The Extracurricular You Didn't Realize Countsǃ
Welcome to People, Places, Pines! Many high schoolers, most especially during the global pandemic, have acquired extra responsibilities—like caring for siblings or working a part-time job to support their families—that consume a significant amount of their time outside the classroom. This past week, Gabriel Gilbert '23 sat down (virtually) with Associate Director of Admissions Jenni Gargano '14 to pick her mind about how these responsibilities can play a large role in your college application.
GG: When high schoolers hear the word "extracurricular," activities related to community service, school clubs, sports, and competitions are just a few of the traditional images that come to mind. What other activities might be included under this extracurricular "umbrella," especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic?
JG: As admissions officers, we know you're not just in class—or, maybe more appropriately now, a Zoom room—and studying. Everyone spends their time outside of classes a little differently, doing things that get you excited, maybe spending time learning new skills, or engaging in things that really matter to you. The "extracurricular list" that you put together for your applications can help us see all of those. In normal years, we see students doing a wide range of extracurriculars, from performing in musicals and volunteering at the local food bank, to scoring goals on the varsity soccer team and interning at the wildlife rehabilitation center. We also see students who are working part-time jobs—maybe at a fast food spot or local store, students who are spending a significant amount of time engaging in cultural or religious events and organizations with their families, or students who take on responsibilities at home. Each of these counts and provides more insight into who you are and how you are spending your time.
Now more than ever with the pandemic, I think students are increasingly concerned about how we're going to look at that extracurricular list. Spring plays were cancelled, internships or volunteer work delayed, and clubs and groups stopped meeting. We understand that. Your life – like ours – has radically shifted, and that might also mean you started doing things that you could have never anticipated. Maybe your extracurricular list changed to now include helping your little brother with long division, or maybe to buying weekly groceries for your grandparents since they are in a higher risk category, or maybe to setting up your mom's computer since she began working from home. These family responsibilities are significant and are things to include if they became your reality.
GG: Many students don't realize how helpful it can be to include family responsibilities in their college application. How can including family responsibilities on your application be very helpful for admissions officers reading your application?
JG: Admissions officers are trying to get to know you as much as possible through your applications. If you have family responsibilities, pre- and/or post-pandemic, explaining that gives us a clearer picture of your life and what you value or need to do. It shows us how you navigate balancing schoolwork, your jobs, your clubs and organizations, along with your family. Whether you are caring for your siblings, helping an ailing grandparent, or working a part time job to support your family, there is depth in family responsibilities that deserves to be recognized. It shows leadership, commitment, and responsibility—and it can reflect the importance of family in your life.
GG: How should students describe their family responsibilities in their college application?
JG: First things first: list it! If it's one of the most significant or meaningful ways in how you spend your time, put it at or near the top of your list. You can write us a short description of what it entails. Do you normally drive siblings to school and pick them up from soccer practice? How about grocery shopping or cooking for others? Are you working a job alongside a family member or taking up a job in order to contribute financially? Giving us as much information as you are comfortable with sharing helps us get a good picture of what your life is like.
GG: For myself and very many Dartmouth students, our family responsibilities took up a major amount of time during high school. What can you tell students worried about family responsibilities taking time away from more traditional extracurriculars?
JG: Students sometimes worry that family responsibilities are not something colleges value or that they are taking up time that you could spend doing something "productive." This is not the case at all. Yes, of course, clubs and organizations can be great ways to engage in your high school or greater communities and figure out what you're passionate about – but so can being a responsible and committed member of your family. We care about what matters to you most and why, and so if that is the leadership you show with your family, in whatever way, we want to learn about it and value how you're spending your time.