As pediatricians, we frequently encounter young men and women who are so overextended, so anxious, and so focused on achievement that their stress becomes pathological. These are the students who have difficulty falling asleep at night and fret over the least consequential of things. These are the students who spend countless hours practicing the violin, but never take the time to see the beauty of the music they are creating.
From an admissions officer’s standpoint, this stress is telegraphed throughout the college applications process, in essays, letters of recommendation and alumni interviews. Activity descriptions can come across as joyless and robotic – even dispirited – or essays may seem negative in tone. An interviewer, experienced in teasing out the underlying details from an application, will sense quite quickly that certain activities only serve to satisfy parents, or to bolster the student’s application to a selective college.
So, being fans of preventative medicine, we’d like to offer some specific suggestions and ideas to help you stop and smell the roses, yet still be an amazing applicant to colleges.
These two goals are not mutually exclusive! Our suggestions are just a starting point, though. If you see something that interests you, or have an idea of your own, follow it! You’re much more likely to find satisfaction in an activity if you enjoy doing it.
For Musicians: You’ve mastered your instrument by recreating music composed by others. What if you start composing your own music? Take an emotion or an experience and translate it into a musical piece of your own creation. Or take your favorite singer’s piece and make a new arrangement for your instrument, adding your own panache and style in the process. You might be an exceptional technical musician, but if you are able to transcend from playing other’s music to composing your own music and creating your own leitmotifs, you get to flex your creative muscle! If you find that your compositions are quite wonderful, you can submit them as a music portfolio when you apply to college.
For Linguists: Many students have a foreign language requirement they must complete in order to graduate. If you’ve truly enjoyed learning French or Spanish or Mandarin, or if you’ve grown a bit tired of eight years of Latin, you might love a language like Arabic or Irish Gaelic, where the written or the spoken language is unlike anything you’ve learned before. Did you know you can take online Choctaw classes?
Language acquisition can reach a whole new level if you plan your vacations around the language you are learning; Marrakesh and Galway are beautiful, and there’s no better way to learn a language than to immerse yourself amongst native speakers. Or, for an experience closer to home, go out with your classmates to a French restaurant and speak French for the entire meal. It might seem awkward at first, but these types of experiences take you out of your comfort zone and make you stronger in the process.
For Athletes: If you’re now finding very little room for joy or excitement at your level of competition, or if the stress of competition is turning a once-loved passion into a nerve-wracking struggle, it’s important to go back to your roots and remember the excitement you once had learning how to throw a football or swimming your first lap.
There are innumerable ways for you to coach children just learning a sport; serving as an assistant coach can help build both your patience and your leadership skills. Another option would be to dive into something completely new. Curling is a highly addictive and relaxing sport that very few high school students have had the opportunity to try. If you happen to live near a lake or a river, sailing and rowing can also be new and rewarding experiences for you. You can also train to be the National Scrabble Champion, if you’re willing to memorize all 24,000 eight-letter words in the English language!
These are only a handful of ideas you can use to create exciting opportunities to relieve the doldrums.
Take 15 minutes today to brainstorm some ideas for yourself, and then use this summer to take some healthy risks. You’ll find that after only a few short months, these experiences will make you a healthier and happier person.
*In addition to being one of IvyWise’s Master College Counselors, McGreggor is also completing his pediatrics residency in Boston. His wife, Sarah, is also a peditrician, and they love collaborating to help students stay happy and healthy!
Click here to learn more about McGreggor and watch his introductory video!