Take off your college app glasses

“Join this club! It’ll look good on your college application, and you don’t even need to do anything!” one club president shouted from behind their club table during Activities Fair, the volume of their voice competing with the clamor, candy and chaos of all the other clubs lined up through the quad.

Of everything vying for my attention at the Activities Fair—flashy posters, baked goods, even Jensen Pak ’14 dressed up as a bowl of noodles for Junior Classical League—this declaration was what ensnared me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

The gimmick worked. The club’s signup sheet ran several pages, and though I’m sure some of those students were truly interested in what that club had to offer, there’s no denying that most of the signups were due to the club president’s college-friendly advertising.

Again, we had fallen into the trap of examining our lives through the lens of a college application, of participating in extracurricular activities simply because we think they will look good on our apps. I say “we” because I too signed up for this club, though I’ve been a member  since last year. I thought I’d broken free of such a prescription.

I’ve learned that dropping extracurriculars I don’t truly enjoy always ends up being a good choice, and often points me towards activities I do care about. When I decided to quit clarinet the day before ninth grade began, dropping any instrumental interest from my college app three years down the road, the space in my schedule allowed me to become a staff member of the Spectrum, which led me to the Chronicle.

Even though I now enjoy what I do outside of my academic curriculum, I’m still tempted to sign up for clubs like the unidentified one above and include them in a college application as if that will increase their value—even if they don’t belong there.

Just a few days before the Activities Fair, I had remarked, only semi-jokingly, “Long-distance relationships should count as an extracurricular.” My girlfriend probably didn’t appreciate her reduction to another meaningless detail on my future college app, but I couldn’t take the remark back.

Once again I was looking through that lens, thinking about my life not on its own terms but on how every last piece of it could be taken apart to prove my character and desirability to a college.

Leading our lives and plotting our extracurriculars for maximum appeal to colleges isn’t what they want from us. More importantly, it’s not what we should want from ourselves.

Quit the club that looks good on a college application still two years away. Take off the college app glasses that distort your vision. Consider stopping by the club that intrigued you but seemed to have no cachet whatsoever. If it truly interests you, that is cachet. Or, let’s go back to that club, the one from the beginning, the one that was advertised to you as looking great on your college application. So maybe you signed up for it for that reason, and maybe it really will raise the eyebrows of an admissions officer or two. That’s not the right reason to attend the club’s first meeting, but try it out anyway. Maybe you’ll end up liking it not for its college value but for its intrinsic value. And when you list it on your college application, how good it looks there won’t even cross your mind.

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