PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 212 | Do-it-Yourself Extracurricular Activities

How to use DIY extracurricular activities to your advantage

In today's episode, I discuss 3 Extracurricular Activity (ECA) buckets:

  • Bucket #1: in-school
  • Bucket #2: summer
  • Bucket #3: DIY

I will focus primarily on Bucket #3, my favorite bucket of all.

If you're interested in how your child might use the "do-it-yourself" bucket to their advantage, please listen to this episode.

Show Transcript:

Hello friends, and welcome back to the Prep World Podcast. This week I want to review one of the three types of extracurricular activities that in my opinion, gets the least amount of attention. And I've covered extracurricular activities before, but I want to zero in on the one that can have outsize impact on your learning and growth and how competitive you are in the college admissions game.

Just to review, I break down extracurricular activities, which I will often refer to as essays into three buckets. Bucket number one in school essays. These are the more traditional school related activities like student council sports teams, speech and debate, mock trial model, U.N. school clubs like the robotics club, the Spanish Club, Recycling Club yearbook. The usual suspects. And I can rattle these off because they're very popular activities and what most students participate in, not that there's anything wrong with these activities, but they can definitely get lost in the sea of sameness.

Admissions officers have seen all of these before. And unless you're doing something really extraordinary within these activities or you're tying them together in a very unique and thematic and compelling way, they will likely not stand out in the big scheme of things. That's not to say that you shouldn't participate in any or all of these activities. But just to let you know that you are probably not setting yourself apart in any major way.

Again, I'm generalizing here. Bucket number two. Summer ECAS, as the name suggests. These are activities that you do over the summer. This is where things get a little bit more interesting because you have more time to do what you want to do versus what you can squeeze in during the school year. It also gives you the freedom to choose the type of activity, whether it's a job or an internship or a passion project or travel or volunteering, whatever it might be.

The summer is a great time to really nail a few ecas that can take your application to the next level and I'll address what some of those things might be in a future episode. Today I want to talk about the lesser known SCA bucket. Bucket number three, which I call the DIY bucket. The DIY. The do it yourself bucket is a catch all for things that you have done on your own, either during the school year or over the summer.

It doesn't matter. These are things that you squeeze in at night after your homework done or on the weekends or during downtime at your endless swim meet, or while commuting to and from school on the bus. These activities come in many flavors. Learning to play the guitar. Solving the Rubik's Cube. Starting a podcast. Writing a novel. Building a drone.

And then what? I really like, which is taking an online academic course in your area of interest or what you might think is your area of interest. And here's why I love the idea so much. One of the biggest challenges for students is figuring out what they want to study in college and or what they might want to do for a career down the road.

And this is no small challenge. Yes, I've worked with several students who, for example, have known since the age of five that they want to be a surgeon or an engineer or an entrepreneur, which is great if those ambitions are real and they're backed up by a legitimate body of work, then they theoretically should have a much easier time presenting themselves to colleges in a compelling way.

It's easier for them to pick and justify a college major to find extracurricular activities that align with these goals. And we've a bunch of college essays together that all point toward their North Star. But what about students who are still looking for their North Star, who are still searching for what they might want to study in college and or where that might lead them after college?

This is a tough position to be in and I would guess a far more common position than those who have it all figured out by age five or ten is even tougher when they aren't part of a program like Prep Academy, where I challenge them to think about these things on a weekly basis. Starting in ninth grade and give them the tools to work these things out in their heads or when they don't have consulting calls with me where I help them nail down a few interesting avenues to pursue.

Without this type of coaching and mentorship, maybe intervention, if you will, most teenagers just bumble along. They don't ask a lot of questions because it's intimidating. They don't think too deeply about these issues and they bury their heads in their phones and they wonder why their college applications are not competitive. We don't want this to happen to you.

Of all the interesting DIY ECAS that you can do, one of my favorites is taking an online class in a field of study that you think you might be interested in. There are several such educational platforms. The one I'm most familiar with is Coursera. Coursera dot com offers a wide range of online classes in hundreds of fields of study.

Some are long classes, dozens of hours, some are shorter classes, just a handful of hours. Many are free. Some require a notional fee. Some offer academic credit. Others offer certificates of completion or certificates for achieving a certain skill proficiency. Many are asynchronous. The fancy term saying that you can do it on your own schedule. It's self-paced. Others require that you take it on a particular schedule.

Some require assignments that need to be turned in. Others have no assignments. Some have quizzes. It's really up to you and how far you want to take this activity. I like to think of it as a small, unintimidating trial run of what college might really be like without all the baggage you can sit and search for topics that interest you.

Topics that you have a a true curiosity about and that will sustain your interest. Let me give you some real world examples of students that I've worked with and what Coursera courses they've chosen to take to help them refine their ideas about what they might want to study in college and beyond. One of my private students in his sophomore year wasn't really sure what he wanted to study in college, let alone what he might want to do longer term or for a career.

This is very common. This is the default. At the time, he was interested in ESPN playing sports. Maybe some sports management statistics. The law. He was a multi-sport athlete himself, very outgoing, very personable. He had a mind for numbers and trivia and statistics. Given his background, we discussed potential college majors and career possibilities for weeks, trying to find a through line that might align with his interest and skills and natural talents.

In one of our sessions, I proposed the idea of him becoming a sports agent. This is someone who represents professional athletes in their contract negotiations, in their branding deals, marketing campaigns, financial planning, wellness protocols and the like. I thought this might be a job that would bring together all of his interests, his skills, his personality and his passion for sports.

And thankfully, he was very intrigued but wasn't sure where to start in trying to figure out whether this idea had legs or not. So lo and behold, we got online together. We went to the Coursera Web site and typed in sports agent. And lo and behold, a class popped up offered by Case Western University. It was a three month beginner course called Becoming a Sports Agent.

It was a free class. It was ranked 4.7 stars. 15,000 people had enrolled in the class. It took about 30 hours to complete on average. There were 11 modules. It was self-paced. I believe there were 11 or so quizzes, and the skills it intended to teach were marketing, negotiation people, management and brand management. This is what I would call the perfect DIY, a do it yourself extracurricular activity.

You can take the class at his own pace for free for 30 hours, extend it over the course of weeks or even months. Learn about all the stuff that he finds interesting already and see if that translates into a career that he might want to pursue. Now, if he gets two or 3 hours into the class and he's bored out of his mind and uninterested and it was not what he was hoping for.

Guess what? He just drops the class. No harm, no foul. He never logs in again. He lives to fight another day. Maybe it wasn't as aligned with his interest as he had thought. That's okay. In fact, I consider that a win because now he's a lot smarter about a certain part of an industry that he thought he might be interested in.

But. But. But what if he falls in love with the class? What if our intuition was right and he loves every single module? What if this is the spark that he needed to get motivated and focused? Let's say the course did resonate with him, and he could see himself pursuing a path toward becoming a sports agent someday. Great.

Now we start to work backwards. What skills do the best sports agents possess? Many are lawyers. They're good with numbers. They know statistics. They're good with people. They know culture. They understand branding and marketing. So now he can start to build out a list of extracurricular activities that reflect not all of these things. I suggested that he also take a Coursera course on contract law since reading and analyzing contracts is a big deal for an agent.

I suggested that he take the LSAT, the LSAT, which is the equivalent of the SAT, but for law school. That would send a signal to colleges that he might be thinking far enough ahead to law school. He could start a podcast talking about issues related to sports figures. The do's and don'ts of normal name, image and likeness. The top ten highest paid athletes, the worst sports contracts in history.

He could take a class on data management, learning how to manipulate large statistical databases. He could write his college essays about how he plans to combine his verbal ability. That is, his reading, writing and communicating with his math ability, which are both equally strong. Maybe he thinks about Participé dating in mock trial, or he could practice speaking with influence in front of an audience under pressure.

Maybe he wants to get an internship at a sports media company in the marketing department. The point is, the possibilities are endless. Once you know where that North Star is and what set all of these gears in motion was him taking action on his own. In true DIY fashion, it was him taking a chance on enrolling in a free online class about how to become a sports agent.

Imagine this student if he does half of these things applying to a college with the best sports management program in the country. He will obviously be different from the thousands of other students, mostly male, who didn't do any of the things that he did, but rather claim that they want to go to X-Y-Z College and major in sports management.

Because why? Because they play sports and like ESPN, there's no comparison. He will obviously stand out. I've done this with many prep whalers who have taken Coursera courses on creative writing statistics, accounting, film writing, investment management, banking, robotics, and the list goes on and on. Is every class a home run that resonates deeply with the student and leads to the perfect path to a college major and career like it did with the sports agent Propeller?

Not everyone, but every student learns something that helped them make a decision and gave them more information than doing nothing or worse, swiping on their phones all day and night. So don't fall asleep on the DIY bucket when it comes to extracurricular activities. It's not as easy as showing up for the once a month history club meeting, but it often contains the gold that colleges will love to hear about.

If you want me to have a session with your son or daughter to talk through this process in the hopes of finding something that resonates with them, please reach out to me and we'll set something up. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. Case you didn't know this podcast supports prep academies, online mentoring program or high schoolers, and their parents receive weekly videos from me.

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Podcast Host:

PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

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