Extracurriculars over SATs

Get to know students through activities and not numbers

Student 1. 4.0 GPA. 35 ACT. AP National Scholar. Deferred. Student 2. 3.5 GPA. 31 ACT. Student Council President. Nationally ranked ice skater. Scholastic Writing Award winner. Accepted.

Although what qualifies someone to get accepted by a university is a widely contested issue, the most distinguishable characteristic an applicant can have, in my opinion, is a developed repertoire of extracurricular activities.

Practically anyone can read a few Princeton Review books, take a test prep class and score well on a test, but it takes true initiative to start a club or win a national award. Many of my classmates have improved their test scores by simply taking more practice tests, but excelling in an activity takes more tenacity.

Some critics argue that prestigious universities should only accept the top of the class, and being successful academically in high school determines success in college.

However, many universities, including Creighton University, the University of Chicago and Drake University, have stopped requiring applicants to submit standardized test scores. This is due to the belief that testing does not necessarily measure a student’s potential in higher education.

In fact, Harvard University does not have any set cutoff scores for GPA or SAT/ACT scores. The admissions process is a “whole person review”, looking at the student’s potential, interests and character.

I remember being shocked when my English teacher said that one of her students, who had a few 3s in some classes and an okay ACT score, got into Harvard. On the other hand, one of her other students, who had near perfect test scores and a 4.0 GPA, was rejected.

The difference was that the high scoring student lacked interpersonal skills and was overly competitive, refusing to help any of his classmate succeed. Conversely, the acceptee was actively involved in his community and taught refugees how to speak English.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “Recent research suggests that participation in extracurricular activities may increase students’ sense of engagement or attachment to their school, and thereby decrease the likelihood of school failure and dropping out.”

Campuses should be diverse and wide-ranging, allowing students to meet different people. If universities were to weigh merit over emotional intelligence, college campuses would be filled with competitive, erudite people who wouldn’t know how to get along with each other.

At Cornell University, an Ivy League school known for its academic rigor, six students committed suicide in 2010-2011. This coincides with higher rates of reported depression, stress, and anxiety due to academic pressure.

How well a student will do on a college campus should not be determined by mere numbers. Many students have high GPAs and standardized test scores, but not everyone is a nationally ranked debater or serving as the captain of the science olympiad team.