kitchen table math, the sequel: Extracurricular hours per week

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Extracurricular hours per week

It's application time. Not only is there the Common App, but some colleges have their own app systems. My son also has a couple of other online apps (with essays) to fill out and we haven't even gotten to the scholarship season. The question for today is what to do about things like hours per week for activities. When you talk about a sport, people know that it's seasonal. Then again, some do three or four season soccer. My son does music year-round, and in the summer at camp, he could claim that it's 8 hours or more a day what with classes and practicing. If I convert this into a year-round weekly average, one might think that his hours are padded. This must also be an issue for sports kids and their summer camps. Do admissions people have red flag indicators on hours per week? Are their unwritten rules about how this number should be calculated? How about travel time to lessons or events?

Then there is the limited space for explaining extracurriculars and positions/awards. They want to make a holistic judgment about an applicant, but they give you extremely limited space to make your case. I know they don't want to see all sorts of fluff, but not only do they limit the number of activities you can enter, they give you almost no space to explain anything about the important ones.

Does anyone have any advice about this? Do you look for options to add in additional clarifying information? It seems that in their efforts to standardize format and to limit application thickness, they are missing critical information for their holistic decision. Essays are another whole topic. They were going over potential essay topics in my son's AP English class and one student talked about (the ideal place essay) how he wanted to talk about mowing the lawn. The teacher thought that was a good idea. Essays remind me of docudramas; heavy on the drama and light on the docu.


Anonymous said...

As home schoolers, we chose a different approach for "extracurriculars"—we made the bigs ones curricular. So all the weeks of summer theater camp are theater courses, on the transcript and describe in the course descriptions.

The extracurricular list was just used for the hobbies that don't fit on the transcript.

ChemProf said...

Normally, they want the number of hours per week that is typical during the school year, not the summer. And you should be careful about putting in too many -- that can be taken as a sign that a student isn't serious about schooling.

SteveH said...

I noticed that the Common App has a field for when the activity takes place: school, break, or, year. Then it asks for the hours per week and weeks per year. That should help. However, some of his other applications do not make a distinction. There is also the issue that some of the things my son does at home are sporadic, but intense. If I average them out over a year, then it makes them look like weak interests. Rather, he is fitting the interest in when he has the time.

I think the problem is that if you show too many hours, they will think you are lying rather than think you are not serious about school. Actually, some activities and sports use up incredible amounts of hours per week that might cover several weeks at a time. For theater, one can have 6 hour rehearsals after school and 10 hour rehearsals on the weekends in the last two weeks. That can easily add up to 100 hours. I assume that they know this and understand that these hours are averaged in.

However, there must be some reasonable numbers for hours per week (or day) that they expect to see on applications when the hours are spread out over time. I could justify 4.5 hours per day for his activities, but that might not be believable. You have to add in homework time. What are reasonable hours per day for homework; two, three, four? OK. Now the numbers indicate that the student is either a robot or lying. Actually, my son is very efficient in doing his homework, and can do much of it at school. I just don't want him to trigger any red flags about hours.

SteveH said...

I found this:

"He said that the University of California has a “truth-in-application” program, which statistically examines and verifies activity claims."

"It places an average number on extracurriculars (say at 8 hours a week). And if your application claims that you have well over 8 hours a week, it will place you in a higher percentage of likelihood. If you claim a lot of activity, you may fall in the top 90 percent of students in terms of extracurriculars, which will create a red flag."

I think eight hours ("say") a week is low for anyone doing sports, theater, dance, music or anything above a simple club level. I've also read that 30 hours/week is too much. Another says that 25-40 will set off red flags. Obviously, if your application shows how that could be true with awards or honors, then it might be OK. I think I now have some general idea of typical numbers. I assume that it's better to be conservative.