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High School Extracurriculars: Beyond the Classroom

“Don’t turn on the television until your homework is done!”  “Study for your algebra test before you start chatting on the phone!”  “Stop shooting hoops and start working on that paper about Richard Nixon!”  You often find yourself echoing refrains of generations of parents past.  Indeed, as a mother or father, you are primed to impress upon your children the importance of an education.  Schoolwork comes first!  However, while academics should always be the foremost concern, you should also encourage your child to pursue interests and activities beyond his studies.

Although your child’s transcript will likely be the most important portion of his college applications, schools aren’t all that interested in candidates who only bury themselves in their books.  On the contrary, admissions officers are on the lookout for applicants who will actively contribute to campus life.  Therefore, they want students who have pastimes about which they’re passionate and who eagerly participate in extracurricular activities.

You see, extracurriculars are a way for your child to distinguish himself from other students and to highlight his personality.  If your child seems hesitant to get involved (this can be especially common with freshman), do your utmost to nudge him towards participation.  By getting involved in school activities, he’ll meet new people, develop a richer social life and hone new skill-sets.  Moreover, extracurriculars will help teach your child both time management and how to handle responsibility.  Further, your child will learn to appreciate what it means to be dedicated to a club or craft.

Of course, when it comes to extracurricular involvement, understand that it’s quality over quantity.  Your child should never take on a sport or join a club simply because he thinks it will be a ticket into a particular school.  Additionally, a college won’t be amazed by a laundry list of twenty clubs, especially if your child just displays periodic involvement.  Similarly, it won’t do any good to tack on a few clubs at the end of his high school tenure in an attempt to seem active.  Admissions officers will likely see through this façade of participation.  Colleges are much more taken with candidates who have been truly committed to two or three activities and who reveal genuine interest in their chosen pursuits.

It’s also important to note that extracurricular activities don’t necessarily need to be sanctioned by your child’s high school in order to be included on his applications.  Youth groups, after school jobs, a rock band he forms – these all have merit.  Just like the football team or the high school’s chapter of Amnesty International, they require time, talent and enthusiasm. Further, they help to demonstrate that your child has the zest and the wherewithal to pursue an interest beyond the traditional and/or obvious avenues.

And remember - summer is the perfect time to explore and exploit these (potentially newfound) interests as well.  Don’t let your child spend his vacation lying around, merely sipping lemonade and basking in air conditioning.  Instead, make sure he uses June, July and August to delve deeper into (or discover) burgeoning passions.  For example, if your son has developed a love of drama, have him contact a local community theater to see if he can participate in any upcoming productions.  If, after taking biology, your daughter shows an interest in medicine, do some research into the possibility of shadowing a doctor.  Reach out to family and friends to see if they know of anyone involved in an industry/community that interests your child.  

Additionally, there are a number of summer programs of which your child could take advantage.  Programs and camps exist for virtually every topic and subject you can think of – photography, debate, filmmaking, robotics, the list is practically endless.  These days, kids can spend July volunteering in a rain forest in Brazil or spend August perfecting their French in Paris.

It should also be noted that, similar to college, these programs run the gamut in terms of cost. Many of these trips are not inexpensive. Fortunately, just like within higher education, a number of programs offer scholarships to help off-set the costs. Therefore, don’t automatically dismiss the ideas or assume they are out of reach. There’s a definite possibility that you can make it happen! On the flip side, don’t assume that programs are somehow better simply because they are expensive.

Participating in extracurriculars and pursuing interests outside of the classroom is just as essential to your child’s development as studying British Literature or chemistry.  Doing so will expose your son/daughter to new ideas, people and experiences.  Sometimes, these activities might also push him beyond the comfort zone and allow your child to make new discoveries about himself.  And these insights will prove invaluable in the future, whether it’s time to decide where to apply to college, what to major in or what type of job to pursue.   


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