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Monday, December 1, 2014

But It Won't Look Good On My College Application (Or Resume)!?!?

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I'm going to be writing this article for high school students but college students can still take a lot from it if they replace the discussion about a college application with a resume. Some of the examples won't fit perfectly but the two situations are very similar. Try to find the links yourself.

It's one of the most irritating sentences I hear from high school students. It's certainly not the students fault. They're constantly lied to about this issue. Every time I hear a student say, “but that won't look good on my college application,” I can't help but wonder where all the honest people in there life are. It's painful for me to think about.

People are scared to tell you what I'm about to tell you. Your teachers and guidance counselors will constantly tell you the exact opposite of this. Most of the time they're not intentionally lying to you. They've constantly been subjected to the same marketing material as you have been forced to see.

Forget About Your College Application!

Yes. Quit worrying so much about your college application. Why am I saying something this crazy?

Looking Good Is Easy

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If you want to look good on your college application then it's easy. You do not have to invest all of your free time into extra curricular activities. You don't have to volunteer 10 hours a week. You don't have to kick butt in sports. You don't have to learn everything from school. You just have to look good.

Your college application is going to be competing with thousands of other students. This may sound depressing but you will probably not be able to stand out from it in any competitive college. Guess what? Only a tiny percentage of college applications get special treatment from how good they are. That special treatment is not always only good special treatment.

A ridiculous percentage of students downright lie on their college applications. College applications that look too good sometimes even get confirmation calls from the college to the listed organizations that you claim to be associated with. (Did you really volunteer there 10 hours a week? They may check that.)

Of course, many lies on a college application never get caught. (No! Don't do it. That's not my point. I'm getting to that.)

That being said, another ridiculous percentage of students don't directly lie on their college applications. They just fluff up their numbers a hair. Maybe they even have connections with people that can vouch for actual lies. These kind of lies can virtually never be proven. (If a friend at the volunteer organization claims it's true then it might as well be true. The colleges aren't hiring professional investigators. They're just making calls.)

On paper, these people look fantastic. I'm going to start by assuming you don't want to lie. If you don't plan on lying on your college application, how do you plan on trying to compete with people that will?

College applications are paper with words on it. Do not make your decisions based on something this stupid because you are forcing yourself into a game you're going to lose.

Real Impact

Living your life for a college application is not necessarily a good thing.

I remember some students from high school that did this. They spent hours studying a night. They went to their sport's practices and games. They worked out to improve for their sport. They volunteered to look like they cared more about other people. They kissed the butts of teachers when they had good college connections.

It takes a whole lot of discipline to do well at this. I'm not going to fault you if you're good at this. While I question how helpful the goal is, it's definitely a skill worth having. It's not that simple though. I can't help but wonder how much of an impact these people could have if they actually focused their energy on a few things they really cared about.

That being said, most people aren't even good at this lifestyle. (I'm certainly not.)

Spreading yourself too thin is not a good thing. It's better to spent a large portion of your time doing a few specific things you care about. If you play a sport then you'll learn more, do more, and impress more by focusing on that sport. If you volunteer then you'll learn more, impact more, and impress more by focusing on that volunteering.

Imagine the college interview comparison between the people living for their college application and the people focusing their energy.

Every competitive college hears hundreds of students playing this balancing act. They say they care about animals so they volunteer at a shelter but they also care about sports and they also care about their grades and they also care about math club and they also care about debate. Doesn't that sound the slightest bit disingenuous to claim? After hearing it a few hundred times, any interviewer would agree.

Compare that to someone saying, I really care about this one or two things for these reasons.

Focus is the difference between productivity and aesthetics. For example, volunteering 2 hours a week does not offer a fifth of the value of volunteering 10 hours a week. Why not? Because there is a learning curve to everything. Someone that volunteers for 10 hours a week learns a ton more than someone just showing up a couple hours. They're more skilled at it because they're willing to invest the time. Of course, training a volunteer costs the organization resources too. A person that doesn't volunteer enough hours could actually end up costing more than they're providing.

Is looking good on your college application worth doing worse for the world?

Standing Out On A Different Platform

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Competing with other students against their college application is a pointless pursuit when there are so many better things to compete with.

If you want to get into a top college, then you have tons of options.

Top academic colleges sometimes are looking to get athletes. Sometimes, you'll get farther focusing on sports.

If you can write an awesome and notable essay then you're instantly competitive for good colleges. As long as you're just qualified enough academically, a good essay can pull you into an interview. (Then, of course, you need that winning smile.)

Top colleges love people that excel in particular areas in general. It's better to be the best yo-yo champion in the world with no other extracurricular activities than an average athlete, volunteer, and debate club participant.

Maybe you could focus your energy on getting close to an influential person who's connected with the college you want to get into. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise but one influential person can easily push your application over the edge.

Don't keep worrying about your college application. There are much better ways that you can try and compete.

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