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What are colleges looking for?

By Leigh Alon
Published: February 2010

Newton South students are notorious for their skewed view of college, often resulting in long sleepless nights spent completing piles of homework. What these high-strung insomniacs may be surprised to hear, is that the “straight A student they are giving up so much to be, isn’t necessarily what colleges are looking for.

College and career counselor Barbara Brown emphasizes the importance of individuals maintaining their mental state and leaving free time. Indeed, balance is the key, as it is with so many other aspects of life.

“Staying balanced is the most important thing. Colleges look at what else students have in their lives and the rest of their activities [¦] it’s about making time for something that makes you feel good. In the end most kids just do what they like doing, Brown said.

As a self-described competitive and active person, junior David Melly chooses to do sports, which actually helps him get through the school year. “If I didn’t have sports in addition to academics I would feel like there was something missing. In a weird way having less time for homework forces me to make better use of my limited time, Melly said.

Junior Rina Friedberg also chooses her extra curricular activities based on interest, rather than what may look good on a college transcript. “I do extra curricular activities because I like them. I have been into theater since third grade. I would rather be involved and do activities I like rather than sit at home with too much free time on my hands, Freidberg said.

In addition to balancing time, the college admission process also involves balancing checkbooks. According to Brown, while an expensive community service trip to Costa Rica may help one grow as a person, it is not something to be used to pad up a resume.

“It’s helpful for colleges to see you are productive, but if you prefer to spend your summer at a beach house that’s fine too, Brown said.

Junior Jaclyn Horowitz, is in the process of planning a trip to Fiji, however; it is for thrill of the trip, not to have colleges notice  her.

Another financial dilemma anxious parents of college bound kids face are the various SAT/ACT prep options available, some personalized programs costing upwards of $3,000. “There is no proof that expensive courses raise SAT scores more than low cost options such as Newton Community Ed, the College Board online course, or even a book. You can spend thousands and not do the work and see no results, Brown said.

Junior Sarah Geist took a course at the Princeton Review, and found that the individualized attention she received in the classroom was sufficient for her needs. However, the course did equip her with skills she may not have developed on her own. “It taught me test-taking skills and ways to do as many questions as possible in the given time, Geist said.

Junior Max Ezekiel, on the other hand, finds that reviewing on his own is a more efficient use of his time. “[The prep classes] are over-expensive and time-consuming and boring if you don’t have a close friend taking it with you, Ezekiel said.

One of the most challenging balancing acts of the college process is the degree to which parents should be involved.

“There is a role for parents. In some families, however, there is so much friction that parents and kids can’t work together. But in the end parents are paying the bills. It’s again about finding the right balance. Kids have to realize that it is hard for parents to think of their family changing, Brown said.

Senior Samantha Mankin’s parents allowed her to be largely independent. “After holding my brother’s hand throughout the college process they decided to let go when it came to me, Mankin said. In the end Mankin did get accepted to one of her first choice colleges and appreciated the experience of accomplishing it on her own.

Senior Arthur Mescon’s parents also remained largely uninvolved. “I’m glad they were just there to support my decisions, and considering I ended up getting into one of my top choices it worked out well, Mescon said.

Walking down the hallway of Newton South one can find kids carrying an infinitely high pile of textbooks and lugging an impossibly heavy backpack, while others can’t recall the last time they unzipped their largely empty bag. However, the key to getting into a school that is the right match is all about finding the perfect balance.

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