Make your extracurriculars work for you!
The US applications process can be compared to a song compilation. To get an acceptance, you need to hit the right notes and have the right instruments and lyrics to convey your passion. If any one thing goes off beat or doesn’t fit, people may not relate to it. But, in the end, this is still YOUR song! So don’t worry about which tune or melody is the ‘correct’ one; you have to choose whatever speaks to you.
My application journey was a difficult one, and yet I wouldn’t change a thing. I completed it without any external help, and at first, I felt like I was at a disadvantage. This is because instead of applying to several different colleges, I only had one dream school in mind – Harvard University. If I could think of one mistake that is very easy to make in this process, it would be to assume that you will get admitted – even if it is to your backups. You have to prepare for all possible situations because if you don’t get an acceptance, you must have a Plan B. In my case, I worked on perfecting my Early Application for Harvard, refusing to focus on any other universities. Eventually, I got deferred and I had to complete my regular decision applications in a panic, with barely any time left.
Another aspect that I struggled with was deciding my extracurriculars. What should I focus on? A very common misconception most students have is that there are certain extracurricular prerequisites for universities in the US; playing an instrument, writing a research paper, interning somewhere or playing a sport. At first, I joined this race and tried to complete as many activities as possible so that I could mention them on my résumé. However, towards the end, I was completely burnt out as I was doing too many things. I wasn’t interested in sports, but to have that category on my application I joined Karate classes and threw up every day before I realised that it wasn’t for me. And then, I had my Eureka moment. I thought to myself: if my application was similar to so many other applications, then how would I stand out? This is when I decided to stop half of the things I was doing superficially and focus on two or three things that really mattered to me – spoken word poetry, running a startup and community engagement.
I learnt about spoken word during my first Theory of Knowledge class as a part of the IB curriculum and instantly fell in love. I was so amazed at how people could compel others to introspect upon themselves with just a few intonations and actions in their speech. Unfortunately, spoken word is not popular in India, so there were barely any platforms available. However, I really wanted to show the admissions officers that I was a proactive individual so I signed up for my first Spoken Word event at the Barking Deer Brewpub and was the youngest person there, by 20 years! From there my journey only went forward. I found other platforms to speak and was forced to reflect on everyday occurrences to form the basis of my poems. However, it was the TEDx event at my school that made my application stand out. Usually, students sign up for the TEDx organising committee and bring in speakers from outside. But I wanted to do something different and knew this was the perfect opportunity for me to take the stage as a speaker.
Whenever I speak about my Spoken Word work, each word is filled with passion. If I look back, I think I could have been more productive if I stuck to one or two activities that I loved instead of trying to be an ‘all-rounder’. An admissions officer wants to see how you have chosen something you are passionate about and have excelled at it, not that you spent a lot of money to learn beginners piano or learn basketball in two weeks.
In the end, this is your song, so make sure you make it unique. Try new things, but then stick to the ones that you like and demonstrate growth.
Sanjana Jobalia is a guest blogger for The Red Pen and a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University, where she is studying cognitive neuroscience and business.