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The College Conversation: Don't favor activities over academics

March 12, 2011|By Lisa McLaughlin

It should come as no surprise that the most important factor in college admissions is grades in rigorous courses. So unless your student is going to be a recruited athlete or an actress on Broadway, extracurricular activities should never trump academics when it comes to ensuring that your child is the most competitive applicant for college admissions.

Unfortunately, you really won't know how far your child's talent will take him until much later in his high school career. And, you should always keep in mind that your star athlete might tear his rotator cuff junior year and have nothing to show on his record but low grades, an easy course load and sub-par test scores.

It baffles me when families come into my office with their thespians and musicians in tow, asking if colleges keep in mind a student's heavy extracurricular load when determining a student's chance of admission. No college admissions officer in his right mind is going to tell you that your kid's long hours in the pool will excuse average grades and a decision to take four classes his senior year.

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Whose fault is it that extracurricular activities have overtaken your child's high school experience?

Unfortunately, the blame often does not fall on the students themselves. The blame might be laid at the feet of the cheerleading advisor who calls a last-minute practice or doesn't have the decency to create a schedule ahead of time so her girls can map out their study schedules; or the coach who demands twice daily practices in order to accommodate ego and the desire to win; and even the high school administrator unwilling to stand up to the advisors of these teams and organizations; and there's always the father who dreams that his son is going to be recruited by a Division I team securing a full tuition scholarship to the college of choice does not help either.

And, heaven forbid, a student stands up for himself and decides to put academics first, making the intelligent decision to skip practice. The result: The student is ostracized and benched for the next game. It doesn't seem to matter if the student has a ton of homework, the SAT exam around the corner, or a college visit; if the player misses practice or a game, he is served the wrath of a coach. And, the more competitive the team, the worse it is. Students, and often parents, live in fear of their coaches, many of whom are classroom teachers. How ironic is that?

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