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What Activities Should My Child Pursue to Succeed in College?

by Carol Barash, PhD, on Nov 21, 2013 12:46:00 PM

Does my child need to take ballet? Or violin? Training in music helps develop lasting aural comprehension and math sense—or should she go to space camp and be on the debate team? Kids need hands-on training in the sciences and public speaking. Should she be taking Spanish? Chinese? Does he need to go on a service trip? Learn to code? Students should be prepared for the rapid globalization of today’s markets—what will get my child into the best colleges?

We hear these questions all the time. From high school students as well as parents. It’s kind of terrifying, how wide the world is, and how many options there are to pursue—but that’s the answer. There are so many options. No single course of extracurriculars is right for every student. 

But there are common denominators in what colleges are looking for: passion, perseverance, curiosity, and leadership. Just the things you’d expect colleges to want: students who will approach their classes with intellectual excitement and open minds, and who will bring vitality and success to the clubs and programs on campus.

Help your child pursue their interests with passion, so they become leaders and innovators in their chosen activities. Here are five steps to help your child choose and commit to their passions:

(While these steps are mostly middle and high-school appropriate, they can be adjusted to work with younger children.)

1. Ask: What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Help them clear out their cobwebs of doubt and ask themselves: What’s the most important thing I want to take on? What would change my year? My college or career options? It could be something as simple as starting to exercise, writing every day, or signing up for voice lessons. The choices are endless, but help them choose one thing. Depending on his or her age, the next step may be to turn the rest of this list over to him or her!

2. Commit to it. We make things real by talking about them. When I decided to apply to grad school, I started telling people the spring before. Then, that fall, when I was staring at the requirements, dead-eyed and desperate to put applying off another year—I had to do it. I’d already told people I was going to. This is tricky to try to make kids do, because if they feel forced into a commitment, it won’t be real. Explain the importance of verbal commitment, and encourage them to tell someone what they’re choosing to do, and why it’s important. If it’s too much to tell others, they could keep a journal where they track their own ideas instead!

3. Visualize the outcomes. Similarly, share with your child the power of visualization. Scientists who study performance have shown the importance of making a detailed mental picture of your goals. People who take this step are much more likely to achieve their dreams. When you create a mental picture of where you are headed, your mind is already there. When you ask your son or daughter to visualize, consider sharing one of your own goals as well, to establish a safe space. Then, listen.

4. Brainstorm and pursue. Next, he or she should create a list of at least 10 ways they can take on that big something he or she’s always wanted to do, without limiting themselves. When I was in 10th grade, I wanted to be a camp counselor. But my father was sick and I had to stay close to home. I applied to every camp I could find within an hour’s drive of my house. The only camp to hire me was Krislund in Madisonburg, Pa. Years later, I realized how unusual it was for my Jewish parents to let me attend a Presbyterian summer camp. I learned a lot about religion, along with how to make pancakes over an open fire, that summer. So think out of the box when brainstorming!

5. Write about it! Whatever your child chooses, encourage him or her to write at least 500 words a day about his or her new experience. Try writing letters to a trusted friend. Or maybe blog about it. Or maybe this writing is just for him or herself. Later, from these notes, your child will be able to watch him or herself exploring and learning. These notes will serve as the foundation for a great college application essay.

Whatever your son or daughter chooses to pursue, help them do so with all their ingenuity and all your support at their back. Help them reflect and learn from any challenges, and cheer their successes. They’ll become empowered, excited, and exciting young people.

This article was first published on College Prowler. To see the original text, click here.


Topics:college admission