Extracurricular-Inflating: Epidemic highlights student lack of integrity

Written By: Claire Kowalec

Applying to college is a stressful task. In the Birmingham area, a vast majority of high school graduates attend college immediately upon their completion of high school, as is the culture in our school district and among most of our families. Many of these students will apply to prestigious schools—including but not limited to the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Stanford, and even some assorted Ivy League schools—with high expectations for their applicants.

While setting the bar high doesn’t have any flaws, in theory, a direct result of the scramble to be accepted to top-notch schools has proved to be the epidemic of Seaholm students inflating their extracurricular resumes with clubs and activities that are not very active. The culture at Seaholm is very competitive, and although there is nothing inherently wrong about a competitive atmosphere, a sense of inauthenticity seems to emanate from some people running certain clubs for which they hold officer positions.

I’ve noticed that students will also join clubs or commit to extracurriculars, then not fulfill their obligations. If an activity depends on a student’s actions to be successful or to produce a final product, then the student needs to live up to his commitment to the group. Other students who are passionate about a subject should not be hampered by one student’s interest in furthering their college applications.

I cannot say whether this is an epidemic in various high schools or if this is strictly confined to the Seaholm student body, but too many clubs are run by people who don’t seem to have a deep-rooted interest in the club’s causes and initiatives. As an unfortunate consequence, many of our student-run clubs scarcely meet at regular meetings or accomplish significant goals during the school year.

Of course, not all clubs are this way, but there is a disturbingly apparent issue with students joining and attending clubs that they do not have an interest in, solely for the sake of being able to put it on their college applications.

The current craze with college admissions is students’ obsession with finding leadership experiences in high school. Essentially, the more roles you have as President, Vice President, Editor, or founder of a club, the more schools seem to value you, and your chances of admission increase. While leadership positions are in demand for a reason, it is dishonest for students to seek out and earn credit for leadership opportunities in which they do not lead.

One of Seaholm’s qualities that I admire is our school’s lenience with student-run and created clubs. I remember being a freshman at Seaholm and learning that if a club didn’t already exist at Seaholm, students are welcome to find a teacher sponsor and begin one. Unfortunately, with activities being chiefly student-run, it is solely dependent on the students how much the club achieves in a school year. Therefore, the problem at Seaholm lies in the fact that students want to show colleges their ability to take initiative to lead or found a club, but then don’t do anything with the club once they obtain the leadership role.

I hold a few leadership positions in different student groups, and I am all too familiar with the disappointing nature of not having enough time to get around to projects I want my activities to complete. Therefore, on the other hand, it is completely understandable that students with many AP or Honors classes, sports, or other obligations can’t devote much time to their extracurriculars. The problem, again, is with resume-inflating students who don’t adhere to the importance of integrity.

And, being a senior, I have been through the stress of trying to build a college application in which I feel confident. I understand and vividly remember the anxieties that come with all the different components of an application a student must construct, one of them being the list of extracurriculars a student provides to the college. Trying to find leadership roles or simply clubs in general that look good on a college application isn’t as important as you think.

Find leadership roles in groups you really care about or select clubs based on your interests, not how good they look on college applications. There is nothing wrong with trying out for the Forensics team (for example), staying on for a year, then not coming back the next. Despite the almost mathematical advice and “how-tos” that supposedly place you on the correct path to college, you still have wiggle room to find out what really interests you. Please do not seek out leadership opportunities just for the sake of having leadership positions. Seek out leadership opportunities or club membership in areas that you love. Getting involved and dabbling in a series of different activities is an essential part of high school, but students should make their choices regarding club involvement based on what they are truly interested in, not in what clubs look good on college applications.

College representatives want to know about your real interests; how thinly you can spread yourself between an impossible amount of extracurriculars or between leadership positions that sometimes aren’t honest is not an accurate measure of the student the college will be receiving.

For instance, the college representatives with whom I’ve had conversations have asked me questions about my involvement in journalism and other writing-related activities. It is a great feeling to know that since I started considering college applications my freshman year of high school, I’ve come full circle, and found myself associated again with writing as a deeply-rooted passion of mine, despite my experimentation in a number of Seaholm clubs that simply didn’t excite my interest. Get out of clubs you don’t like, and join clubs that you do. This Seaholm culture of hanging on to clubs based solely on what colleges want to see shows a horrifying lack of integrity among Seaholm students.

The “fake” atmosphere that marrs Seaholm’s reputation is a direct result of the dishonest behavior of students who do not adhere to their character, nor to fulfilling what their leadership positions entail. Again, it is absolutely normal to experiment in different activities, but don’t spend time as a member—or an officer—of a club that simply doesn’t mean that much to you.

Although you’ve inarguably heard the gist of this before from Seaholm English teachers in particular, I cannot express how important it is to find yourself and be honest with your interests. You can’t have one without the other, and it really disappoints me to see firsthand Seaholm’s reputation for dishonesty in character in conjunction with students’ crazed, competitive rush to get into the best universities in the nation.

Getting into college is still possible while being invested in clubs and leadership roles that truly mean something to you. This “extracurricular-inflating” epidemic is an insult to the values Seaholm seeks to stand for, and our emphasis of integrity is lost amidst the painfully competitive nature that is deeply integrated into our culture.

The opinions of the writer are her own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stances of The Highlander.

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