Extracurriculars are not so extra anymore


The Common Application website is a site many students use to apply to college. Along with the Coalition Application, these two sites are the most regularly used by students because the same application can be used to apply to multiple schools, rather than filling out a separate application for each school. Photo courtesy of Tomwsulcer, Wikimedia Commons.

How many times throughout your high school career have you heard, “join extracurriculars, colleges love to see those!” or a variation of that statement? Students should be encouraged to pursue their passions and explore new hobbies and a lot of the time, students join clubs that align with their interests. Clubs and extracurriculars are an amazing way to meet like-minded people and get involved with a skill or hobby. This was the original intent of after-school clubs and extracurriculars. However, in recent years, they have deviated from this intent and become yet another benchmark that colleges want students to meet.

Students don’t always participate in these activities for pure enjoyment. They are pressured into joining them for the fear that if they don’t, colleges will overlook their application and they’ll have no chance of getting into their desired schools.

Nowadays, there are no hobbies just for the sake of having a hobby. Do you play an instrument? Apparently, it doesn’t matter unless you’ve received an award or two or played in an official musical ensemble. Are you interested in science? Well, you haven’t participated in a major research paper or a groundbreaking scientific breakthrough, so that doesn’t really matter either. You’re on a soccer team? Being a regular old player isn’t enough, you need to be the captain! Come on, where’s your hardwork and dedication? Are you proud of your culture and heritage? Unless you’ve started a club for it, it’s irrelevant.

What’s funny is that if you don’t join enough extracurriculars or do enough in your current ones (by colleges’ standards), you’re classified as not involved enough in your school and community, or some other elusive, meaningless college jargon. If you join “too many” activities, colleges will consider that a form of resume padding and brand you as a try-hard. Students can just never seem to win.

While a lot of adults tend to look down on us and scoff at our woes and concerns, high school students are very busy, anxiety-ridden people. Some of us have jobs after school, familial responsibilities or other commitments in our lives outside of school. Even in school, many students take AP classes, which require even more hours of homework and studying than on-level and honors classes. Some people may simply not have the energy for extracurriculars after a seven hour school day, especially when considering that most of us wake up at 6 a.m. and don’t get the recommended amount of sleep. Certain students have health problems, which can make a normal school day on its own a challenge to get through.  

The need to meet near unattainable standards is the silent culprit of the sharp increase in depression and anxiety among teens. With the stakes so high, it’s no wonder that so many members of my generation are so pessimistic about their future. Despite this, if students dare to voice their concerns, all of a sudden they become entitled or lazy. This is part of the problem. It’s time to stop shaming students for the very real and immense pressure they feel to have perfect GPA, the highest possible SAT score and an impressive set of extracurriculars on top of that. It’s high time we put academics back at the forefront of college admissions criteria and restore extracurriculars as the enjoyable, recreational activities that they once were.