Defining the Perfect Gift, Like the Perfect College Applicant, Can Be Elusive
Gifts are tricky. You want to get the people in your life something that truly expresses your feelings for them and that they will love and cherish all their lives.
Whether it’s Ralphie in A Christmas Story pining for a Red Ryder BB gun and then nearly shooting his eye out, or that incredibly awful clay thing (Mug? Ashtray? Modern art?) you made for your mom in first grade, gifts rarely get the results we expect. You’d think we could fix this by just asking, “What the heck do you want?” Somehow, however, that rarely works. Instead, friends and family alike provide any number of inconsistent responses like “I really don’t need anything,” “anything you make me will be fine,” and, “actually, probably just this particular item that’s impossible to find and incredibly expensive, but I certainly don’t want to inconvenience you in any way.”
Of course, what they really mean is, “I am going to judge you by the gift you give me, so it better be an incredible expression of your affection and deep understanding of my personality, or I will conduct a campaign of passive aggressive retribution that will run well past New Year’s Day and, if you are LUCKY, will have concluded before the groundhog sees his shadow.” That’s a lot of pressure.
What College Admissions and Gift-Giving Have in Common
Unfortunately, answers about the college admissions process can be similar. My favorite is when prospective students ask what college admissions committees look for in extra-curricular involvement. This seems to result in one of two possible responses. The popular response early in my career focused on being “well-rounded.” This indicated that students would best position themselves for admission by showing talents and activities outside of their primary areas of interest, and the more the better.
That answer seems to have been supplanted in popularity by the advice that it is crucial that an applicant demonstrate “passion.” While this would seem a wholly inappropriate response (and one, I must admit, that can cause those who join me in having the humor of parenting a tween to giggle incessantly). The meaning, however, is generally promptly explained, usually in laborious detail, as encouraging students to show depth of involvement in some area, on the assumption that college admissions committees will give the larger emphasis to students who have done a lot in a concentrated area of interest.
So you should be involved in a lot of different things, preferably outside your primary area of interest. AND you should focus your involvement to your primary area of interest.
These are the kinds of responses that makes college applicants want to put out our eyes – Red Ryder BB gun optional.
In the spirit of the holidays, I offer you this gift: It is nutty to pick your extra-curricular activities by what you THINK will influence the college admissions process. One admissions officer or committee may like diverse involvement, while others prefer depth. Or they may change their minds from day to day. You just can’t possibly know, so why bother? Your BEST bet is to do things that interest YOU, not that might (or might not) be of interest to a college admissions officer.
Speaking of extra-curricular involvement, a holiday season Shameless Plug: Check out this Mason graduate student performing as a Radio City Rockette!
I hope this advice is helpful, but no need to thank me, or get me a present. Really. I mean, if you happen to find an extra first edition of Action Comics #1 with the first appearance of Superman (market valued at just under $500,000) and you felt that it was a gift you just HAD to give me, I suppose I could accept it, just to make sure YOU feel good. Yes, I’m all about giving.
Be seeing you.
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