Question: I am a high school junior. I play on my school's girls' varsity tennis team (a fall sport at my school) and also hold a part-time job as a cashier in a supermarket. I had problems last fall trying to schedule work hours around tennis practices and matches. I told my parents that I want to keep my job instead of playing on the tennis team next year. But they said that it will look bad not to have sports on my college application. (I will be applying to a lot of really selective schools including Ivies.) However, I am not a great tennis player (second doubles on a lousy team) although I will probably be co-captain next year if I do play. Even so, I would rather keep the job and maybe join another (non-sport) activity that won't conflict with my job. Are my parents right about it hurting my college chances if I don't play tennis?
No! How's that for a nice, short, direct answer? ;-) Although as a parent myself, I tend to bend over backwards to take Mom or Dad's side whenever possible, in this case. your cashier's job will look as good--or better--on your applications than your tennis will. There's nothing wrong with the tennis, of course, and being co-captain will give you some "brownie points" for "leadership." But, even so, most admission folks view athletics as a constructive use of time but nothing more unless the applicant is going to help lead the college team to glory. If a coach is interested in you, it's a whole different story, but--from what you've told me about your tennis prowess--I don't expect that.
On the other hand, working at a real-world job can carry more weight with admission committees. At the Ivies and other so-called "elite" institutions, admission folks are often left-leaning, bleeding-heart types. So, whether you're a poor kid who needs to work to help out with family expenses or a more well-heeled one who simply wants to pay her own way, it will probably work in your favor at decision time. So do tell your parents that your true "advantage" won't be on the tennis court, and it could "serve" you well to stick with your supermarket job ... not just at admissions time but perhaps at tuition time, too.