Help your children be less well-rounded, more well-focused

It is not uncommon to hear about parents who focus more on their child’s grades than extracurriculars. While those parents still exist, there has been a recent spike in the opposite. The trend has shifted quite a bit from a focus on academics to a dogged pursuit of activities; students’ schedules are now jam-packed with activity after activity. After school ends, students have piano lessons at 4, parkour at 6, art class at 8, butter-churning at 10, and the list goes on and on with so many things to do–except study.  

Sofia Bjalme, a student at Penn State, told The Daily Collegian, “I tend to procrastinate doing my work for classes that aren’t as intense. I’m involved in a few clubs, which causes me to put off some of my work until the last minute.” The shift in younger generations is clear: they believe that activities matter more than academics.

Grades have suffered for the sake of the perfect resume. Students who normally needed tutors now need personal assistants to get them through the day. There has to be a balance; parents and students alike need to narrow their focus instead of trying to do everything. In particular, parents need to make sure students are keeping up with schoolwork.

A long-standing myth is that colleges look for well-rounded students. In actuality, what colleges want are not well-rounded students but a well-rounded class. Yale said:

You [should] demonstrate a deep commitment to and genuine appreciation for what you spend your time doing. The joy you take in the pursuits that really matter to you – rather than a resume padded with a long list of activities – will strengthen your candidacy.

When we evaluate an applicant’s activity list, we’re not looking for a specific number of involvements or even specific types.  We are much more interested in seeing an applicant follow their passions and show dedication over time to a few specific involvements rather than spreading themselves too thin.

The pattern here is that colleges want students who specialize in certain areas, commit to a clear vision and focus on growth in their fields rather than hoarding as many fields as they can. It would be impossible for them to excel in every little thing they do. Colleges want a well-rounded class of diverse individuals who specialize in something, not a class full of similar people who are average at everything. The keyword here is “specialize.” The focus should be on quality over quantity.  

Of course, it is wise to have students try out a lot of different things–that is the only way to truly figure out what they like, who they are, and what they would like to pursue. But they cannot commit to all of them. What do they contribute to the activities? Have they taken on leadership roles and developed their skills substantially? Have they won competitions?

For example, are your children really good at playing the clarinet? Focus on that if it seems promising. Get them into contests and events. Encourage them to try for section leader in the marching band! At the same time, make sure they are not getting burned out. Keep an eye on their grades to check they are holding up. It is good to have activities, but not at the expense of their welfare and academics. This is why athletes are required to maintain a certain GPA.  

It is also important that you let children have free time and some control of their own schedules so they could learn how to properly manage time (link to time management post). You will not be on campus with them when they go off to college to make sure they follow a schedule. They need to know how to take care of this by themselves–and they should start young. Additionally, the more free time they have, the likelier they will find activities or a passion they would like to pursue. Given the option of choosing activities, your child may be more invested in their long-term future.  

Whether parents focus more on grades or activities, it is all about maintaining a healthy balance and keeping an eye on the big picture. In the end, try to hone in on what makes your children light up and what could play a part in their future instead of piling everything on them. Only then can they truly learn and excel. Be well-rounded in that children are focused equally on grades and activities, but do not spread themselves thin with all the activities the world has to offer. It is all about the focus. What are you and your children focused on?