An Excellent Leader of Oneself

I contemplated not making this post. Not because the subject matter is particularly offensive, or offensive at all, really. I do worry about its reception. My oldest child is, after all, just finishing up her fourth grade year, and this post - this post is about college.

Suffice it to say that, yes, I know I am worrying extraordinarily early. However, I also believe in the maxim "begin with the end in mind," and we're getting to a point where we need to "begin" a few things that will carry over into the high school years. And, of course, the high school years are where colleges look. It's still early. Just chalk it up to my personality type and try to read the substance of the post. :)

There are two groups of books. There are books about getting into colleges & finding the right college, and there are books about homeschoolers going to college. In large part, the latter focus on the documentation that is necessary. I'm thankful that these resources exist! However, when they turn to choosing a college and getting into a college, their focus is on non-selective colleges. This is understandable; the majority of the population does not go selective colleges. (Selective colleges, as I understand it, are defined as those that admit less than 50% of all applicants.) The books that are not written for homeschoolers but for the general audience tend to focus on selective college admissions. This is also helpful information.

What's the problem? There's little written for homeschoolers who hope to attend selective colleges or selective programs within colleges & universities (or to gain merit scholarships). Oh, the academic advice is sound, across the board. That's not the issue. The advice to show involvement in your community through volunteer service - that's certainly applicable to homeschoolers! Suggestions to get a job or an internship, ideas of how to spend your summers - all homeschool-friendly.

It's the extracurricular activities that keep me cross-eyed.

So many of the mainstream books exhort students to display their leadership qualities in their extracurricular activities. Class officer, editor of the school paper, yearbook editor, captain of the varsity insert-sport-here team; it's not difficult to find a leadership position through school activities. Myself and my two best friends in high school were the sole senior members of math club and science club; we divided the offices of president, vice-president, and secretary/treasurer amongst us for the two clubs, and we dutiful wrote down our positions on our college application forms. As I said - not difficult. If my daughter wrote down that she was the president of science club on her application during her senior year, though, admissions officials would just laugh, even if she did more work than any of us did twenty years before she applies.

In short, showcasing leadership ability seems problematic for homeschoolers. For male homeschooled students whose families do not have issue with the Boy Scouts of America, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout provides an excellent route around this problem. Unfortunately, the comparable Girl Scout award, the Gold Award, is neither as well-recognized nor as rigorous. The Gold Award was comparably rigorous in the past, but I would not hold it up for comparison at this juncture. Can I require my daughter to fulfill old requirements? :)

One of my fond hopes is that I can find or found a way for EG to participate in math competitions, and for all of the kids to have some speech & debate competition experience. I don't want them to participate in one of the Christian debate leagues, however, so I have this sinking feeling that I'm going to have to find or found a group the hard way. Still, that's two activities. Even assuming she has some kind of community service and an athletic endeavor of some kind, I know it will look paltry compared to the extensive resumes that it's entirely too easy to assemble at most public and private institutions.

I do think that more and more organizations and clubs for homeschooled high school students will appear between now and when EG is high school age, much less when the younger two reach high school. I do wonder how other secular, peacenik homeschooled girls have handled this problem, since churches, Boy Scouts, and Civil Air Patrol don't provide the best fit (and are commonly quoted as excellent "resume builders" by the few publications that address selective college admissions). Of course, the fact that I intend for my daughters to pursue a rigorous college education is already anathema to some homeschoolers, so what can you do? Maybe I'll write a book after EG is accepted to Cal Tech. ;)


Anonymous said...

may i suggest involvement in community theatre as an excellent alternative to school-based ECs? I knew a lot of home-schooled kids in theatre growing up (who went on to their first-choice colleges), and this post made it occur to me that their parents probably were grateful for the chance to get them involved in the community theatre scene because of the college app process. They started young, just like I did - I was in my first play when I was 8. Look into it! Theatre, best thing ever <333333333

Luna said...

I second the community theatre.

However, I still got into college w/o any leadership qualities. Though I had ECs in HS (choir, JROTC, theatre) I wasn't an officer. I didn't join any extra club in that activity either. All I did was take part, mostly behind the scenes taking orders an direction from someone else

Volunteer work at a food pantry or something along those lines seems to work, too.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of Christian homeschoolers don't care at all about this stuff because they want their kids to go to Bible college or whatever, as you said. I actually saw a post on the Sonlight forums the other day discussing high school curricula where a woman said that she wanted her kids to be focused on Heaven, not school, and wasn't particularly bothered about whether they got a rigorous education. Different strokes, I guess......

For me, we are dealing with the issues you describe above. I certainly want my son to aim high for college, and Boy Scouts is not an option with their current policies, so we'll have to look elsewhere as well.

Melanie said...

I've been planning for college since my oldest was 7. :) Boy Scouts didn't work out for us, but my son has been heavily involved in community theatre since fourth grade. He has plans to become a PADI Dive Master while we're stationed in Hawaii. He has a green belt in karate; we had to stop lessons while we were in SC (all the dojos were, well, trashy) but I'd like to have him continue here if possible - a black belt would be a good thing to put on a college app.

Anyway, it doesn't look like we'll have much trouble showing my son's leadership skills, but my daughter is a different story. So far the only thing she has truly had a passion for is dance. I'm a little worried.

Daisy said...

What about a completely different direction? Our local zoo has a program where children can start volunteering at age 10. They can work through the program and by High School act as a docent.

What about political volunteering, charity-based volunteering such as tutoring programs, environmental projects, etc.

My daughter's passion is going down to Mexico and building houses with Hands of Mercy. I have no clue what that will look like on a college app one day but it is making her a kinder,more sympathetic person & honestly, that is my priority right now.

Kash said...

@bookshop - Oh, I'm definitely looking at community theatre, but that's on hold until after we finish moving, as I want to end up close to wherever I end up. I drive enough! :)

@all - I do intend to have the kids all volunteer. It just seems that that's a separate category when it comes to selective college admissions: Volunteerism AND Extracurricular Leadership AND... you get the idea.

@Barbara - I find myself comparing what I can offer with what I had offered to me, yk? I've gone so far as to look at the girls' school here but... yeah. (Funnily, though, I recognized one of the names of their teachers... she was one of my classmates!)

Gretchen said...

speaking of extracurricular activities....Are you still thinking of doing a math team thing next year? Because, if not, I was thinking of making DH do one. Or, you know, suggesting it (he teaches high school math). And then I just asked him about it, and he said, "sure!" with more enthusiasm than I expected. I think the idea of doing math stuff with kids who actually enjoy math holds great appeal for him.

Kash said...

Gretchen, I have never met your husband, and I now (platonically, never fear) love him! I mean, yes, I was willing to start one but ooh, that's cool. I'll help him coordinate it and stuff! Yay!

Anonymous said...

Oh...I keep dreaming of sending J as a boarder to McCallie...and then I look at the price and I wake up. LOL. :)

Anonymous said...

I wasn't homeschooled, but I would suggest that the extracurriculars will take care of themselves. If she's pursuing interesting things, that will easily translate onto a college application. I never did ANYTHING for the purpose of putting it on college apps, but lo and behold, when I went to apply, I had been in youth orchestra, and community theater, and Amnesty International, and math team, and blah blah blah blah blah, just because those were the things I had pursued out of honest interest, over the course of several years.

Unless she spends her teenage years holed up in the basement playing video games, it's extremely unlikely that she'll find herself short of extracurriculars come application time.

Really. Truly. Don't worry about it.

Kash said...

@Anonymouse Hi. Are you the same Anonymous who's commented before? I understand not having a blogger ID but it's really easy to fill in a name!

With all due respect, what you're describing is exactly why I'm thinking ahead (for the record, I'm not "worried"). In a traditional setting, it's really easy to accumulate clubs and activities. I had numerous ones just by virtue of being semi-involved at my school! Without that setting, however, it takes more deliberate action.

Additionally, I was specifically addressing one particular type of credential - leadership - and applications to a specific set of college. If you have a story about getting into a highly selective college with no leadership on your application, I'm all ears. :)

Anonymous said...

My state inclusive home school organization had a homeschooling high school and beyond conference, and one thing that all the college recruiters said (they had a panel discussion) was that they look at the whole package, each kid as an individual, and there is not any one thing that a kid MUST have to make or break the application. If your child gets involved with science experiments, maybe works with local proffessors on a pet project, or the local ag extension, that is something big, too. If she's extremely advanced academically and clearly engaged with her academics in a way that shows she is taking responsibility, i dont think the lack of 'club' leadership will matter as much.

You also, seriously, might want to talk to some college recruiters at some nearby schools which are the sort of school you think your child could be interested in, and get some real-life advise to put your mind at ease.

Kash said...

Uh... where did I say in this entire thing that I was *worried* or needed to put my mind at ease. I am extremely familiar with what colleges are looking for in an applicant. This post was born out of that knowledge and a thought that others might like to discuss it. Not for people to pat me on the head and tell me not to worry my pretty little self!

Kash said...

To further clarify: While I've put this discussion in the context of college admissions, as Daisy alluded to, my concern is not merely colleges but raising an entire person. I happen to think there is value in each of the types of things that college admissions officers are looking for. Even if my children decided not to go to college, I would still want them to be volunteers in their community, to participate in hobbies & avocations (because aren't those what "extracurricular activities" are), to be informed citizens, and to show leadership skills, in addition to a broad academic base. My goals happen to align relatively closely to those of colleges. It doesn't make them more or less valid.

Smrt Mama said...

Anyone who thinks that her child wouldn't benefit (both personal-developmentally or transcript-wise) from developing leadership skills is deluding herself. Likewise, anyone who thinks all that is needed to develop those skills is just going through normal life. If your child isn't a natural leader, she's not going to develop leadership skills on her own. If your child isn't leading something in a more formal capacity (not just a social "leader"), she's not developing leadership skills to the extend that she could in a more formal role.

I wish I had something for Captain S and Tank like Girl Scouts, but Boy Scouts is just not on the radar for us. I need to find a Model United Nations group for middle school...or start one!

K said...

I would agree with others. I too am a worrier, thinking about this very issue for my oldest (a four year old in kindergarten). I look at homeschooling as an opportunity to look for a completely different way for my children to stand out. I'm a physician and my kids will have the opportunity to travel abroad with me on volunteer trips. We are planning on a year-long around the world trip when my oldest is 14 or 15. We have the time for him to explore his interests to a depth not available to most schooled kids. He can demonstrate leadership and committment in this way. I know you'll worry (as will I), but I really think that what we're doing and how we do it will get our kids a 'second look'.

K said...

I forgot to add...as an alum, and also having helped several family members through the admissions process, I would like to let people know that admissions officers and committees are becoming increasingly jaded with students who have 'all the right stuff' on their apps, but clearly did so for 'all the wrong reasons'. It's pretty easy to identify the kids who have pursued genuine interests and demonstrate 'leadership' for genuine reasons and those who've done so to tick off a checklist for their apps. I would recommend providing opportunities for your kids to become interesting people in their own right. The apps and interviews will then take care of themselves to a degree.

Erin said...

First, love your blog, thanks for it. Second, thank you for writing about this. My oldest is 6, so we're not building the resume quite yet :), but I am of a similar personality: I will be thinking about this. I'd have to agree with others, the community route may be the way to go- it will be for our family. I am Christian- Orthodox, even, but we hoemschool secularly. I am liberal and proud of it, so find it hard to fit in with Christian homeschool groups. Fortunately, we live in a small town and are familiar with many community members and opportunities. We could also create some if need be. I guess that is the epitome of leadership, really! Best wishes.

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