"A Day in the Life" - First in a Series of Exercises for Developing Answers to College Application Questions
Exercises for College Applications
This is the first in a series of blog posts I will make about preparing for college applications, including the essay questions. This may also help you with your SAT and ACT essays, scholarship applications, and even summer job, internship, and summer educational program applications. Without further ado, here’s the first exercise I’ve thought of.
“A Day in the Life:”
Jot down what you are doing at any point during a typical day – make notes on a notepad, or more likely, record text or voice memos on your cell phone. This will help when applications ask about your activities – not all extracurricular activities that will impress college admissions officials are organized by your school! They may not even be “official” work or volunteer work. Do you spend time taking care of your younger brother or sister? That’s “child care.” Helping friends with homework? That’s “tutoring.” It’s a good idea to give things the best name you can, with an explanation so you can’t be accused of being dishonest or misleading. What you DON’T want to do is try to trick admissions officials with cutesy descriptions as “landscape maintenance specialist” as your description of lawn mowing, or “Used ionic and non-ionic surfactants to remove lipids, proteins, polysaccharides, and other organic compounds from a porcelain substrate” for your dishwashing job.
Of course, “official” volunteer work at a hospital, church, retirement home is easier to verify and should be included, as should any extracurricular activity you do in or through your school. That’s why this exercise is about tracking what you do when adult supervisors (teachers, employers, etc.) are not present.
Recreational activities count! Going for a walk? A bike ride? Log it. Playing video games, a role-playing game, a board game, etc.? Those activities count as well. Pick-up or casual sports with friends? Count those, too! All of these things are activities in which college students participate, and are encouraged by the college. Seriously, “ultimate Frisbee” is a sport at many colleges (it’s harder than it sounds). Competitive colleges want people who “work hard and play hard.”
Most schools want to know you’re not someone who doesn’t do ANYTHING but study (called a “tool,” with all that connotes, where and when I went to college). I’ve read about colleges calling such applicants and students “gunners,” after Charles Whitman, the University of Texas (Austin) student who shot at other students with a hunting rifle from the bell tower on the campus in 1966. You DON’T want admissions officials to think you’re a “gunner;” they want their students to be “well-rounded” individuals.
Unfortunately, if you don’t list a number of extracurricular activities, the college you apply to will think that either (1) you’re a “tool” and/or a “gunner,” or (2) you fill in your hours with activities you don’t want to discuss with them. Even listing “watching movies on Netflix” and “playing video games” is better than listing nothing (hey, you can learn things about urban development by playing SimCity, and learn about history, current events, psychology, science, etc. by watching many movies). Otherwise admissions officials will assume you’re a future stress burnout case because all you do is study, or your ideas of fun mean you will appear before the discipline committee on a regular basis if they’re dumb enough to admit you. Don’t be that applicant.
Schools want students with outside interests for a good reason. You’ll be happier in life if schoolwork and your paid work aren’t the only things in your life, and you’re very likely to “burn out” if they are, even if you don’t climb up any towers with a rifle slung over your shoulder. To quote an often-used cliché, “No one ever died thinking they didn’t put in enough hours at the office.” The same applies to schoolwork. If you do some things “just for fun,” you’ll be happier and healthier. If you’re happier and healthier, you will be more likely to succeed in all ways, including financially, and you’ll be in a better position to donate to the college when you’re an alumnus or alumna.
So just make a little note, using paper, your cell phone or media player’s “notes” or “recorder” function, about what you do. Then you’ll have a record when you’re wracking your brains to list your activities on your college applications. Anything you’ve recorded is better than “Uh…I dunno, just hangin’ out with my friends, you know? Probably watching some TV or something.” Even posting to YouTube, online message boards, and other Internet activity as long as it’s something you’d be happy to show your teachers, your grandparents, and every college admissions officer and future employer you will ever have (the Net is forever; if you want to post weird or controversial things, use a fake name and don’t use your real picture or an email address/user name that’s YOUR NAME – see my previous posts)…
This skill will also help you in any job where your duties may vary and your work may not be immediately apparent or measurable. For example, if you’re working for a lawyer, you’ll help the lawyer by showing what you were doing, for what client, and how much time it took, so the lawyer can bill the client or even get it from the other side if he or she wins the case. If you’re unfortunate enough to work for an abusive or unethical employer, it’s good to keep records of when you worked and what you did for two reasons: (1) you have a ready answer for the inevitable complaint, usually yelled at you “WHAT DID YOU DO ALL DAY? DO YOU EVEN DO ANYTHING AT ALL WHEN I’M NOT HERE WATCHING YOU? WHY SHOULD I EVEN PAY YOU?” and so on; and (2) if you need to complain to the government for a labor code wage and hour violation, you have something to prove your claim (it’s best to provide copies to your employer as you go, so he/she can’t claim you just made them up after you were fired or quit). But I digress (and if you have a legal claim, please speak to an attorney or the labor standards agency in your jurisdiction; I am not licensed to practice law in any jurisdiction, yadda yadda disclaimer disclaimer… ;-) )
The sooner you start on this exercise, the better off you will be. You don’t want to be panicking over this at the end of December; especially when it’s easy to get this out of the way in a week or so by recording your activities. I hope this helps!
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Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.