Archive for April 16th, 2010

Interesting Indeed

April 16, 2010 @ 6:49 am | Filed under:

At the Study Hacks blog, a post about a girl who won a major scholarship to UVA despite an application that was not fat with extracurriculars—

Want to Get into Harvard? Spend More Time Staring at the Clouds: Rethinking the Role of Extracurricular Activities in College Admissions

In other words, to become more interesting…

  1. Do fewer structured activities.
  2. Spend more time exploring, thinking, and exposing yourself to potentially interesting things.
  3. If something catches your attention, use the abundant free time generated by rule 1 to quickly follow up.

Olivia followed a different path. She didn’t emphasize her activities (which, in isolation, weren’t all that impressive) or the qualities they supposedly signaled, instead she let her natural interestingness come through – and her interviewers were entranced.

I loved how Olivia landed an internship in marine biology simply by emailing a neighbor she knew was doing something with horseshoe crabs. That’s a path that led to terrific opportunities for both Scott and me, when we were in college. In my case, I was approaching the last semester of my senior year, and even though I loved being an English major, studying literature, I was weary of the classroom-and-paper grind. I wanted to be outside. So I called a local wildlife refuge and explained that I had no biology background, but I could write: did they have any brochures or anything that needed to be written? The park ranger on the other end of the phone practically whooped with glee. They had TONS of writing projects, and no writers on staff. “What we could really use,” she gushed, “is someone who can translate our science language into something schoolchildren and laymen can understand.”

So I arranged things with the advisor for English internships, and I spent most of that semester out in the woods, hiking trails and writing guided imagery activities for teachers. At the park ranger’s request, I also went through the park’s lending library of old filmstrips and slide shows whose soundtracks were dry and outdated, and wrote new scripts for them, for teachers to read as they showed the slides to their classes. I also got to help with a bald eagle observation project which had nothing to do with writing but the rangers needed an extra hand, and I was Johnny-on-the-spot. It was a wonderful experience. And it landed me a cool job after graduation, giving tours at yet another local refuge—or would have, if funding hadn’t dried up the day I was supposed to start work. But after that I got hired as the publicist for my college’s drama department, so the writing experience stood me in good stead. But far more important than the job opportunities was the incredible experience of being out on the refuge, working with the rangers, learning about park management and wildlife and history and so many other things. That phone call, made on a whim, was one of the best moves I ever made.