Preparing for College

Which "Looks Better" on Applications ... Academic Team or State Orchestra?

Question: My 17 year old has qualified to audition for All State orchestra for viola. He is also on the academic team which has made it to the state finals. The problem is the audition and the academic team event are on the same day. He is still undecided about a musical career, so wonders which of the two events would "look better" to colleges.

As the parent of a 9th grader, I've already discovered that teenagers seem to face major schedule conflicts even more than adults do. (My son claims it's because adults still control kids' lives ... and that they don’t look beyond their immediate concerns when making demands on teenagers’ time.) So you and your son have my sympathy as you address this dilemma.

Frankly, both activities will "look good" on applications, but if your son is applying to the most hyper-competitive places, then neither one will really stand out in a crowd. The Ivies and their ilk have more than their share of academic team winners and state orchestra musicians.

But ... if forced to pick one over the other, I'd vote for the viola because it's an individual achievement and not a group endeavor. However, the difference is hair-splitting, so if your son would prefer the academic team event, then I’d support his choice as well.

Do you think that there’s any chance that your son could try out for the state orchestra on another day? If the auditions are on a weekend, there may be a provision for students who have religious prohibitions … i.e., some students can only attend on Sundays and some only on Saturdays. Perhaps, too, there is a make-up try-out for any student who is ill or even for those who have a major conflict, as your son does. (Your son’s music teacher may be able to look into this for you.) While it would be impossible to reschedule the academic competition because of the team format, it may be possible to find an alternate date for an individual event. (I also have to wonder if there are other students who are facing this exact same conflict. After all, the orchestra kids are often the brainy ones ;))

So, before giving up on one of these opportunities, I suggest that your son make every effort to land another viola try-out time. If that doesn’t work, he’ll have a tough choice to make, but I don’t think college admissions “currency” is really a part of it.

(posted 2/25/2012)