The Perils of Resume Building for College

When you're entering the college process, everyone insists that it is necessary to become this "ideal, well-rounded, passionate applicant" to ensure that you get into the college of your choice. As high-school freshmen, we hear about all the different extracurricular bases we need to cover: a team sport, a culturalawareness activity, a visual and/or performing art, something with academic aspirations, something that demonstrates school spirit, a leadership position, some kind of community service, and, of course, absolutely anything else there is time for. Sleep is strictly optional.

The process is called "building your résumé," and we are told it is a critical part of our high-school experience if we hope to receive the coveted big envelope from the school of our choice.

During my freshman year at the Spence School in New York City, I took this concept of "résumé building" to the extreme. I had just watched my older sister go through the college-admissions process, and I already had my mental checklist prepared. I would be sure to cover every item on it. So I signed up for everything—and I do mean everything.

My school's annual club fair looked like one of those Black Friday sales at Sears on the day after Thanksgiving. Brightly colored signs clashed, advertising everything from the Poetry Club to the student council. People raced around frantically. Titanic tugs-of-war broke out over pens. The seniors were intimidating, screaming and chucking pieces of candy at underclassmen to induce them to sign up for their clubs. Terrified freshmen hovered in doorways and got trampled in the mad rush.

I put my name down for anything that I felt would fulfill one of my requirements. First came the Model U.N. and the Current Events Club (cultural awareness: check!), then Science Pervasion (academics: check!), then Upper School Dance Company (it would have to pass for my team, as I have little athletic ability: check!) and yearbook (publication: check!). Then I signed up to give school-admissions tours for the Red Door Club, volunteered to take photos for the literary-arts magazine, and joined the Glee Club, the Select Choir, and Triple Trio, the school's a cappella group (school spirit, and both visual and performing arts: check!). I was a résumé-building machine, having covered, in just one frenzied afternoon, all the extracurricular bases.

But for all my activities (or perhaps because of all of them), I wasn't having that much fun. It finally occurred to me toward the end of my sophomore year that I was doing a lot of things I wasn't really interested in and didn't enjoy all that much. My brief time as a member of Grey Skirts Inc., the business club, taught me that while I may enjoy watching commercials, I don't enjoy writing them. My even briefer stint with SpICE, the cooking club, showed me that I like eating crème brûlée far more than I like preparing it. In my effort to build a résumé, I had forgotten that the main reason for extracurricular activities is to have fun. I had to find a way to transform this résumé-building process into a less cynical pursuit.

By junior year, I was focusing on those activities that I looked forward to each week—Dance Co., Glee Club, Red Door, and the yearbook staff (team sport, performing arts, school spirit, and publication: all still checked). I became the junior head of our a cappella group (leadership position: check). And instead of signing up for the Community Service and Model U.N. clubs again, I joined the committee for our class community-service project, sponsoring a school in Cambodia (cultural awareness, community service: check). I was still covering all those bases, but I was now doing it while pursuing activities that I genuinely enjoyed.

If I could go back to that first freshman-year club fair, I probably wouldn't change anything. Signing up for so many things exposed me to activities that I otherwise might never have tried. So who knows? Maybe at college this fall I'll play field hockey or perhaps join an improvisational comedy group. But whatever I do, it will be for myself, and not for my résumé.