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Is competing for a better college really worth the extra effort? Image Source

This previous question was loaded with personal information. I generally don’t answer questions like this because it seems to get way too dependent on individual factors to give any valuable advice (no one knows a better answer than the person asking the question because they’re the only one with all the information.) To prevent confusion, I’m just going to broaden this question to hopefully help more than just this one individual.

I’ve been getting solid A’s in my high school. I’m going into senior year and I’m trying to decide how I should try to get into colleges. I’m currently thinking of going to (a better than average college) I haven’t been too good about extracurriculars. I was wondering if it would be better to focus on extracurriculars or better grades to get in. Do I need to work on either of them?
-Jamie

Predicting what college you’re going to get into is almost impossible unless you’re competing for a college that you’re well over qualified for. Colleges are always looking for different things. The admissions officers are humans that are heavily susceptible to stupid methodologies that you can’t control. If you need to include an essay then you can happen to offend someone with a mundane comment. College predicting is a little pointless to try and do. Try not to get your heart too set on that one college. You sound competitive based on my quick research but I’m no admissions officer.

For most students, the college you go to is significantly less important than most people makes it sound. The vast majority of employers don’t know the difference between the 100th best college in the world and the 150th best college. The only colleges that have significantly more value are the colleges that have instant worldwide name recognition. Occasionally it might help but there is good reason to doubt it’s worth stressing about.

If you want to go to that college because of personal factors then consider other colleges that have the same characteristics you’re looking for. If you have a whole list of colleges, it’s much more likely you’ll get into one of them from dumb luck (even if you happen to not meet certain expectations.)

Of course, if you want certainty to get into that individual college then you may need to work harder on either of those factors you mentioned. I can’t tell you whether academics or extra curriculars are more important but I can give a few pieces of advice.

First of all, if you prefer to do one over the other then do the one you prefer. If you want to volunteer or play a sport then you’ll at least get the pleasure of doing what you want to do, even if it doesn’t help much with your college application. If you would rather hunker down with your books longer then buckle down and do that.

Keep in mind that extracurriculars are unbelievably easy for people to BS. I’m not saying you should BS them but many students do. If you volunteer 5 hours a week and make friends with the manager then you can likely say you volunteer longer than that. If you have friends in certain fields then you can make completely BS claims.

Extracurriculars are often tools used to game colleges unwillingness to research thoroughly. There are, of course, lists of ways you can game extracurriculars without technically lying about anything.

Of course, if we know that students game extracurriculars, colleges do too. For that, they may be less valuable. It’s much harder for a student to game their grades (but I guess that’s kind of what I teach on this blog.)

Just do what you enjoy most and don’t stress about it. A good college will take you in a second. It’s best just not to be too picky.

Hold on… I’ve actually written a bunch more on this subject that you might want to read. Is An A Really Worth The Effort? Find out in the free members only section.

Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to check out the archives and follow along to get all the details. Also, check out the ebooks in the sidebar for even more secrets.

Q/A – Should I Compete For A Better College?

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