Focusing Your Activities

This past June marked ten years since I graduated from high school. Typically this may cause a person to reflect on what she has accomplished over the past decade; however, as a high school English teacher at the time, I was so preoccupied mulling over recommendation letters, college essays, and graduation requirements, that I barely had time to check the “not attending” button on my class’s Facebook page. Instead, because of my work with high school seniors I found myself contemplating how my current students differed from students applying for college just a decade ago, myself included.

The Princeton Review, a principal source of knowledge on anything college related, publishes a book each year about the countries’ best colleges and cited that almost 69% of college applicants last year found the process “highly or very highly stressful,” which is up 13% from when I was a senior in high school. Ten years ago, when only half of my classmates were truly frazzled by the next step in life, I was striving to still enjoy the pursuits that I had spent years performing; I was not in fact thinking about how those pursuits would get me into college.

I started playing the clarinet when I was ten years old and continued to practice through the twelfth grade. My pursuit groomed me in countless ways: perseverance to a pastime that makes all your family members wince; physical exertion of marching with the school band in the August humidity; dedication to a path that requires relentless commitment. My parents saw what band would do for my college application – substantial hours and endless awards – but I saw stories worthy of my personal essay and friends that would eventually stand by my side at my wedding. When I saw my students out on each Friday night, performing during halftime, it brought back those fond memories and reminded me of everything I gained each year I dedicated all my time to the marching band.

The marching band was only my fall activity, however, and I soon learned that I needed a spring pastime as well. It was not my parents’ friends, counselors, or physics partner advising me that I should participate in as many activities as possible to nourish my college application; instead, one day in eighth grade I decided that I no longer wanted to be the only one of my friends not playing lacrosse and found my forte as a goalie for the next four years. In my senior year, just after I added marching band to my application, I inserted lacrosse – my years playing and coaching – and reflected on my experience as part of a team. While I was immediately aware that marching band would be the showpiece of my application and essays, lacrosse also exposed me to many lessons that would have eluded me if I had chosen to instead partake of too many extracurricular activities that did not truly hold my interest. I gained true friendships from too many trips sprinting up the mountains (being physically ill on the sidelines genuinely bonds you); I understood what it meant to get back up after a fall; and I discovered how much I could truly push my own limits. These lessons did not make it explicitly to my college application, but found their way to my college classrooms as I trained to be an educator and later to my own classroom as I guided the next class of students.

My theory behind simplifying my activities and therefore my college application were simple: I did not have to prove myself because I had found pursuits that sincerely fulfilled me. Ten years ago, we were competitive – but where it really mattered, on the turf. I started my journey as a lacrosse goalie when I was in eighth grade and continued that need to triumph by coaching well into my twenties. At seventeen, I signed up for the SAT not because my parents reminded me to but because I knew it was a requirement. And lastly, I applied to the University of Delaware because it was close, affordable, and had my major.

Now, a decade after high school ended, I find myself working with students on their college quest.  However, my goal exceeds proofreading; my objective is to help students focus on that precise moment when their pastime became more than another activity on their application and developed into a lifetime of memories they could return to even after college ends.

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