Exceptional Extra-curriculars: Eagle Scouts


If I haven’t already, I’ll spend some time soon talking about all the confusion around extra-curricular involvment in the admissions process. I’m usually on the side of reminding applicants that admissions committees are unlikely to know what any particular award, group, or activity entails – whether you needed to spend every waking moment devoting every iota of your cunning, skill, and energy, or whether you just showed up once and got to add it to your list. A reporter, however, recently reminded me of a pretty good exception. She was writing an article about the rank of Eagle Scout from the Boy Scouts of America. A local troop managed to get all 11 members to that rank, apparently the first time so many in one troop have gotten there, and she wanted to know what I (and by that I mean all admissions officers everywhere) think of the award.

The reporter seemed to be hoping I’d say something about how outmoded the Boy Scouts are – whether because they bar anyone who is gay from being scout leaders or because Scouting just doesn’t seem “cool”. You can check out the article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/18/AR2008011803722.html.

While I personally find Scouts policies regarding their leaders offensive, I disagreed with her premise. Let’s face it – a lot of extra-curriculars aren’t considered “cool” (also, I think the word cool is likely no longer cool, but we’ll leave that for another time). Apart from being the school football hero, whether you are the grand master in chess, the leader of the band, the star in the school play, or a brilliant poet, you probably get some flack. If high school wasn’t cruel about these things, where would Disney find themes for their musicals?

But I stray…again. Regardless of the coolness factor, Eagle Scout is one of those rare exceptions to my feelings about extra-curriculars. In my opinion, (did I mention I’m on a crusade to stop the use of IMHO? Does anyone believe the writer is actually humble?) Eagle Scout is one of the few (maybe the only) widely recognized awards. No matter how little an admissions officer knows about it, he or she is likely to know that 1) it’s a LOT of work, 2) it’s not handed out very often, and 3) you have to do some pretty significant stuff to get the award. It’s helpful that the perception is that the award isn’t based on some standardized test or on the opinion of any individual, but on a set of accomplishments that have to meet a national standard. I haven’t been able to think of any other achivements that have the same brag points.

Of course, I bear in mind that it is possible that either I am just wrong about perception of the award, or that I’m old and only us old people have this perception. Fortunately, I’m rarely wrong (thankfully my wife does not regularly read the blog) and I did ask around to check my perception (I asked two other admissions officers. At a dinner party. They did not disagree, which I take as complete support for my position). Also, most of the other admissions deans are WAY older than me. WAY older. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. Where was I? Oh yeah – Eagle Scout works out, I believe, as a pretty good support factor for admissions committees. Of course, that still doesn’t come near the importance of your academic record, which remains by far the most important part of the process. Speaking of not being cool, I was an Indian Guide. I think I was in for about three weeks. I’m pretty sure I didn’t bother to include that in my college applications. Be seeing you.

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13 Responses

  1. Love the blog, and have been reading since the beginning. It really is nice to have a more accessible look at college admissions.

    That said, I have a bit of a personal question that I’d like some input on. It’s not about Eagle Scouting, but it is about extracurriculars. I have several, but none of them are particularly impressive — scattered volunteer work, some significant personal achievements that took a lot of time and effort (those will be fodder for my essays more than anything), NHS and Spanish HS, and then basketball. I’ve been playing since the fourth grade (I’m currently a junior in high school), and have wanted to quit for about as long. I always stayed in with the belief that I needed it for college, that it was a huge bolster to my extracurriculars. I have a small leadership position on the team, but nothing worth bragging about. I’m coming up on my senior year, and I can’t fathom playing again. The thought of it makes me physically ill. I’m horrible at it, I hate it, and I want to quit. I have a rigorous courseload (I’ll graduate with 6 AP classes and nearly a dozen honors classes) and a very high GPA (I’ve gotten nearly straight As), and I’m not applying anywhere overwhelmingly exclusive. So I guess my question would be, is staying in going to make a big difference in the admissions process versus not staying in? Is the difference big enough that it’s worth the extra strain?

    Thanks for any input. I know this is kind of an inappropriate way to ask, but it can’t hurt, right?

  2. Not inappropriate at all! I think staying in something that makes you miserable in hopes that it MIGHT help you get admitted to some school that MIGHT be right for you is a bad approach. Instead, I’d make decisions that make good sense for you, and then do your best in the admissions process at a number of schools. With such a strong courseload and plenty of A’s you will have a wide variety of options, whether you continue to shoot hoops or not. This will sound crazy, but it really is possible to enjoy high school AND get into a great college!

  3. What about the Girl Scout Gold Award. It is commonly held to require the same about of work and leadership as the Eagle Scout, yet it is not as widely acknowledged. Does it hold the same recognition among college addmission staff?

  4. What about the Girl Scout Gold Award. It is equivalent in terms of work, dedication, and leadership required, and certainly holds the same position within the Girl Scout organization (as the highest award a girl can get). Yet the term Gold Award generally doesn’t generate the same amount of recognition as the Eagle Scout. Is this true among college admission committees? Or would both awards be considered equal in the weight they give to an applicant?

  5. Excellent question. Unfortunately, in my experience, the Girl Scout Gold Award isn’t nearly as well known as the Eagle Scout. That’s not to say it can’t have an impact, but that it would be wise to include a few lines about what the award entails. I’d suggest quoting directly from the GSA.

  6. Love this thread. Let me guess….your son is interested in scouting!

  7. So far his only real interest is Mason Basketball!

  8. as a boy who is slowly but sure approaching his eagle award, i hope that it is worth something to not just the college but to everyone. you don’t have to like the orginzation of the BSA (i know i don’t) but you have to respect what it takes to get this award. not to be mean or disrespectful but i think it’s hard to grasp unless you have tried to get it

  9. can you still list Girl Scout Gold Award if you are still working on it but will complete it by the end of senior year?

  10. Sure you can – but I would inclued “anticipated” with the date you are likely to receive the award

  11. As a former scout master and committee chairman I really don’t know why some of you don’t like the Boy Scouts. It is so positive on so many levels (giving back to the community, a sense of respect and environmentalism toward the outdoors, helping the less fortunate). Tell me, what is it you don’t like?

    • I am a Cub Scout Leader, Boy Scout Committee Chair, Merit Badge Counselor, and grandmother of a Star Scout who will soon be a Life Scout (and eligible to begin work on his Eagle Project.) I have nothing but wonderful things to say about Scouting. Like you, Tom, I really don’t understand the Scout bashing I sometimes hear. I really can’t think of a better organization for boys. They learn how to become responsible members of society, to respect others, the be decent and honest, to work hard, to give back to the community, to help others, and so much more!
      I’ve been involved in scouting for many years now. I have come to love this organization and plan to remain actively involved for many years to come. I hope those who bash Scouting will at least check us out and reconsider their positions.

  12. I’m a parent of 2 very smart young men and I’d like to have your ideas on what other activities, beside Boy Scouts that can help “round out” their lives and at the same time look great to universities.

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