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Episode Notes

Episode Title: Segment #2: Extracurriculars Review and Summer Break Planning. A Guide to Build a Standout US College Application.

Episode summary introduction: Segment #2 of the 10-Segment Podcast Series to help students in 11th Grade build their best US College Application. Each segment includes an Assignment based on the topic discussed. Subscribe for Assignments.

In this segment, Athena Lao and Rob Franklin of Admissionado lead us through the discussion. In addition, 1 Admissions Officer and 3 US College Alumni are also featured.

In particular, we discuss the following:

  • Why are Extracurriculars (ECs) important?
  • What are “good” Extracurriculars?
  • Why are we talking about the Summer Break ?
  • Making effective/productive use of Summer Breaks

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introduction to the Segment #2 [1:36]
  • The Importance of Extracurriculars (EC) [6:18]
  • How Colleges ask about the ECs? [8:25]
  • Why do Colleges care about ECs? [10:28]
  • What’s a good EC? [14:57]
  • What’s a Good Role in an EC?  [18:05]
  • COVID Friendly ECs [23:55]
  • Case Study [27:16]
  • Why are Summer Breaks Important? [38:04]
  • Effective Use of Summer Breaks [39:20]
  • Myths & Misconceptions about Summer Pre-College Programs [41:52]
  • Segment #2 Assignment [45:20]
  • Close - Subscribe for Assignments [47:14]

Our Guests: 

Memorable Quote: “The 2 No-Nos for Extracurriculars: 1) To sign up for everything; 2) To sign up for nothing.

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.

Calls-to-action:

Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Venkat Raman  0:06  

Welcome to the podcast, College Matters. Alma Matters. We podcast, personal college stories, and all things college. Check us out and subscribe at alma matters.io, forward slash podcasts (almamatters.io/podcasts).

To get things started, I asked Katie Dunagan of Int’l Admissions at University of Wisconsin Madison about the importance of Extracurriculars.

Here’s what she said.

Katie Dunagan  0:37  

We're looking for a student who is not afraid of a challenge. So, you know, they, they're in a challenging curriculum, they're doing quite well in their studies. But they're also active and engaged. And that could be through external activities. It could be through volunteer work, it can be through community participation.

Wisconsin was founded on this notion called the Wisconsin Idea, which is where we want our students to take what they've learned into the classroom and apply it beyond those four walls. And so we're looking for that in our applicants. We're looking for students who, you know, they can do the work in the classroom, but we really want them to be influencing our campus community, our State, the world.

And so we're looking for a student with, you know, a strong sense of, of self of being willing to explore, but still being up to an academic challenge.

Venkat  1:36 [Introduction to the Segment #2]

Welcome to our podcast, College Matters. Alma Matters.

I am your host, Venkat Raman.

I am excited to bring you the 2nd Segment of our 10-Segment Podcast series - A Guide to Build a Standout US College Application.

Today’s Segment is about Extracurriculars and Summer Programs.

This series is being created in collaboration with Admissionado, a US-based college counseling company.

As you know, Segment #1 in January was on Holistic Strategy for College Applications.

Here’s a Pop Quiz based on Segment #1. Listen to this and we will talk on the other side:

Athena Lao  2:25

We have a method which we like to call the spark method. Usually you spell spark with S-P-A-R-K, but aren't special because it has a C in it. It's S-P-A-R-C and I'm going to go into what each of these letters stands for in our spark method.

Venkat Raman  2:45

Ok. We are looking for the answer to “What does SPARC stand for?”.

The first 10 Correct answers will receive a FREE 30-min Counseling session over Google Meet.

Email your answer to “podcast at almamatters.io”, with the Subject: SPARC. Good Luck!

Now, on with Segment #2.

The events of this past year have elevated the importance of ECs and Summer Programs.

As you may know,

  • A large number of US Colleges are Test Optional for the Fall 2022 Applications. This means Standardized Tests like SAT or ACT are not required. This has spiked the number of Applications to Top Colleges for Fall 2021 by double digit percentages.
  • SAT is pulling back from Subject SATs.

This means that the weightage of the other parts of the application increases, like ECs and Summer Programs.

These segments are aimed at students who are currently in 11th standard/grade who plan to apply to US Colleges at the end of this year.

In this 2nd Segment, I am joined by two Experts

  • Athena Lao, Head Mentor at Admissionado, and
  • Robert Franklin, Mentor at Admissionado.

Before we dive into Extracurriculars with Athena and Rob, let’s hear from Seth Shapiro, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

Seth Shapiro  4:45  

So when I was in high school, I started off like so many people in their first couple years, with varied interest, I was interested in the sciences in, in, in the social sciences and sort of everything in between. And extracurricular I was very much across the board. So I started off interested in student government, I did some many sports, I was musically inclined, and so forth.

And after once you, any high school student knows that over time, time is the limiting constraint. Yeah. And so I started to zero in more, and I ended up becoming vice president of the high school, my junior year. And then and then president of the high school, my senior year, which was sort of my most exciting contribution.

I also was, played in the all county orchestra as a French hornist. And I played piano for, for over well over a decade and was classically trained. And then, and then most and then, and also, I was on the tennis teams, the soccer teams, and I fenced as well.

So I had a lot of the main things I did. And of course, I was very involved with the community and everything else as well.

Venkat Raman  6:05  

Athena, maybe we can start by talking about why you think the extracurriculars are so important, or very important in the context of college applications.

Athena  6:18  [The Importance of Extracurriculars (EC)]

Yeah, so I think this is one of my favorite parts to talk about in the college admissions process. Because extracurriculars can be a vehicle for understanding a student's personality in a way that grades just aren't able to capture.

I think there's also something that is unique about the US higher education system too. We know that in so many other systems at admission to universities is driven primarily by the grades and the test scores. It's very quantitative. But for the US, and maybe most of our listeners have heard of it, if they have not, about holistic admissions.

So the fact that college admissions offices are looking at the whole person, not just the numbers from their grades and test scores. So that so extracurriculars really play into that holistic admissions process. college admissions offices, and officers are looking to see what they can glean about the student based on what they write about their extracurricular activities.

You know, and there's also a big piece of news that just came out recently. The College Board just got rid of the SAT 2 Subject Tests, so these hour long multiple choice exams that tested a student's comprehension of a particular subject, as well as the essay portion of the SAT.

So what this means in the long term is that we're looking at the possibility that more and more schools are going to go test optional, that they're that the weight, that SAT's and different standardized tests used to carry are just maybe not going to be the same as they were in the past.

So you know, we're not in the business of making predictions, but all the signs point towards the fact that extra curricular activities, and the ways that students present that, how effectively they can present that are going to play an even more important role in future cycles than even now.

Venkat Raman  8:19  

So, in a typical application, how do colleges ask about your extracurriculars?

Athena  8:25  [How Colleges ask about the ECs?]

Right, they ask for a lot of information, actually.

So first, there's an activities list. So almost all schools are going to give you a chance to talk about how long you put so the name of the activity, the positions you might have held in that activity, how long you've done it, how many hours per week, and even a short summary about the significance or the impact of that activity in your life or on your community.

And they also might have some supplemental essays where, you know, they give you 150 to 300 words to talk about the significance and kind of expand on the information you provide on the activities.

If the extracurricular was such an important part of your high school career, that you know, it's really left, it's really made a difference in your life, you might even want to write about it for one of, your main personal statement.

Perhaps if you've done academic research, we have a lot of students

 who are able to do research in the STEM fields in particular, or maybe they are super involved in the visual arts or performing arts and they want to send a video or a portfolio or an abstract of what they've done for their research.

So there's so many different ways that, that students can bring extracurriculars into their application. They might even have a recommender. So someone beyond their classroom teachers, someone who's seen them firsthand Excel, whatever extracurricular they're passionate about, who can speak to that in the application.

So you know, from this, this list that I provided right now, you can see that there are so many ways that you can use extracurriculars to help make the case that you have what it takes to not only get into that school, but really contribute once you reach campus.

Venkat Raman  10:22  

So why do you think colleges or Why do you think extracurriculars are so important to colleges?

Athena  10:28  [Why do Colleges care about ECs?]

Yeah, there, I think there are two stories, that, to think about here.

So one is the story about what extracurricular say about the individual. So and then the other is what colleges have to do in order to build their class and make sure that they have a cohort of interesting people who are attending those schools.

So at the end of the day, you know, colleges don't want to just invest in people who are booksmart, who are just able to make excellent grades. And that's it. What they want is students who are going to contribute to the entirety of the college experience. 

Who are the people that they can find that will join orchestra, join the orchestra, you know, be the tuba player, who will join the tennis team, or the basketball team, who's going to lead a Social Justice Initiative, who is going to start a new club that maybe people hadn't heard of before, who's going to make a contribution to that campus and really enrich the experience of all the students around them.

And then what they want to happen is that not only are you doing bad in college, but afterwards, you know, you're, are you more likely to make a dynamic contribution to whatever sector that you end up in?

Are you going to be a leader, someone who future applicants quote or mentioned in their, their future essays and applications as a role model.

So if you have listened to a past episode in the series, you may have heard me talk about how colleges are looking for applicants who are bound for future success. So that's the story that they're looking for, who is bound for a future success? And extracurriculars are a way to communicate that.

So I want to note that participation in the extracurricular activity itself is not actually what's important, right? What's important is how, is what personality traits, admissions officers can gleam about you based on what you write. So we talked about SPARC in the past there, they're asking them admissions officers are asking themselves, is this student in the way they talked about their, say, leadership in a specific activity, are they showing that they can seize the day that they're taking initiative that they're taking responsibility, are they showing that they have intellectual curiosity, they're taking risks have a vision for what they're doing?

So colleges don't maybe use those exact same terms that we do. But we found that if you use this framework, the SPARC framework to, to drive how you talk about your extracurriculars and your applications that will help you make the most persuasive case possible for your admission to any university that you want to attend.

Venkat Raman  13:20  

Here is Neha Kumar, a graduate of Northwestern University.

Neha Kumar  13:26  

Yeah, I think my first interest that is carried through college and now has been dance. I've been my biggest passion, growing up, I trained in Indian classical dance, did my Arangetram, which is like a sort of big recital that you do after about 10 years of training, was also very involved in the dance teams in my high school and the dance programs there. That was, you know, my main interest.

I think, apart from dance, I was also fairly plugged into the entrepreneurship scene. I was an intern at a org called SV Forum, which essentially aims to bridge the gap between entrepreneurs, and startups and VCs, and they host a lot of different events. And I was doing a lot of social media for them during high school, which gave me a really good taste of, you know, the entrepreneurship life, the startup life, what everything that goes on in the Bay Area. So this was something that I did on the side as well.

So I'd say that those two are my biggest interests in high school.

Venkat Raman  14:44  

So let’s move over to Rob. And let's switch gears a little bit and talk about what makes for a good extracurricular in the eyes of us college or university.

Rob Franklin  14:57  [What’s a good EC?]

That sounds good. Yeah. So I would say that What makes for a good extracurricular? First and foremost is something that you genuinely care about. And ideally, ideally, an activity in which you have kind of a unique impact, or have learned or grown from in some kind of discernible way. All of which you're going to want to articulate to the college application to the college admissions committee in your application.

And so in terms of examples, these could really be anything from sports, to student government to theater, as some of the kind of classic examples to running your own business or volunteering at an orphanage or working a part time job at that school.

Venkat Raman  15:41  

Sure, sure. So there's a limitless list of things, I guess.

So, you know, given that, given that we're talking to juniors right now, And the fact that there are six to eight months of real time left before the submissions, how many ECs are ideal at this point?

Rob 16:05  

Yeah. So I would say that there are really two approaches, or two sorts of kind of ideal applicants that odd coms tend to be looking at.

So one would be the specialists, which are people who have these sort of deep commitments to a given activity or skill set. So typically, they'll have, you know, five plus years of commitment to say, piano playing or, or playing baseball or something like that, that they've done for a long time and have developed kind of a high level of skill. And the thing about being a specialist is, I think generally people who fall into that profile are aware of it, they know that they've got like a really, they've got a really strong skill set in a certain area. And that is, is definitely smart to play up in your, your applications.

The other kind of side of the coin is the generalist or the person who's a bit more well rounded, and perhaps has done a number of activities that display a number of different interests.

And I would say with that latter profile, you really want to be able to articulate how at least one of your activities has been sort of significant in your development as a person throughout your, your high school years.

But having two or three can offer you additional opportunities to, as Athena mentioned, tease out these kind of meaningful experiences and your essays that you can speak to.

Venkat Raman  17:53  

So when I, when you're doing these ECs what kind of role do you think students should play in an EC, so that it's noteworthy from an application point of view?

Rob  18:05  [What’s a Good Role in an EC?]

Sure, I would say that there are a few different directions to go with this. And these are also not not exhaustive, but I would say that these are kind of the main ways to distinguish yourself within an extracurricular activity.

So the first would be leadership positions. That's kind of a universally recognized way to evidence your commitment, or skill within an activity. So some of the classic examples might be like student body president, or captain of the soccer team, founder of a club, these are really just clear ways to kind of indicate passion, they show that your peers within that activity respect you. Yeah, and that that you've just kind of got got a lot of love for that activity.

The second I would say our more like tactical achievements. So for example, if you within your activity have either individually won prizes, or have contributed to the larger, larger goal of winning prizes or championships with your, with your team, then that's definitely worth mentioning on your applications. And again, that could be anything from you know, a national championship to an internal prize given to the person who has, who has the best attitude and kind of holds the group together. I think that those sorts of, those sorts of, achievements are definitely worth highlighting.

And then the third which is kind of in my opinion, the unsung hero of one's participation within extracurricular is just yeah owning distinctive initiative within your, your extracurricular. So obviously, basically, you know, anyone can sign for a bunch of clubs, but significantly fewer students will be able to articulate what exactly they brought to the table. And so even if you aren't elected, you know, president of the group, you can have a similar impact. And that's something that you can do, you know, even in the next six months, and that really kind of evidence is the “P” and spark this idea of pursuing and taking ownership over your activity.

So I'll give an example. If you happen to be on your school's Sustainability Council, let's say, which is running a bunch of different initiatives around recycling, composting, energy reduction. And you're not the President, you're not kind of making dictates on priorities, but you find yourself with some extra time. It could be a good way to evidence SPARC, to compile your own research on, say, sustainable purchasing of school products like paper towels, and toilet paper, and then bringing that aggregated research to your club and school administration to try to enact some change.

And I think that that's a really exciting opportunity just because it can be done in really any timeframe. So even if you know, you've got six, seven months, you can start thinking about how can I within my extracurricular have a unique kind of singular impact!

But yeah, I would say regardless, the priority is that the student should be able to articulate what exactly they've accomplished, and how they've grown personally through participation in extracurriculars.

Venkat Raman  21:51  

Here is Ike Wilson, a graduate of Yale University.

Ike  21:58  

Um, what was I into it in high school?

I was the captain of the basketball team in high school. So I've always been really obsessed with basketball, soccer. Well, I knew that in in my college life, I would like to continue playing basketball in some capacity. I was not recruited, I was not going to be a division one varsity athlete. Right, right. But, you know, if it was a smallish school, they could maybe have like a club program, which I ended up having. So I think on the club basketball team, so that was attractive to me. They were actually quite competitive, too. So that was cool.

But just generally, you know, setting Yale aside and college choice aside, I mean, in high school, I was also very much into creative writing, English, English classes. I was always a big fan of music and entertainment movies. Kind of a music nerd, I suppose. And I've always been weirdly good at knowing useless pop culture facts.

So, uh, what else travel and languages I would say I grew up actually going to a French International School in Palo Alto, California. Uh huh. So that took me through eighth grade. Uh huh. And so I was among the minority, I would say I was probably, it was probably 40%. American 60% French? Uh huh. So I grew up in my primary school years and middle school years, just kind of surrounded by international students. Yeah, yeah.

Venkat Raman  23:34  

You know, these all sound good. Students of today or for this particular batch, are going through these pandemic times. So, you know, given that, what’s some good advice or counsel we can give them as they navigate these issues in this era, in this timeframe?

Rob  23:55  [COVID Friendly ECs]

Yeah, it's a, it's a good question. I think, obviously, so many things are remote now. But students should be looking at their activity lists and thinking about how they can continue to engage in a meaningful way in a virtual world.

I think a lot of activities are kind of adaptable to the virtual setting. And some are even more urgent. So for instance, I've spoken to students who are involved in service initiatives, such as remote tutoring younger students who've been pulled out of school, at school during COVID. Things like that are, you know, kind of perfectly done in a virtual environment and even more urgent because of this COVID context.

Yeah, and then I also think that there's opportunity to discover new interests that work in a virtual setting, be, be it joining a virtual book club or taking an online course. I know a lot of elite universities are offering some of their, their courses work online during COVID.

And using if indeed, you do have extra time right now, really using that time for something meaningful, which could be, you know, any of the above, as well as exploring any other kind of unexplored interests in your free time.

Venkat Raman  25:27  

That's, you know, that's all very good advice now.

Any, before we close out on this topic, anything else you want to add?

Rob  25:36  

Yeah, I mean, I think that the, the main takeaway, there's only two, two real ways to kind of mess up with, with extracurriculars.

And I would say the first is to sign up for everything. And to kind of Yeah, yeah, fall prey to the myth, that breadth, over depth will get you into top colleges. The trouble with this is that it doesn't really illustrate a clear commitment, or genuine, genuine passion, and it fails, again, in reference to what I was saying earlier, to kind of paint a cohesive picture of who you are as a person.

And then the second one is kind of the opposite, which is to sign up for nothing.

And, and so I would say, as long as you can kind of avoid those two, and figure out, you know, one or two things that you are interested in, as well as what you're kind of distinctive impact can be within those, they they should be really compelling for a college app.

Venkat Raman  26:48  

So, Athena and Rob, do you guys have a couple more minutes?

Since I have the two experts, I thought I could run a situation by a you. I got this email from a student got this email from a student who wants some counsel and I thought I could get some free advice for him here.

Athena, Rob  27:12  

And good. But Yep, we're ready. Okay.

Venkat Raman  27:16  [Case Study]

You are ready. Awesome.

So we've got the student who we shall call Van. He's really into science, he’s taking all the science courses. And his dream is to go to the US and pursue STEM based education and later on, maybe become a doctor. It's doing well in school getting top grades. He's his Class Rep. Teachers like him, there's a lot of volunteer work at the local orphanage.

Now, the only unfortunate thing is that his school and his city where he lives, they don't have a whole bunch of extracurriculars for him, except for sports, which is a part of what he isn't exactly doing too well. He's not a standout Sportsman of any kind. So he's pondering what his extracurricular strategy should be for the remaining months of the year. And I believe he's in the 11th grade.

Athena  28:24  

So limited time. Got it!

Venkat Raman  28:30  

Okay, who wants to go first?

Rob  28:31  

I can go first. Please.

So I think that this kind of dovetails nicely with what I was saying before, about having, having kind of a unique initiative that can display his commitment. So you mentioned that he does some service, he does volunteer work at a local orphanage, as well as works as a class representative.

I would say that he should look into taking on kind of a bigger leadership role either with class representation. So depending on on kind of the structure of that there's potential for if he's already on Student Government say, he could figure out what what does he want his kind of legacy to be when he leaves his high school and, and figure out how he can propose that to the class representatives widely as well as the student body.

Alternatively, I think he could deepen his involvement in service at the orphanage. Which again, could be just spending more time there. Or it could be starting kind of a unique projects to say they're not offering, you know, tutoring or educational resources at the orphanage. He could volunteer himself, to start working with some of some of these kids on, say, their math homework. And that could just be a way for him to bring his skill set and have a really distinct impact on his existing extracurriculars.

And then I would say my other idea is that he could do a bit of soul searching and think of, So, I mean, it sounds like his school is not offering a ton of extracurriculars, they have sports and a couple of other options.

I'm not sure if that's just a limitation in terms of resources, or if not many students have brought other options to the table. And so I do think that then, could could give some thought as to Okay, what do I wish had existed at my high school for, for the four years that I was here, and try to get some faculty and other students behind whatever that idea is to get it off the ground.

Athena  31:09  

Yeah, I like that, Rob. And I mean that your suggestions for expanding for Van and expanding on his leadership and his existing extracurriculars or starting something new, I think that speaks to the spark framework. So when we think about s proceeding P for pursuing a brass game, or for risk taking C for creating, profiting, but there are ways that he could communicate that on his application and the future that can hit at all of these letters. So that's great. But I guess what my questions are, you know, with his interest in STEM, and his desire to pursue medicine, I mean, this is a noble, noble, cause I was one pre med myself, I get it. But I know, it's also really competitive to, you know, go for applications, especially if you're, you know, coming from abroad to the US.

So, my question is, you know, how can he stand out in terms of his science studies? Because it's great that he is making top grades in all his classes, but maybe there is more that he can do to show how he is intellectually curious, beyond his courses. So, you know, in addition to what you're saying, Rob, I'm also thinking about, what if he joined on online international stem competition, which there are more of nowadays, because Thanks, COVID.

So, you know, I'm thinking of something like a breakthrough challenge, where students from all over the world are able to make a video about a specific concept in science and present that to people on the internet, or something like that, something that shows that independently, he's, he's taking the time to, to, to share to learn and share his knowledge with others.

And my other idea is, it's a bit more typical, I would say, at this point, there are a lot of it's to take an online class in a topic that his school isn't covering. So I know it's more typical, because a lot more people are just taking these courses nowadays.

But if, if we know that in his context, we'd have to ask him, right. But if in his context, that there's a very limited number of courses he can take, and he does have a deeper interest in genetics, let's say or on some very specific subtopic of biology that his school just doesn't offer, but he can find a course of interest offered online, then, I mean, that could be another way to substantiate his his interest in science.

So I mean, that's just something that I'm thinking about.

Rob 33:48  

No, I like that.

Rob  33:53  

Yeah, I mean, I think so. I mean, returning to this part framework, I think that those are great ways to, as you said, kind of evidence is intellectual curiosity kind of show that he's, he's strong and like the the asking or A department.

Yeah. I would, I would also say, I mean, part of part of my recommendation for how you should go about making this decision is there's almost, there's almost kind of a breakdown between him choosing to sort of deepen and existing commitment and really, like display his passion for those existing commitments, versus versus kind of supplementing his profile or substantiating some of his stated interests.

So I would say that he should determine what feels like the biggest profile or the biggest priority Rather, for his profile at this point, whether that's to really kind of dig deep into his existing commitments, or if he wants to, yeah, have some kind of evidence behind what he says, are his academic interests. And he should pursue that, that direction.

Athena  35:23  

Yeah, I mean, it. Oh, sorry. I mean it. No, no, no, no. Yeah, I think it sounds right. It sounds like what you're saying what I'm, I'm nodding my head. I know we're in a podcast can't see it.

Yeah, I feel like the answer here is that to your right, like deepening his existing commitments, and so the fact that he can show how, how he sort of taking initiative and going beyond with his existing commitments, and the fact that by doing that, he'll be able to show more of the SPARC rather than just the A, A department, as you said, I think that makes the the suggestions that you gave probably more pertinent for Van’s context.

So I mean, that sounds, that's I think that's the recommendation that we would make. Venkat. But of course, we'd have to ask you no more questions. But that's the kind of thinking that goes into this. It's really unique for each student.

Rob  36:22  

I would also, I would also, add that he can, there will be additional opportunities on the application for him to kind of substantially substantiate his interest in science. Right. So specifically, say, if he were going to go with, with kind of deepening his commitment to his service at the orphanage, he could ask for his recommendations from math and science teachers who can really speak to his proficiency and interest in STEM. Yeah.

Venkat Raman  36:56  

Okay, so it sounds like you guys are recommending to stay the course, deepen his commitment and the two areas - One is maybe Student Government and the other one is the orphanage, and look for other avenues for expressing his interest in science or STEM in general.

Yes. Fantastic. Good luck, Van. Yes. Well, he might be in one of these podcasts very soon, doing the same thing.

Venkat  37:32

Hi! Quick question. Are you doing the assignments as well?

If not, email podcast at alma matters.io (podcast@almamatters.io), Subject line “assignments”.

Do it right away. Thanks.

Venkat  37:46

Okay. Rob, I thought you could talk a little bit about why school breaks are so important for, you know, the rising senior, at least from a point of view of college applications.

Rob  38:04  [Why are Summer Breaks Important?]

Sure. So when we, when we say school breaks, we're really referring to summer or holiday breaks, which of course, differ significantly country to country. And in the States, we have, you know, two to three months summer breaks. But of course, don't have the same world worldwide.

So we recognize that some students will have quite a bit of time, while others will not. But I would say that the priority or the opportunity is if you do have time to use it to showcase your SPARC, and boost this extra curricular profile.

To the primary benefit of having these kind of longer chunks of time is that you can really deep, deep dive into one of your interests. I think school brakes are an awesome time to conduct research, work, internships, dive deeply into service travel, and a number of other things that you don't really have time to do just after school or on weekends. And a lot of these opportunities are still available to us during COVID.

So I'll turn it over to Athena to offer a bit more thinking on a productive use of school breaks.

Athena  39:20  [Effective Use of Summer Breaks]

Yeah, so I think that if listeners are gleaning, what is the most important thing to remember from all of this as Rob and I keep saying, it's about how you're able to communicate your SPARC to colleges through your extracurriculars and your summer and your school breaks.

I think the first thing to do when you're thinking about a productive use of school break is something very simple, which is to ask yourself, how much time you actually have in the next few months.

So for all of my, all of our listeners out there who are juniors in high school in your third year, you have a few months until actual college applications open up for you to start on. So you have to backwards plan from that. And understand, okay, maybe I have two months available to do something, maybe you only have a week or two to make things happen, but you have to realistically plan out what you can do with the knowledge of your deadlines coming up in November to apply and then in January and February for the final applications.

Venkat Raman  40:32  

Here is Srihari Balaji, a sophomore at Union College, New York.

Srihari Balaji  40:37

So, during the summer break between grade 11 and grade 12, I worked with a[n] education startup called Breathe Physics. I was the lead Content Developer and editor for the team had been working with the organization since the commencement of junior year. So I just followed on continued with that project during the summer break as well.

So the goal of the project was to design modules basically to create hands-on modules in physics, specifically in the field of mechanics for our underprivileged high school students. So it's basically to explain concepts of statics and dynamics in a more intriguing and more fun way to students from underprivileged backgrounds, especially grade 11 and 12 students across the state of Tamil Nadu[India].

And that project was essentially a continuation of what I did from grade 11. So in grade 11, I focused on electricity and magnetism, but I also dabbled my feet, in domain of mechanics. But during the summer, I focused more intensively on concepts pertaining to springs, and springs and other other topics in statics.

Athena  41:52  [Myths & Misconceptions about Summer Programs]

Um, Rob already said some really great way to spend your break.

But I think that it's important to address some of the myth busting some myths. That's what we're gonna do right now about what works, or what you should be doing during your school breaks. And this can also translate into general advice for extracurriculars as well.

Um, the first one is that there's a lot of hoopla around the pre-college programs. As you may know, there are many universities out there, I think, in my last count hundreds, it's in the hundreds of schools that offer usually residential programs, although this summer that might be different with COVID. So a program where students can take classes live on the campus, get to know what sort of preview the college experience before actually going to college. A lot of people have the idea that you need to attend the summer program of a brand name University. And if you do that, you will most likely be admitted to that school. So for example, if you attend Harvard's summer program, you are going to have a way better chance of getting into Harvard, that is absolutely not true. That, please do not it's okay to sign up for these programs, they can be really enriching and valuable for your personal growth. But do it because you want to attend that program. And because you want to learn whatever they're teaching, not because you think it'll give you an automatic boost, because it doesn't sort of relate.

On a related note, the idea that I need to do X, and you can insert whatever specific thing, whether it's internship, I need to do an internship, or I won't get into this business administration program, as an undergrad, I need to do scientific research, or else I won't be able to pursue biology on shout out to Van, from our last segment we talked about.

So this idea that you need to do this very specific thing. And that lends itself to an automatic in that is, again, not the case. If you've been following along you I think I hope that the understanding is that it's actually really different from one student to the next.

And it's about how that Confluence, how you show that confluence of factors within SPARC, and how effectively you do that on the application.

The final thing is that we understand that there are many students who have very particular family circumstances, perhaps you have to hold down a job during the school year or do it during your breaks, maybe you have to help take care of family members, or you know, maybe there's some other sort of exceptional circumstance that has hindered your ability to participate in the traditional sets of extracurriculars that you might have heard of.

So I want to assure everyone that that is okay. Universities understand that these, these situations come up. And you just want to make sure you give an explanation of your circumstances and do so in a way that shows your initiative and your ability to take responsibility and that you're not, it's not just stopping you from from doing your best.

So again, the most important thing to remember is how you're showing that SPARC through your extracurriculars and through your summer break activities.

Venkat Raman  45:14  

Oh, do we have any assignments for the listeners, the students this time?

Athena  45:20  [Segment #2 Assignment]

Yes, of course we do, because we are college admissions counselors, and we always want to give students assignments to help them know, to help them follow up on what we just talked about. So what we would like all our listeners to do is, I mean, you're probably wondering, Well, okay, they talked a lot about SPARC, how much spark am I showing in my own extracurriculars? Right now? That is a great question.

What I want our listeners to do is to make your CV make your or your resume, or some sort of list of all the activities that you participated in, during high school. Don't leave anything out, even if you're not sure if it should go on this list included anyway, send it to us. And we are going to assess it using the SPARC model, and we will tell you how much spark you are showing in your extracurricular activities.

So if you're able to show it to send that to us, then we can help you understand your own unique situation. And if you sign up for the podcast, we'll be able to provide more resources to help guide you on your quest to achieve greatness in your extracurriculars, and your school break activities.

Venkat  46:34

Hi again!

Hope you liked Segment 2 of the Podcast Series and found it useful.

In this Segment, we covered

  • The Importance of Extracurriculars and how to evaluate your ECs using the SPARC model;
  • How to ensure that the Summer Break is productive and effective.

As mentioned earlier, based on this Segment we have an assignment for students in the 11th grade. You can get our Counselors feedback on your assignments.

Venkat  47:14  [Call to Action - Subscribe for Assignments]

Now, You have to Subscribe to get the assignments.

It’s easy To Subscribe.

Just email to podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io] with the Subject: Assignments.

We will send you an email with instructions on the assignments.

As before,

Here’s a great deal for you:

Submit your Completed Assignments before our next Segment is published,

AND you will get a FREE review by Our Counselors.

So, hurry up!

And by the way, if you missed Segment #1, now’s the time to do those assignments as well.

Thank you so much for listening to our podcast today.

Our March Segment will be on College Application Strategy & the

April Segment on Application Essay Writing.

So stay tuned.

Venkat  48:07

This series is being created in collaboration with Admissionado, a US-based college counseling company that has counseled and guided thousands of students globally, with tremendous success for more than a decade.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

US Colleges, College Admissions, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University, Extracurricular, International Students, SPARC, Seizes, Pursues, Asker, Risker, Creates, Assignments, SAT, Summer Pre-College Programs, Yale University, Union College, University of Wisconsin Madison, Counselors, Admissions Officers, Wisconsin Idea.


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