College admissions advisors, admissions officers and school counselors get many questions from high school students as to which extracurricular activities “matter” when applying to college.
Some activities can turn a student into a star, others are hobbies, and might stay that way well into adult life. But I don’t like to see pressure placed on a high school student to choose “the right extracurricular activities for college.” Let me illustrate this with an example.
Matawan, my New Jersey hometown, has had a “farm system” in youth football since time immemorial. The Huskies of Matawan Regional High School have had a winning tradition with seven state sectional titles in ten title games over the past 43 years. The Huskies have made their sectional playoffs 23 times to get a shot to play for those titles. Three Huskies alumni have played in the NFL, including James Jeffcoat, a two time Super Bowl champion and member of the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor.
Suppose that I meet a ninth grader, an ‘A’ student, who has come up through the farm system from Mites through Midgets, ages 7 through 14, and wants to be part of the Huskies tradition. He loves the game, but there are likely to be better players on the freshman team, let alone the junior varsity and the varsity. His parents love the game, too, but they also respect the coach’s decisions. His friends on the team say that he’s a good teammate, but will privately say that he’s not going to play very much. Football requires more ability and sacrifice than virtually any other extracurricular activity in the high school during the season, and requires participation in a second sport to remain in shape during the off season. My student’s second sport is winter and spring track, and while he’s good enough to help the team, he will not be the best at his events.
Some of the wisdom that passes for college admissions advice might tell this student to give up both sports, and concentrate on other extracurricular activities where he could stand out, especially if he wants to get into a selective college.
But extracurricular activities matter most when they mean so much to a person that he refuses to give up on them, no matter how talented or prominent he is. I would be telling this ninth grader to play on, as long as he stays healthy and in shape, maintains excellence in the classroom, remains a good teammate, and his parents approve.
It means a lot to many young men in Matawan to be part of a successful football tradition. Some will be hard workers who strive to perform above a coach’s expectations. Others expect to be a starter, and maybe play in college. Still others are happy to be part of the team with their friends, and that’s all that matters. It makes life in high school a lot more pleasant.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these reasons for playing football for the Matawan Huskies. A good college admissions essay could be written around any one of them. Not everyone has to be a leader or the best at something they enjoy. They only need to understand why they enjoy it.
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