Students, admissions counselors debate the importance of extracurriculars

Senior+Nishita+Prasad+writes+down+her+to+do+list+in+a+notebook+to+stay+oranized+and+to+make+sure+she+gets+all+the+points+on+her+list+done+and+to+not+stress+out+with+all+her+school+work+and+extracurriculars.

Ray Mo

Senior Nishita Prasad writes down her to do list in a notebook to stay oranized and to make sure she gets all the points on her list done and to not stress out with all her school work and extracurriculars.

Kiersten Riedford

When it comes to applying to college there are several important aspects, the main ones being GPAs, test scores (ACT/SAT), activities lists, letters of recommendation and personal statements. While GPAs are important to students, having an activities list or test scores can boost one’s application. Senior Nishita Prasad said she believes that for her, test scores and GPAs are a given, but her activities list is where she sees herself shine. 

“I think extracurriculars are an important part of admissions to separate people who already have good grades and scores, but I don’t think I joined extracurriculars specifically because I felt pressured,” Prasad said. “Instead, I compare my resume to other accomplished applicants (to improve my chances) for success.”

Since her freshman year, Prasad has participated in six clubs, including DECA and Mock Trial, and danced with the Natyalaya School of Arts specifically for Indian dance. 

“I have competed in DECA since freshman year, and I joined it to get more involved in Carmel while also getting an insight into the business field, which I was interested in. I joined mock trial this year because I wanted to add more extracurriculars/competitions to my repertoire because I didn’t think I was fully using my time outside of school, and I thought mock trial was a good way to work on public speaking skills,” Prasad said.

Stephanie Stephenson is the Senior Associate Director of Recruitment for Indiana University (IU) Bloomington. 

“As we review a student’s application for admission to IU Bloomington, our focus is on a number of factors that emphasize academic performance and preparation. Through this review we will focus on the level and rigor of a student’s coursework, individual grades and cumulative GPA earned through these courses, and SAT and/or ACT scores, if a student chooses to have their test scores considered (admission to IU is now test-optional), along with additional insights offered through your application essay,” she said. “These factors are not weighted differently, but reviewed individually and considered holistically in the admissions process.”

While the activities list is an important aspect of one’s college applications, test scores hold a significant place in the application process to most schools, especially Ivy Leagues. Recently, many schools across the country, like IU Bloomington and Drake University, have been following in the footsteps of University of California, which announced in May 2020 that the class of 2021 will not be required to submit test scores, therefore making them optional. 

Senior Nishita Prasad navigates the College Application page on Canvas for college application resources. Prasad said the Canvas page helped her streamline her application. (Ray Mo)

   This decision has been one that many schools have been hesitant to make, mainly because of the belief that test scores allow schools to see more of a student’s academic background with the results. But, with COVID-19 making attending test dates and paying for standardized tests more difficult for many students, several colleges nationwide have taken the step to making test scores optional for their applicants. University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, Columbia University and Cornell University are 4 of the Ivy League schools which, according to Forbes, “the adoption of a test-optional policy is unprecedented in recent history.”

    Because of COVID-19’s effect on testing, many students at CHS in the class of 2021 have not taken the ACT or SAT. One of these students is senior Jacob Fisher. 

“I think (keeping the requirement of test scores) is up to the university because they have their own admission standards, but I also fully support waiving it because many kids don’t expect their only shot at it to be the best they can do. I also don’t feel the SAT/ACT really tests you on intelligence or work ethic, and is rather just indicative of how well you can take the given test,” Fisher said. “I see (keeping the requirement of test scores) as a negative, because I may apply to some selective schools who may not waive the requirement (and) I only get one chance to take it in the fall before college applications.”

Prasad said she agreed with Fisher, “I think schools should go test optional like most are currently doing, but test scores should still be accounted for because they still are valuable for students who already took the tests. However, applications should not be thrown out just because they don’t have scores.”

There are some schools that require test scores, but not necessarily to single a student out and make them more or less valuable. At Purdue Fort Wayne, according to Kenneth Christmon, Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Admissions, test scores are used to give students more potential scholarship money. 

“While we require the test scores, we admit based (on) GPA scores, not test scores,” Christmon said. 

In the end, the application process is mainly changing in regards to the test-optional policy for many schools, but the benefits from letters of recommendation, activity lists and personal statements will remain the same in the eyes of admissions counselors

“I just want to say to (the class of 2021), don’t let COVID-19 be an excuse to stop being competitive,” Christmon added. Our school (Purdue Fort Wayne) is here to help you and to get you from where you are to where you need to go. There may be some differences in numbers, but this class has to be determined to overcome challenges. Put your best foot forward, take the test, know where you apply, and continue to put your best foot forward.”

Sowmya Chundi

Check out a column about colleges and the use of standardized tests for some college admissions.

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