other clubs, Robotics and the blog H-W Voices.
Charles du Manoir ’15, who like Ho is interested in business and founded the Entrepreneurship Club, thinks deans recognize the motivations behind each student’s involvement in clubs, while admissions officers may not. He has worked with the club to start a natural ginger company and organizing the development of apps for Harvard-Westlake.
“Deans can tell 100 percent,” du Manoir said. “The deans know the students best.”
Slattery said that deans can’t necessarily tell when students’ clubs aren’t meeting anymore.
“We don’t necessarily know who’s meeting during activities period or whatever,” Slattery said. “But if a kid tells me that they spend more than an hour a week in their club, I will ask them, ‘So, how often do you guys meet?’”
Slattery said she remembers only one student she believed exaggerated his involvement.
Slattery knew the student was involved in Boy Scouts, but Slattery couldn’t be sure whether he was an Eagle Scout, as he said he was.
“You know, you have no way of verifying, and I wasn’t going to actually challenge it,” Slattery said. “But the person got in some place that was somewhat unexpected, and I heard from the admission officer about all of their leadership and mentioning Eagle Scouts. But again, it’s not one of those things where I was going to say to them, ‘I don’t really think he did all of that.’ That’s probably the only time, and it was literally my first year, like 10 years ago.”
Ho said he doesn’t think the deans could tell that Leading Business Visionaries Club was no longer meeting.
Winshel thinks of clubs as more of a way to enrich one’s life than a way to show one’s interest in certain fields or boost one’s college application.
“In my speech [during Opening Convocation] I was talking about finding your own sunshine,” Winshel said. “I think that clubs are one of the primary ways of doing that … I have honestly never thought of [college admissions] as an incentive. I personally don’t think about college that much.”
The Leading Business Visionaries founder thought differently.
“Only fun clubs like Breaking Bad Club are not for college,” Ho said. “Most [things] Harvard-Westlake kids do are for college.”