Monday, October 12, 2009

Cake, Frosting, and Sprinkles

“Well, I know colleges are looking for well-rounded students…”

So begin many of our conversations about that ever-present and often-touted piece of the admissions puzzle: extracurricular activities.

As we’ve discussed on our blog, we read each application carefully and thoughtfully, one by one. Extra-curricular activities are an important part of the application, but so are the other parts (academics, essays, recommendations, and test scores).

Think of your college application as a cake. Your academics—courses, grades, and testing—are the cake itself; they’re the foundation for everything else on top. Your essays and recommendation letters are the frosting on the cake. Your extracurriculars are the sprinkles. Cake with sprinkles – any kind and any number of sprinkles – is a lovely thing: everything comes together for a great dessert experience. Now imagine you’ve just sat down to a bowl of nothing but sprinkles: it’s really exciting for the first few spoonfuls…but then you start missing the cake. Your activities need a solid foundation from the rest of your application so that they enhance your overall profile.

We are often asked what kinds of activities we want to see from students. To be honest, we’re not particular. It’s our goal to build a well-rounded class at Carolina: within the 3,960 students enrolling in our Fall 2009 class, we have musicians, artists, writers, scientists, activists, athletes, mathematicians, linguists, Eagle Scouts, competitive gymnasts, equestrians …the list goes on and on! Every student is bringing his or her own unique interests and passions to campus. That’s a big part of what makes Carolina such an exciting and interesting place.

We’re looking for persistence and leadership. We don’t expect you to be president of every club or captain of every sport AND work 25 hours a week to support your family (yes, work is an extra-curricular!). But we do want to see a commitment over time to those activities that are meaningful for you. We’re also trying to learn about the impact you’ve had in your school and your community. We want you to share your passion – whether it’s swimming or the oboe or volunteering – with us.

Brag about yourself and tell us about the amazing things you’re doing. When you’re listing your activities, we encourage you to emphasize those in which you believe that you made the most impact. Simply answer this question: “How would that club/team/store/troupe be different if I hadn’t been there?”

I’ll end with a story that might help you as you seek to describe your extracurricular activities. I met a student last fall and I asked her what she did outside of class. She said that she ran track. After a few more probing questions, I learned that she had been the only freshman on a team of seniors for the 4x100 meter relay and that they won the state championship that year. My advice for her – and for each of you – is summed up in three words:

“Lead with that.”

Melissa Kotacka
Assistant Director of Admissions