Does dropping an activity hurt your admission chances?


I received a message from a mom in a debate with a dad over their son’s activities. He’s currently lettering in two varsity sports, active in many other activities, and wants to know if dropping one will hurt his chances for admission to college.

As with everything involved in admissions, few colleges will tell you exactly how they use extra-curricular activity in admissions, and the truth is there’s rarely a formula. Some of the most competitive institutions claim to take it REALLY seriously, although that doesn’t always appear to line up with their admission decisions. In any event, I think it’s unlikely to be a factor (unless he was planning on being recruited for the sport he wants to drop!). A few reasons:

1) With the possible exception noted above, very few schools get around to spending any time looking at extra-curriculars – they’re really only a borderline issue, even for the highly competitive institutions. Whether it’s too much noise in students resumes or the range of ways students are involved, unless they’re recruited for talent (arts, athletics, etc) it’s a very low scoring factor in the decision process
2) He has a long term commitment in another sport for those schools that do want to look at longer term commitment as a factor
3) He can turn this into a positive – “I made the very difficult decision to focus on just one sport and give up another to put my energy in my academics. As you can see from my great senior grade improvement, when I focus…” – that makes for one of the strongest arguments in favor of that student in most admission committees (recent improvement with a good mature explanation of how they improved)

Bearing all of that in mind, you have to wonder whether that’s even the right question to ask. I kind of hate the idea that you’d keep playing a sport you no longer love, or for that matter stop playing one you still do, just so it might help you get into a college. There are PLENTY of colleges and universities, and no evidence that getting into any particular school will make much of a difference to your career, income, happiness, etc., despite all of our marketing to the contrary. Somehow we’ve managed to create an impression that you need to make every decision in a way that helps you navigate our process, and then we won’t tell you for sure how that process works. What a system! Be seeing you.

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2 Responses

  1. In this post you mentioned “admissions committees” which sparked a question in my head. I am a bit confused as to how colleges tackle the mounds of applications they receive–do some colleges have actual committees of, say, 5 or 6 people who go through every application together as a group? Or do colleges have admissions officers who work separately and are given the individual power to accept or reject students? Which system does Mason follow?

    On another note, I have enjoyed reading your insightful and informatiive blog ever since I received a mailing about it from Mason, and now I am considering applying to Mason in the fall. Also, does Dr. Walter Williams still teach at Mason’s economic department?

  2. Great question – if you don’t mind, I’ll answer in a full post.
    And yes, Dr. Williams is a great professor here at Mason – his students tell me his lectures are as entertaining as his columns!

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