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.