When I was applying to colleges, one of the most common things that I was told was that while my GPA was important, the factor that would truly make me stand out to my top schools was being “well-rounded.” I was told that I should engage in as many extracurricular activities as I could, to be a person who was involved in their community, to be more than just a set of grades and test scores. So that is what I did; I played an instrument, I landed some small roles in school plays, I joined the Honor Society, I even joined Math League (I majored in English, probably didn’t need that one). Did it help me to become a more appealing applicant? I’d certainly like to think so, but it is difficult to gauge that without asking the admissions officer who selected me. However, I can provide some insight into what might be best for you.
When it comes down to it, the most important thing is still your grades. Being a well-rounded student is a good thing for sure, but you first need to prove you can meet the academic standards of the school you want to attend. If you’re engaged in several extracurricular activities and your grades suffer because of it, it reflects poorly on you. It shows that you are unable to handle a packed schedule, which you are even more likely to have in college than in high school.
This is not to say that you should completely forsake the activities that you care about, you should make the time to find things you are passionate about so long as you are able to balance them with your academics to succeed in both areas. Ultimately, colleges do want you to do it all. They want someone who is succeeding in their academic pursuits while also being involved in their community, or the arts, or athletics. It is not an easy thing to do by any means, which is why the truly most important thing that can come out of this argument is finding your limits. One of the most important skills you will have to learn in college is balance. You will have more freedom in how you spend your time than you likely ever have, so it is important that during your high school career you take the time to find out how much you can handle at one time. That way you are able to be a “well-rounded” person to some extent, while also being someone who is able to prioritize their mental and physical health.
So to make a long story short, what is ultimately the most important thing for your college career is that you are able to be someone who can enjoy all that college has to offer, because there are a great deal of opportunities you’ll get to take advantage of, and not being able to balance yourself means you will miss out on them.
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