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I also went through the park’s lending library of old filmstrips and slide shows whose soundtracks were dry and outdated, and wrote new scripts for them, for teachers to read as they showed the slides to their classes.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.

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8 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. MelanieB says:

    Wow! What a great idea that phone call was. It’s the sort of thing I’d have loved doing but it would never have occurred to me to even ask the first . Instead I got a boring job I hated working at a bookstore.

  2. Christine M says:

    I was just thinking about this today – that I don’t want my kids to stress out about all kinds of “extras”. I want them to do things they enjoy. Childhood/teenhood is too short to always spend it stressing about the next step. It’s good to know I may be on the right track!

  3. Meredith says:

    What a great article, and I especially enjoyed reading through the comments, very interesting indeed! Sure think you are interesting too 😉 What a fun way to start your writing career too, not that it surprises me at all!!

  4. Penny in VT says:

    Hmmm. interesting indeed…

    Love your story, what a great summer, and the ripples affect your lovely family today… a momentous phone call indeed!

  5. sarah says:

    Very cool. That is how things are often done in our country too, where university (college) is not so important. I’ve got jobs that way. It leads to a very interesting life.

  6. Beth G.P. says:

    Did you catch in the comments that her father stated she was homeschooled for three years before high school 😉

  7. Fanny Harville says:

    It seems that a growing number of colleges are looking more for the idiosyncratic, passionate student than for the “well-rounded” student. In my experience, the latter are far less interesting to teach, in part because they continue their busy schedule of activities into college.