Make a list of your extracurriculars. Now list why you do each of them. If the reason for any of them is any iteration of the phrase “looks good on college app,” stop doing those right now. I have been there. It isn’t a place you want to be. It isn’t a place your college of choice wants you to be, either.
Junior year, I tried to be the kid that every college wanted. I was already in CSF, and I joined NHS along with six clubs that I absolutely did not have time for on top of swimming and multiple AP classes. It was stupid. I was stupid. By the end of first semester I was dead tired.
Everything felt so useless. Would a college even care if I had been in CSF? If I had volunteered at the Holiday Faire? Nothing was certain.
Because I felt so burned out, I dropped most everything and focused on what I love: props and costumes. I started with a full copy of Ezio’s outfit from Assassin’s Creed II, making everything from the coat patterns all the way up to the blades. During second semester, it was my outlet for stress.
I took it to a local convention in May, where I was convinced by 10,000 convention nerds that I should take commissions for work over the summer. So, when swimming became too much to deal with, I made things for other people. It was perfect; I loved making them, but was running out of space to store them. And though I was paid, it never felt like work. Every hour I spent on a piece felt like a respite, a break from looming college application deadlines.
And when I finally submitted them, NHS didn’t make it onto my list of extracurriculars. Neither did CSF. No clubs or societies made it onto my application at all. I felt guilty about adding them, because I didn’t really believe in them. But propmaking was my biggest essay. I loved it so much, I was all too happy to tell colleges everything about it.
They accepted me. And I got an email from one of the admissions counselors as to why: he loved my essay on props. He loved that I loved what I did.
So if you find yourself thinking “what matters to colleges?” remember: Colleges don’t care about what you think matters to them. They care about what matters to you.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some armor to build.