When a college admissions officer evaluates your child’s college application, extracurricular activities will be given an approximate weight of 1/3 (2/3 going to academics). These figures will plug into the formula used by that particular college to rank your student. While 1/3 seems a bit insignificant, this is where students can really distinguish themselves from the pack.
In order to make a showing at a selective school or competitive scholarship, your student will have to be able to show that they pursued excellence and spent their life well. They can do this by demonstrating an exceptional commitment to an activity or cause, by excelling artistically or intellectually, by doing something out of the ordinary or overcoming a major obstacle. Colleges aren’t looking for cookie-cutter kids, they are looking for students who have used their time wisely, who have made the most of the opportunities presented to them, or have created opportunities for themselves.
How do I Keep Track of all this Stuff?
The activity section on most selective college applications will ask your student to list the:
- Activity Grade level participated in
- Time spent per week
- How many weeks per year they participated
- Did they participate during the school year or summer/school break
- Positions held
- Honors won
- Letters earned
If done correctly, we can also include activity numbers (people reached, workshops taught, number of students mentored, etc.) I also like to see a grand total number of volunteer service hours.
Thus, in order to make a strong application, it is important to learn how to keep track of the activities and the hours spent doing them. When my children were young, I kept records for them. In a specified place on their weekly school assignment sheet, I wrote down any activity, their responsibilities, and how many hours they spent. If your students are in public or private school, keep track on a calendar, in a notebook, or in a computer file. Just be consistent and keep records together. By starting at a young age, it is easier to develop the habit.
In upper grade school and junior high, I began giving my students more responsibility for keeping track of things. Each Friday I would remind them to record all their volunteer work and activities. By the later stages of high school they were on their own to record what they did. I tried to make it easy for them when I designed our weekly assignment sheet by listing weekly activities for them (as prompts to get them to think through their week) and letting them write down specific responsibilities or hours spent.
When you are counting time spent, remember to keep track of the following:
- Preparation for the activity
- Commute time
- Actual time spent in activity
Let’s look at some examples of what needs to be recorded for different kinds of students:
- Musicians – lesson time, commute time, practice hours, rehearsals, performances, contests, awards, repertoire, leadership
- Boy Scouts – meeting topic (might fold into a class), badges/certificates earned, leadership activities, community service projects, campouts, offices held, workshops taught
- Debate – hours spent in research, debate club meeting topics, tournaments/round robins entered, awards, leadership responsibilities (including numbers of students assisted or coached)
Some students (like musicians and debaters) have many repetitive hours practicing or working on cases. It is easiest for these students to just use hash marks to keep track of daily work. Then spend a few minutes on Friday listing all details for the week.
Perhaps your student is an entrepreneur, an inventor, or a researcher. They still need to be recording what they are doing and how many hours per week they are spending. The same is true from students with unusual responsibilities like caring for younger siblings or an elderly relative or volunteering in the community. If they are employed, they need to list job titles, job responsibilities, and hours worked per week.
This can seem to be an overwhelming task, but it honestly takes only a few minutes a week if you have a template established in an easy place for students to record their work. Learning to keep track of details can yield huge dividends down the road!
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