College Admission for a Daughter with NO Extracurriculars?

Question: Is it possible to get in to college without ANY extracurricular activities? I have a very introverted daughter. She attends an independent study high school that meets only six hours per week and then assigns about 30-35 hours of outside work. She does this work on her own while other kids her age are in school. When she’s not studying, her favorite activities are sitting alone in her room reading philosophy books, drawing, and writing in her journal. Sometimes she gets together with a good friend (she actually has a healthy number of friends), but her social life tends to be one-on-one interactions as opposed to parties or even group outings. She’s not a “joiner”, and she doesn’t like doing things with large groups of people. As a result she has no formal activities of the sort that most applications require: no teams, no clubs, no working on the newspaper, no choruses, no church group, etc. How does she talk about extracurricular activities on her application when the things she loves to do are so internal and solitary? She is interested in small liberal arts colleges, and her GPA is around a 3.5.

Imagine that you’re an admission officer at a highly selective college, and let’s say that it’s just minutes short of midnight. You’ve already read 37 of the application folders on your coffee table, and the pile doesn’t seem to be getting much smaller. As you study the open file on your lap, you see that the candidate is in the Spanish Club, on the Debate Team, and a member of the Model U.N. Didn’t the last application say exactly the same thing? No, wait, that one said the French Club. You yawn twice and wonder how you’ll ever survive the stack in front you. But then it’s on to the next folder. What? This student doesn’t seem to be in anyschool clubs. Could this really be? Your heart skips a couple beats and you start humming Ode to Joy.

While admission officials do want students to be engaged outside the classroom, the role of the school club is vastly overrated. Sure, being a star athlete is one of the biggest admission “hooks” around, but the more typical teenage undertakings are so commonplace on applications that a candidate without them might actually have an advantage in the selection process.

However, for your daughter, the hard part may be figuring out how to present her assorted endeavors as application fodder. For starters, although they’re not official clubs or organizations she can list all of her endeavors in the “Activities” section of her application. (The Common Application … and most others … will provide room for a concise description.) She may, in addition, want to write her main essay about her most consuming hobby … perhaps her interest in philosophy. She might submit journal entries (if they’re not too personal) along with her drawings as arts supplements. Her aim should be to show admission folks exactly what you have told “The Dean”—that she does indeed have a life beyond her school obligations and that she’s very motivated to pursue it independently.

Another pursuit that your daughter might want to consider is a part-time  job. Admission officials like to see paid work on applications, and it could help balance out your daughter’s life of the mind if her application were to also include a little life behind a cash register or fry-o-later. This could be a way to get her to engage a bit more with the world without forcing her to attend meetings, speak in front of a crowd, or learn a secret handshake. If she does prefer to be alone in her room but also plans to go to college where she’ll live in a dorm and interact regularly with strangers, holding down a part-time job might make the transition ahead a little smoother. (And since she is not in school when most of her peers are, she could get the jump on the shifts that may be hardest to fill.)

Finally, both you and your daughter should check out this College Confidential discussion thread that I started several years ago. It’s about “Hidden Excurriculars” … much like your daughter’s. I think it will make both of you feel more confident that not everyone who gets good news from a top-choice school was in the marching band or the Key Club. 🙂