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Posted by on Monday, September 20, 2010 in The College Essay.

The well-rounded student vs. the well-angled student.  Which does Vanderbilt prefer?  Both!  We need generalists and specialists in our class of 1,600.  What really matters to us is that you love what you’re doing.  Passion is hard to fake.  If you’re just choosing activities to fill a resume, it shows.  Stop worrying about what each admissions counselor personally likes; what do you love to do?  You don’t have to be an all-star in the activity either.  Being a happy participant is fine with us.  Here are some other thoughts about your extracurriculars:

  • JOBS.  In 2009, 63 percent of high school seniors had a job (according to the NYT); this is absolutely an important extracurricular activity.  You learn invaluable skills and life-lessons in your part-time work.
  • EXPLAIN.  We research your high schools and areas fairly extensively, but we still need help sometimes.  If you participate in an organization that is not nationally recognized, explain what it is.
  • RESTRAINT.  We discourage submitting supplemental materials such as DVDs, novellas, or portfolios.  First of all, I am in no way qualified to judge artwork because I can barely draw a stick figure.  Second of all, human eyes see every application submitted to Vanderbilt; because of this commitment we have little time to give to supplemental materials.
  • COUNT.  There are 168 hours in a week.  Approximately 40 hours are spent in school.  Even if you are only getting 5 hours of sleep per night, you’re still sleeping for 35 hours a week.  There are only 93 hours left to fill and I imagine some of those fill up with eating, driving, and brushing your teeth.  The point is, when you list your  hours per extracurricular on the Common App…. count!  I value balance and sanity.
  • LEADERSHIP.  Being a leader can be great, but you don’t have to be the leader of everything.  If you’re a quiet student or love an activity regardless of a less prestigious role, that’s okay!  Tell me about the extracurricular and highlight your worker-bee attitude.
  • FOUNDER.  If you list yourself as the founder of an organization, tell me how that came to fruition.  I’m particularly interested in whether or not the organization will sustain after you’ve left.  I also want to know what need the club serves.  Additionally, don’t feel as if you need to found a new chapter/club/organization.  There are many existing organizations who need impact-makers to join.

Lastly, please know that we do not make value judgements.  No single extracurricular or path is “better” than another.  The thoughts above are just some of my ramblings as I sit here in the airport preparing for another week on the road.  I try to anticipate some of your questions and concerns, but I don’t always cover every base.  Questions?  Ask!

PS: The picture above is Tobago, my favorite giraffe at the Dallas Zoo this past week!  Travel season is tons of work, but sometimes I make fabulous pit stops along the way!

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  • Jenny

    June 2nd, 2012

    so helpful!

  • Guest - Sarah

    July 31st, 2016

    Good afternoon,
    My daughter moved high schools 3 times, and since she has been to three different high schools, she lost her two leadership positions she possessed. How can this be reflected in the application?

  • Jay Watson

    August 3rd, 2016

    Thanks for your question, Sarah. Students are absolutely encouraged to share this kind of context through the application. Each of our application methods gives students an opportunity to include a personal statement separate from the essay. That space can be used to share any relevant information including info about moving schools. At Vanderbilt, your daughter can also get in touch with her Admissions Counselor in order to share this kind of information.