“Well-rounded” seems to be the new buzzword for college recruiters and school counselors alike. But how does that translate into this hyper-competitive age of academics? With the quantity and variety of tasks needed to buff up your college resume, multi-tasking has become a necessity.
Since the 1970s, the number of college applicants has nearly doubled, according to a 2011 journal from PubMed Central. By default, more college applicants means a more educated public. But to modern-day college applicants, this fact only turns peers into stark competition.
While college application rates have increased substantially, acceptance rates struggle to follow. According to the same journal, the top 20 private universities and top 20 liberal arts colleges saw only a 0.7 percent increase in average under-graduate enrollment from 1986 to 2003.
Thus, “well-rounded” becomes a double-edged sword. It is a call for students to apply themselves to realms besides academics; however, it is also a call for competitive excellence in every one of those areas.
Between college-level courses, sports, extracurricular activities, community service and leadership experience, day-to-day schedules become a dizzying blur.
How do students manage these competitive demands?
Student athletes like senior Michael Aguilera, who plays football, must balance extensive and time-consuming practices with schoolwork.
According to Aguilera, football practices can run for three hours after school, leaving him less time for homework. Besides football, Aguilera also takes several IB courses and plays guitar.
According to Aguilera, his biggest challenge is “not being able to go to sleep on time because I have to get my homework done.”
Homework he doesn’t finish after practice frequently gets pushed to Learn or Wednesday mornings, when the late start affords him a little extra work time.
Though football is his most time-consuming extracurricular commitment, Aguilera doesn’t mind.
“Football does take a long time,” Aguilera said, “but I do enjoy doing it.”
For IB Diploma candidates, commitment is paramount to success. The program itself is a two-year commitment requiring extensive community involvement and work-heavy classes.
Senior Katerina Liappis is well on her way to earning the full diploma. Outside of that, she is the president of the anime club and a member of the National Honor Society.
“I’ve had to sacrifice going to the gym because I really don’t have enough time,” Liappis said. “The gym is a huge stress release for me, so not having that is really hard.”
Junior Madeline Walker is a diploma candidate, a member of the student government and a Best Buddies officer. Between various honor societies, Walker also juggles theatre, travel soccer and Girl Scouts.
“My most time-consuming commitment in general is probably soccer because of all the games and tournaments; they can really cut into my homework time,” Walker said. “I used to dance and play other sports, but schoolwork just gets to the point where you really have to pick and choose what you’re going to focus on.”
Although Walker enjoys what she does, all of these activities come at a cost.
“I think the biggest sacrifice I’ve had to make is really just my mental health,” Walker said. “While I think that stress is just a part of school … it’s frustrating for me to understand why I, and so many others, feel the need to sacrifice our happiness or mental well-being for the cost of ‘succeeding’ in school.”
Though sophomore Stephen Underwood is not yet an IB Diploma candidate, he has secondhand experience from his brother.
“I see the workload he has, and it’s kind of intimidating, but I really want it,” Underwood said.
Underwood’s commitments outside of school include theatre, choir and video game club.
“If I get into a play, I have no life for the next few weeks,” Underwood said. “It’s homework-theatre-homework, basically.”
Underwood’s narrative is fairly common. Obligations come in a steady stream for busy students.
“I think it’s easy for a lot of students to fall into the mindset of trying to cram as many activities and clubs as possible into their schedule just to say they did it, or to put on their college applications,” Walker said.
“When you choose to do things that you really love you’re much more willing to find the time to dedicate to those particular activities, and consequently you become a more active member.”
For Liappis, combining homework and TV helps boost productivity.
“If it’s quiet, I can’t really concentrate on my homework,” Liappis said. “If I put something in the background I can just drum it out.”
Aguilera stays on track by making daily schedules.
“Don’t ever quit,” Aguilera said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s challenging or not; you have to finish what you’ve started.”
During busier weeks, especially at the end of quarters, there’s barely enough time for homework, much less personal enjoyment. Yet, Walker manages to squeeze in moments of fun.
“I’ve found ways to incorporate work into play on a small scale, like reading on the way to a practice, or completing homework at theatre rehearsal,” Walker said.