Welcome back, m’friends. We talk a lot around these parts about extracurricular activities (although we haven’t in a while). And when we do, we’re almost exclusively referring to high school students and the extracurricular activities in which they participate in order to shine up their resume for both the admissions and financial aid offices at the colleges they want to attend.
But what about extracurricular activities when you’re already in college? If you want to keep getting new scholarships while you’re in college, how necessary is it to fatten up your credentials with those same kinds of extracurriculars?
One thing we don’t talk about enough is studying abroad, which can be an excellent experience in a lot of ways. But for me and my advice, it always depends on the entire situation. Going abroad for cultural exposure is great, but one need not pay big bucks to a university to do it. You can pretty much do it anytime you want to.
On those two notes, we go to Breanna:
My name is Breanna and I’m a junior Chinese major at UCLA. I’m planning on studying abroad after my senior year, but I’m not sure how to pull off the scholarships that I’ll need to even afford to go.
Hmmm. I’m all for studying abroad, but usually earlier in the process of getting your degree. I’m not sure I understand — wouldn’t “after your senior year” be when you’ve graduated? Let’s keep that in mind going forward here…
I talked to my counselor, who seems to think it would be a good idea for me to hold off on graduating by saving one class for studying abroad, so that I will still be able to get financial aid.
It would be a great idea for UCLA, since they’ll get another year of tuition out of you that way. 🙂 I don’t know the particulars of the courses you have left to take, but one course would only be part-time and then you’d qualify for less financial aid than you would if you were going full-time, although I suspect you know that already at this point.
However, financial aid is not going to cover $22,000 in (estimated) expenses. I’ll need some good scholarships to knock the rest out. I’ve found quite a few different scholarships that I can apply for, but I’m afraid I have one thing missing, and that is extracurricular activities.
OK, let’s jump over to the issue of extracurriculars before we go back to our issue of whether you should study abroad or not. In this regard, I have good news — extracurriculars generally aren’t expected by a scholarship committee in nearly the same way they are in high school.
Here’s a quick-and-dirty breakdown of how we, the scholarship committee, view high school and college differently. In high school, we believe that even if you’re a student who really studies hard and excels, you’ve still got time on your hands. Your parents are housing and feeding you for free in all but the most extreme cases, so you’re not having to work to pay for basic needs.
In terms of your education, it’s “education” with a lowercase “e,” it’s preparatory — important and perhaps rigorous, yes, but not the capital-E “Education” you’ll be getting in college.
In high school, you’re legally a child for most of the time you’re there, while in college you’re an adult from the word go.
All of the above is why we expect high school students to have more extracurriculars on their resumes if they want scholarships. They simply have more time and means to do so. College students are different — you’re in the middle of the most serious and rigorous studies you’ll ever undertake in preparation for your chosen career, and you’re doing it all while working to support your basic needs — or you’ve taken out a fat loan to temporarily relieve yourself of that obligation. (I know that others have their moms and dads write a check for all that, but I assume not many of those students read this site anyway).
In light of that, if you don’t have the time or the inclination to join up with any student clubs on campus — well, we understand. Not a big deal.
I’m a commuter student, and I am on campus from 6am-3pm, but most of the clubs don’t get together until later in the evening. I do participate in a language exchange through the international student center though. I work about 20-25 hours a week locally, mostly on the weekends with a few short weekday night shifts. I don’t have much time for anything else, considering during the week I get up at 4am to catch a van pool down to UCLA, and I don’t get back into town until around 5pm (it’s a long commute).
The foreign-language exchange is a good thing. Remember, club involvement just for the sake of club involvement is, frankly, worthless at this point in your career. I don’t believe that participating in student clubs will move the needle on your viability as a scholarship candidate.
If you’re going to be involved in clubs, it better be because you’re deriving some solid educational or experiential value from participating in those clubs. And that value must outweigh the practical costs of joining and participating in the clubs — and in your particular case, those costs seem a bit high.
Despite my schedule, I know that it would only take one or two hours out of my busy week to participate in something and I certainly want to get involved in something, but what? Any advice would be appreciated!
OK, just to wrap up the extracurriculars issue, I’ll say this — if you CAN actually carve out a couple of extra hours in your week, then sure, let’s put those hours toward good use further your education or expanding your resume — but I highly, highly doubt that joining a campus organization is the most productive use of those two hours.
I’m not sure exactly what your goals are (that is, “what you want to be when you grow up” 🙂 so I’m gonna have to freestyle a little bit here. But, let’s say you’ve unearthed two hours per week to spend on furthering your career: You could get LOTS more experience/credentials online during those two hours. Go to Guru.com or Elance.com and find yourself a Chinese employer. Agree to virtual-assist for him/her for two hours a week, for free (you weren’t gonna be paid at the student org anyway, right?). In doing that, you’ll actually start to get some work experience with a Chinese company and a resume entry to boot.
Or, go to penpalworld.com and sharpen your written and conversational Chinese with some actual Chinese people. Get some vernacular under your belt. Or, if you’re looking for scholarship fodder, just do something public service-oriented completely unrelated to your studies. You know, feed the homeless, be a Big Sister, literacy project, etc. We judges still, and always will, dig people who are busy yet still take time to help less fortunate people.
Now, back to studying abroad in the first place. My point here was that, if you’re about to graduate and you’re just holding back a course or two so that you can study abroad, my advice is to just go ahead and graduate and then go to China on your own for a year if you want to. Here are my assumptions and line of reasoning:
You want to study in China for some combination of the unique educational, cultural and professional exposure that it would give you, right? You can get that from just going to China on your own. Just go. And you won’t have to come up with $22,000 to pay UCLA for the privilege, either.
Mind you, I’m not advising you rush to the airport, grab the cheapest ticket to Shenzhen and hop on. But with a bit of research, I’m certain you could find yourself at least a temporary job there that’d finance your own one-year learning experience in China. Note that, in my scenario, you actually get paid to be there (via your job) instead of having to pay UCLA for the privilege of going. Really, you don’t need to do that — you can just go. 🙂
Anyhow, there’s some food for thought based on the sketch you gave me. What about you guys? Any of you done a study abroad AFTER your senior year? How’d it go? Any advice for Breanna? Let us know in the comments below.