Preparing for College

Is a Job an Extracurricular Activity?

Question: I am a high school sophomore, and I hope to attend an Ivy League university. I am an A student in the toughest courses offered at my private school. My concern is that I won’t have any extracurricular activities to list on my applications because I work after school every day doing filing in an insurance office. Will this hurt my chances of admission?

Colleges do indeed value work experience as an important extracurricular activity. If you come from a disadvantaged background and must work to pay for your own basic expenses, admission officials appreciate the challenges you face. On the other hand, if you come from a more privileged family and choose to be self-supporting anyway (at least to some extentâ€"we’re not talking about making mortgage payments here!), then admission folks will applaud the fact that you don’t take your good fortunes for granted. In other words, it’s really a no-lose situation.

If, however, the insurance company that employs you is one that a parent owns or works for, admission officials can be skeptical. That is, they may see from your application that you work for your mom or dad, and they might wonder just how much of a “real” job it is. They’ll know, for instance, that you didn’t have to go out and pound the pavement to find it, and they may also think that it’s application “window dressing” rather than the true commitment that you claim. This doesn’t mean that, in such a case, you should find another job, but it does mean that you might want to include with your application a brief (perhaps humorous) essay (or supplemental personal statement) that explains your duties and discusses the pluses (and minuses) of having a parent wear the boss’s hat every day.

Moreover, if your goal is to impress not just any admission official but Ivy Leaguers, you should consider trying to parlay your work experience into something uncommon or unique. For instance, you may be just a filer at your workplace, but perhaps you could use your experience to develop a system or even software program to streamline the job. Since you’re only a sophomore, you have time to do this or to learn some real skills and rise to a position of responsibility at work that might set you apart from other candidates.

However, although your work commitments will be well regarded by admission officials at all levels, you need to realize that you will also be “competing” with applicants who not only work long hours at paid jobs but also are class leaders or participate in sports or in a wide range of other extracurricular pursuits. Thus, if you are aiming for Ivy, we encourage you to keep your job but, in addition, find another passion to pursueâ€"whether its an activity at your school or a hobby you can do at home that fits into your work schedule.