Back To School 1 - Page 4 - Outside the Classroom Experiences Earn High Marks

Back To School 1
- Page 4
Outside the Classroom Experiences Earn High Marks
By Elizabeth A. Schuman,
Contributing Writer

By any measure Morgan Suchin, a 2019 Pikesville High School graduate, is no lightweight. Not only did the University of Virginia-bound student take a full load of rigorous academic courses during high school, the honors student volunteered overseas, founded a food pantry and shadowed a public health researcher. It’s just the surface of an accomplishment-heavy resume that might lead to a second look on LinkedIn for a working adult.

That Suchin just turned 18 isn’t what’s relevant, she says. “I believe everything happens for a reason. My activities connect to my passions in health care, research and the community. The work I’ve been able to do has made a difference for others. The work has changed my life forever.”

A childhood illness ignited her longstanding interest in health care. After volunteering at a camp for children with severe skin disorders, Suchin, then a sophomore, launched a website, Friends Just Like Us, where children and young adults up to age 18 share feelings about their medical conditions peer-to-peer. At the same time, she spent two summers shadowing a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins Hospital and volunteered in the Dominican Republic to “gain an understanding of public health overseas,” she says.

Students like Suchin demonstrate the shift from quantity-based to depth-based extracurricular activities in high school. “Colleges are looking for a high level of commitment to an activity or subject, whether it’s a book club, athletics or a job,” says Alice Margraff, director of college counseling at McDonogh School in Owings Mills. A lengthy list of activities with minimal involvement isn’t what’s driving college acceptances. Instead, it’s about depth versus breadth.

Just as there are dozens of personal choices post-high school for every student, there are numerous ways to build an extra-curricular, outside-the-classroom resume for high school students.

To start, extracurricular activities are not bound by a school setting. While there are the more traditional choices of athletics, music, student government or clubs for robotics, art or debate, today’s students have options to explore beyond the classroom syllabus.

Exploration is part of the process, says Jean Ginsberg, owner, J. Ginsberg Consulting.“Even if you don’t know your passion, it’s about keeping an open mind. We ask students what is it you want to do? What is most meaningful to you? If you dream of doing something, try it.” That might mean volunteering at an animal shelter, starting a business or singing in an acapella group.

“It’s not about 10 different activities each year, but about being a well-rounded student who follows his or her passion,” says Ginsberg. “It’s really about knowing yourself and taking time to explore ideas and interests.”

Not every student has time for established school activities.“There are broad definitions to extra-curricular, depending on the student and situation,” says Margraff, noting that students may need to work to supplement family income or because they want to be more self-sufficient. Others have family responsibilities. “Some students work after school; others care for younger siblings or are responsible for preparing dinner each night. These activities are equally valued by colleges because they show a level of responsibility and commitment.”

Benefits of Extra-Curricular Activities
Balancing academics, clubs and work not only strengthens a college application, but it also teaches valuable life lessons applicable from college life to future employment.

“Extracurricular activities address student engagement, interests, leadership, personality and character,” says Sarah Gleason Ross, director of college counseling at Gilman School in Baltimore. “Students learn collaboration, teamwork and time management, as well as the importance of following through on a project.”

These soft skills – ones that develop over time and experience – help pave the way for students to become better students and ultimately employees. Students build self-confidence through public speaking, taking a leadership role or being part of a team, says Ross.“We encourage taking initiative to start something, join something and do something,” says Ross.

In a world where differing viewpoints are the norm, there are other benefits to “stepping outside one’s comfort zone,” says Ginsberg. “Students have the opportunity to meet people with similar interests who may or may not be like minded,” says Ginsberg. “You meet people who have different goals than you and learn from people who are not like you.”

While high school classes form the academic foundation, it’s the experiences outside the classroom that help students take steps toward discovering who they are beyond grades, say these counselors. “This is the time to begin to define who you are. It’s your time to think about what is important to you,” says Ginsberg.

Applying to College
Recent graduate Suchin’s full resume – she’s also a cello player and dancer – helped her gain admission to the University of Virginia’s competitive Echols Scholars program, an honor track within the College of Arts & Sciences for students with leadership in academics and extracurricular activities.

As in Suchin’s case, a strong connectivity to passion and activity plays a critical role in the admission process for most prospective students. Whether through the Common Application or individual college or university applications, students have opportunity to highlight experiences outside the classroom, in effect to “connect school, community service, and fam-

Experience continued on page 19

PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Above: The McDonogh School robotics team builds its robot for the 2019 FRC Challenge. Photo courtesy of McDonogh School.