Spoiled by Choice? How to Choose the Best Extracurriculars
by Gala Radinovic
Long gone are the days when the secret to getting into an elite university is just about getting fantastic grades. Elite schools are no longer looking for just a great student, but a well-rounded human being who can contribute to their institution across multiple domains. As such, extracurricular choices in high school (and even earlier in middle school!) play a critical role in increasing your child’s chances of selection. From activities offered at the school, to those in the neighborhood, and now online offerings as a result of the pandemic, it is not surprising that many students and their parents are spoiled for choice and confused with what is the best course of action. Always remember—there should be a balance, a clear indication of passion (or a “deep interest”), and a demonstration of initiative, entrepreneurship, or leadership. And above all else, your son/daughter should enjoy the journey. Trying something new to get their feet wet now before they get older is not a bad idea either!
Balance: If you have children who have done the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, you may be familiar with CAS hours, or creativity, action, and service. While Crimson Rise students are obviously too young for IB and many of them take part in different curriculum, the idea of exploring passions related to creativity (the arts, building a game or robot through coding, etc.), action (sports, physical activity, etc.), and service (community impact, leadership roles, environmental activism, etc.) each year is a great place to start to build a well-rounded student. Each school term, encourage your child to pick one from each of these domains. For example, taking pottery classes, being on the volleyball team, and founding a recycling drive in your neighborhood would be a solid balance of the three. Encourage grit, resilience, and perseverance in your child by ensuring that they stick with what they picked for the term until the next term at school begins at the bare minimum unless there is a seriously compelling reason showing otherwise (i.e. COVID-19 lockdowns canceling a school play, injury preventing continuation on the soccer team, etc.). This will prevent young people from giving up immediately but to keep trying which is a valuable life skill.
Passion: Building a deep passion through the years is a wonderful thing for your child to do – be it getting highly proficient at coding or taking all the exams at ABRSM piano to the point where the results can be used for university credit. Rome was not built in a day, and neither would this level of skill in any domain. As such, encouraging your child to stick with something they really enjoy and excel at is a great move. It can show them that hard work pays off beyond school, exams, and grades and that perseverance goes a long way in not only what you have to do, but in what you want to do. Make sure to check in with your son or daughter often to see how they are feeling. Although extra curriculars can cause stress at times (ie. Feeling stressed before a piano concert or ballet exam), they should be something your child enjoys at the end of the day.
Star Power: As your child becomes more confident in a particular area – be it their neighborhood recycling campaigns or years of piano or sport, try to encourage them to showcase their skill. If you think about it, whatever your child chooses to study at university one day, they would want to be one of the best in their field to guarantee career advancement. As such, encourage them to run for positions such as president or secretary in a school club, to put in the training during off-season at a sport they enjoy so they can make Varsity and aim for competitions at a larger scale than their hometown (some of my own best memories of middle and high school came from international competitions!), to perform that piano piece at a concert or to make a music video of them playing which can go up on YouTube, etc. Not only will your child enjoy doing something they are passionate about, but this will help build confidence and showcase their desire to explore topics in depth to the universities they will be applying to.
Try Something New or Seasonal: On the flipside of continuing a deep interest from before, it does not hurt to try something new. The key is balance and to not reinvent the wheel with selections each term. But changing up one thing each term can also help prevent your child from burning out, or deciding it is not for him/her. Additionally, some activities are seasonal such as volunteering at a Christmas Market or surfing by the ocean. As such, it is not a bad idea to have a few rotations. Also bear in mind that sometimes seasonal activities feed into each other. For example, doing cross country running for one season at school will help your child build a fitness foundation for track and field (athletics) which is often held at schools the following season.
Academic Supplements and Tutoring: Finally, some students desire to either explore a subject that is not taught at school, such as coding or the Japanese language, and others desire to have support in a subject they struggle with (i.e. English if they desire to go to the UK or USA for university) to gain an advantage in the future. Think about what your child wants and needs here, prioritizing what is absolutely required (i.e. Math tutoring if their marks are below their average elsewhere) and what will benefit your child in the future (i.e. Mandarin to help with doing a summer program in China).
Taking the following into account, I hope you are inspired to try out some new extra-curriculars or upgrade any existing ones to play a larger role in your child’s life. Please also stay cautious about time commitments and seasons – if your child is the captain of the soccer team, it would be unrealistic for them to also have the lead role in the school musical if they are happening at the same time. In the same manner, maybe your child loves horseback riding but the stables are a 90 minute drive in each direction from your home and that is difficult to pull off on a weekday – perhaps saving that as a Saturday morning weekend treat might be a better course of action!
Stay tuned for our next blog which shall discuss balancing time between extra curriculars and academics – learning to juggle here is a very useful skill to be able to maximize both results and enjoyment in both domains!
Your friendly neighborhood Rise blogger,
Learn more about SIS Education Rise’s strategic mentorship, academic support, and extracurricular coaching for young students, and request a free consultation on your child’s journey!