Updated: May 6, 2021
The word “commitment” can be one of the strongest words a student can use for a college essay.
Judi Robinovitz, a Certified Educational Planner writes, "Passionate involvement in a few activities, demonstrating leadership, initiative, impact, and an angle: Depth, not breadth, of experience is most important. Colleges want to see “angled” students with a passion, not “well-rounded” students. Substantive commitment to a few activities is preferable to participation in several mini activities—and more rewarding! To complement your applications, create a detailed résumé to showcase your activities.”
One of the saddest moments of my school year is having a Junior approach me in the spring to inform me that they are no longer going to be in band for their senior year. I am not the type of teacher that “needs” to have students stay in order for the group to become successful in the following year so my sadness is simply out of understanding the context of what they will be missing.
For over twenty years, I’ve taught high school band. And regardless of whether you have ever been in a band program or not, any student leaving an organization after three years of participation is a major concern. Because three years of being a part of an organization should have made an impact on someone. Their fourth year in a group is where their hard work and dedication is designed to pay off.
As parents and educators, we need to help our Juniors understand the impact of what their commitment to a group will provide them by staying in an organization. Once they find a “home” at school, they should be able to reap the rewards of what a group has to offer.
In a student’s freshman year, they learn the ropes of an organization. They are shown that they are valued, they make friendships, and they are inspired by the older kids in the program to one day be like them.
The sophomore year can be the hardest year because they do not receive the attention of the “newbies” and are responsible for fulfilling their role in the organization. As second year veterans, they should know what to do and what the expectation is for the group. Their job is simple, be as outstanding as they can be.
As juniors, this is where the fun starts. They are needed to be a contributing member of the group that everyone is depending upon. They might have a leadership role and can be looked at by both the younger students and the staff as someone who can be depended upon.
Then comes the “scary” senior year. Their older friends just left the group because they graduated and now they are going to be the one everyone looks up to. Juniors begin to have doubts about what you want to get out of one more year and now they are thinking about quitting. You start to think about what else might be out there for a Senior. They wonder what experiences they are missing out on. They think, “I need to add more experiences to my high school résumé so that colleges see how amazing I really am!”
However, it is the senior year where everything comes into focus. The seniors are given leadership opportunities. They are given a stronger voice. They will see the full circle of the system that they benefited from since their freshman year. And after completing their senior year, they will be able to look back at all of the successes and failures they have experienced while in the group and take these life lessons with them the rest of their lives.
Colleges do not want their applicants to have participated in many activities, they want to see deep involvement and leadership in a few.
Colleges want to know that when you arrive on campus that you will become engaged in their community and become involved.
Colleges want to know that their students will not only participate in activities but someday will become a leader and make the organizations they participate in, “better than you found it.”
Linda Kulman, wrote an article for US News and World Report titled How to Get Admissions Officers to Say Yes. She writes, "While it might seem impressive to join six clubs and volunteer at a soup kitchen in your senior year, admissions officers can see through such a ploy."
As parents and educators, we have to understand these dynamics. We have to help our youth find what our children need most. If they feel that a group their child is participating in has a toxic environment, then of course they should leave. If they feel that their child could learn more about life skills outside of the organization they’ve been in for three years, then of course they should leave. But if a child is leaving a group and it will be replaced with a couch and video games, then we should revisit what it is that gives them pause to finish off their time with a group. If it will be replaced by “ploys” to bolster their college admissions, then they should revisit this decision as well.
"Commitment" is such an amazing word! It helps us with our relationships, it helps us in our professional life, and it helps us show a college who we are and what we stand for.
As students sit down to write what makes them special and unique there are some students that have an amazing perspective on life even at a young age. They have faced challenges that many adults have not seen, and when articulated in a college essay, can be powerful. However, for the students who have not faced life altering moments, the word “commitment” can be just as powerful.
By showing a college the investment that has been made to an organization by a “soon to be graduate” will provide insights on who the student is and what they believe is important. It will show how they first learned how to be a dependable member of a group and then how they became a leader. The word "commitment" cannot only be discussed in writing but a young adult can also provide evidence of their commitment through the lessons learned and the positions attained in their group.
As adults, it is our job to open up this door and show them what it is they might be missing. Trust me, they won’t want to hear this message. “Commitment” is not only a tough word to demonstrate but also a tough word to understand at a young age. But for anyone that makes this word a part of who they are, the word can make a difference in the organizations they are affiliated with, and the people who they work with in a group.
...and maybe some cash if used correctly in your college essays.