Begin with what you love.
We often talk about activity advising in terms of the Japanese concept of ikigai. The philosophy of ikigai means pursuing and embracing activities where what you are good at, what you enjoy doing, and what the world needs intersect and overlap.
When it comes to extracurricular pursuits, considering ikigai means encouraging your student to develop their natural curiosities and interests, rather than allowing them to limit themselves to their (or your!) expectations around what activities may look most impressive on a resume later on.
Identifying skills, intellectual curiosities, and natural proclivities is a great place to start. In middle school and the initial years of high school, foster your student’s sense of curiosity and advocate for them to be open to new experiences; genuine joy and fascination are key parts of both ikigai and a fun and balanced high school experience.
Better Person –> Better Applicant
It can be tempting to focus too much on how decisions will affect the college application process, but a student should never make a choice or participate in anything JUST because college applications are in their future. High school is a prime time to explore and be curious, to try things out and make mistakes. Encourage your student to focus on becoming the best version of themselves, for themselves.
Remind your student that while extracurriculars can make an impact on an application later on, students are unlikely to be penalized by a potential future college for taking advantage of a period of intellectual exploration in middle school and the first half of high school.
Admissions officers are people. People accept other people – and people are drawn to authenticity and genuineness.
This idea may not sound intuitive to students at first, but the fact of the matter is the advantage of focusing on authentic personal growth is that the student will become a better person – and students who focus on becoming better people will naturally and ultimately make better college applicants.
Deepen the experience.
Once your student has settled on the activities that are the most enjoyable and the most meaningful to them, the best strategy for heightening their fulfillment from those activities is to seek out ways to deepen your student’s involvement.
Showcasing depth and commitment in a handful of impactful activities will ultimately yield a more enriching experience than spreading time and efforts over many activities – and a stronger college application, as admissions officers value quality over quantity.
That sweet spot, where a student is doing what they love and are good at while giving back, is ikigai in a nutshell.
Another way to deepen experience is to pursue leadership positions in their chosen activity – but leadership isn’t limited to being Class President or soccer captain. Leadership can look like starting their own business, seeking out ways to recruit and involve others, creating a hypothesis for research, or even starting a garage band.
A student who is passionate about animals, for instance, could show leadership and expand on that passion in myriad ways. That student could volunteer at an animal shelter, organize a puppy playgroup, start their own cat-sitting business, or do a research project comparing types of dog training techniques.
Students who seek to deepen their extracurricular experiences in these ways will discover the joy that comes from pursuing the balance of ikigai. Moreover, fully and meaningfully engaging with their extracurriculars just so happens to also have the added benefit of making the student a stronger future college applicant.
Plan for what you can.
We often emphasize to families that in the long game of the college application process, there are only a few factors in your control: grades, standardized tests, applications, essays, recommendation letters, and activities.
Thinking about college can be overwhelming and stressful for many families. With so many factors that go into an application, it is common to fear you are behind or missing something important in the process.
Too much concern about college prep can detract focus from your student’s main goal, which should be to have an enjoyable, challenging, and fulfilling high school experience.
Fear is not productive – but planning is. Starting high school with a long-term plan when it comes to choosing classes, calibrating a challenging academic workload, and pursuing extracurriculars can go a long way toward allowing your student to focus on becoming the best version of themselves in their present rather than worrying about looming application deadlines in their future.
How we can help:
We offer Academic and Activity Advising meetings to help empower students and to restore some ownership to them over this intense time of competing choices and pressures.
Our goal is to give students a roadmap to individuality and fulfillment that goes beyond the college prep process. Our Academic and Activity Advising meetings are an opportunity to have a meaningful, thoughtful conversation that emphasizes balance and self-development while easing apprehension about the future by making an academic plan.
We start our meetings by forefronting your student’s interests and goals. Once we have a great sense of your student, we seek to help them create a plan that requires enough rigor to engage their minds while also helping students create enough space in their schedules to allow for freedom and exploration.
If an Academic and Activity Advising meeting sounds like it might be a right fit for you and your student, you can reach out HERE.