The short answer to the question above is that most high school students are terrible administrators. If left up to them, they will do little to no tracking of their time spent, and the awards and achievements they have earned as a result of their involvement in extracurricular activities. The Teenage Brain by Frances Jensen is a good starting point to understand where personal management ranks among all of the other things a student is dealing with during these years. Adding to this, once a student begins to drive, a parent starts to loose track of what their teenage is doing on a daily basis. It turns out the chore of chauffeuring our student to each practice, club meeting or party was the impulse behind keeping a well organized calendar.
So why does it matter if a student is not very good at keeping track of all of the extracurricular activities while in high school, and why should a parent make every effort to keep their electronic calendar up to date with all of their student’s activities throughout this time period?
Parents who have gone through the college application process know that their student’s extracurricular activities influence admissions decisions. Admissions officers want students that show depth and commitment, and that the student held a leadership position in the activities they participated in. There are also a number of stakeholders involved in the application process (college and scholarship) who look for key mindset and behavior standards that are result from participation in extracurricular activities.
Parents that got to the beginning of their student’s senior year without having organized from the beginning, found themselves spending hours going back through their calendars, emails, and social media posts trying to reconstruct the last 3.5 years of their student’s life. Apart from missed opportunities; tension, frustration, and strained relationships are a few of the milder adjectives used to describe the college application experience in these circumstances.
With the application process becoming noisier and more competitive due to the increased number of electronic applications sent in each year, there is an even greater need to stay organized and leverage opportunities early in high school through the use of a digital portfolio:
If two applicants look the same on paper and only one can be admitted, the college will favor the applicant who has visited the campus and/or communicated with the admissions department. Participating in campus visits and college fairs begin as early as sophomore year. Students have used MePlusMore to create a digital portfolio and include when they send thank you or introductory emails. Depending on when their initial contact occurred, students have followed up with an update on their activities leading up to submitting their application.
Admissions officers look to see that a student was productive the summer between their junior and senior year. This may include seminars, internships, exchange programs or employment. Specifically, they want to see that a student is focusing on an area of interest that could translate into their college major or future profession. In each of these situations students have used their digital portfolio to provide additional details to the directors or employer to boost their chances of being selected. Once selected they were able to add their experience to their digital portfolio.
Academic Honor Societies
Highly regarded when highlighted on the college application, honor societies like the National Honor Society, Cum Laude Society, or subject specific societies like Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica require both academic achievement and evidence of outside activities for initial inclusion. Having a digital portfolio to provide the society’s sponsor has aided students in getting admitted. Once admitted, these societies require additional extracurricular involvement like volunteering and participating in specific events. Students continue to add to their digital portfolio by categorizing these activities alongside other extracurricular activities.
In many school districts, non-merit based scholarships are available to your student beginning as early as freshman year in high school. The variety of community, business and local college scholarship opportunities are enormous and varied. Students have been able to customize their digital portfolio to cater to the specific scholarship request (e.g. show all scouting or volunteer activity), and secure monies well ahead of applying to any specific college.
Teachers may have to submit upwards of 60 letters of recommendation for students needing them for college applications. Many teachers rely on a form letter they’ve created to handle the volume of requests. Admissions departments are keen on identifying letters that are ordinary in their recommendation vs. those where he/she wrote powerfully about the student excelling in the classroom and high school overall. Communicating with favorite teachers as early as sophomore year and providing a link to their digital portfolio has given teachers a holistic view of a student’s activities and achievements. Providing periodic updates keeps the student front of mind so when a letter of recommendation is requested the teacher is assured of the students’ interest and intent.
College coaches want students that are not only good on the field and in the classroom, but demonstrate character across all settings. Athletic directors want student athletes who can elevate their fellow teammates and contribute to the image of the team and the institution. A student’s digital portfolio serves as a way to highlight the characteristics of perseverance, dedication, grit and volunteerism throughout all the activities they have participated in. Additionally, the digital portfolio makes it easy to highlight within recruiting applications the actual hours of training and competition a student has dedicated to a particular sport. Listing actual hours distinguishes high school athletes among other potential recruits.
Activities related to college applications and supplementing the cost of your student’s college education begins their freshman year. Parents who organize early are better equipped to respond to the opportunities that arise throughout their student’s high school career.