If you’re in high school or college and thinking about what comes next, you’re probably focused on making sure you’re a stand-out student. If you’re anything like me, you’re always thinking about what your resume looks like. When I get nervous about the future, my inner dialogue tends to run something like this: Am I impressive enough? Do I look like I do enough? Do I stand out? Have I accomplished enough?
In an effort to quell this, I tend to go a little overboard when it comes to extracurriculars. During my freshman year of college, I did two theatre productions, joined Speech and Debate team, joined French club, ran for student government, joined a few honor societies, sang in choir, and on and on. I promise this is not one of those faux humble-brags; in fact, I would highly recommend *not* doing that in retrospect.
Why, you might ask? If you are capable of doing all of those things, why not do them? Long story short, it’s not necessary, you’ll drive yourself crazy, and you should value the quality of your experiences over the quantity.
For a very type-A student who has trouble saying no to things, this can be a really tough lesson to learn, but I think one of the most comforting things is learning that colleges don’t actually care about the just the number of things you can list on your application. The College Board website states: “Depth of involvement is more impressive than breadth. Students can achieve this if they: focus on a limited number of interests, document long-term involvement with organizations, highlight activities related to a major or career goal, and show leadership skills and ability.” Basically, institutions care way more about whether you actively participated in a few things rather than sitting silently in a meeting room for ten things. Crafting a laundry list of extracurriculars is definitely not necessary.
Not only is it unnecessary, it can be detrimental to your mental and even physical health. Young adults hardly ever get enough sleep as is, and being so busy during the day that you can’t get started on your mountains of homework until after 10pm doesn’t help. No sleep means no time for your body to recover or for your mind to get some rest. When you’re running around sleep-deprived from meetings to practice to rehearsal without time to think, there’s no way your brain can give its best effort. You need time to breathe, eat a real meal, and be able to see your friends. That down time and time for socialization is what refreshes you and lets you walk into your chosen few activities with a mind that is ready to learn, be productive, and have fun.
To try and avoid being overloaded whenever possible, think carefully about everything that you’re involved in. Are you getting something out of each and every experience, or are you just showing up? (Reminder: it’s totally fine to do things just for fun.) If you’re doing a bunch of different things, you’re probably not able to actively participate and truly engage in all of them. You’re only one person, and there is only so much time in the day. During my freshman year, I was always trying to figure out how many rehearsals I was allowed to miss in order to be at a debate tournament, or how many tournaments I had to miss due to a choir concert, and so on. I wasn’t really fully participating in anything because I was so focused on doing everything, and that’s an easy trap to fall in. By cutting out a few things, you have more time to breathe, but you can also take a larger leadership role in the two or three things that you prioritized. You learn more and get more relevant experience by actively stepping up rather than passively showing up.
Reflect on what you can take off your plate, and do so without worrying about what an advisor will say. Do it because you have to put yourself and your daily well-being first. Do it because having a higher quality of experiences is much more fulfilling than having a higher quantity.