The Dangers of Overcommitting: How Taking on Too Much Can Hurt Your Applications
While participating in your high school extracurriculars, it’s smart to have college applications in the back of your mind. Participate in all of the clubs you enjoy, but make sure that you are making meaningful contributions or assuming leadership positions where you can. That way, when it comes time to fill out your college applications, you have something substantial to say about each of your activities.
Some students think that the key to college admissions success is to join a multitude of clubs in order to be able to fill out every available slot on the college application. However, while this may sound good in theory, many universities would rather see that you made a substantial impact in each of your activities, even if that means you are involved in fewer activities. Simply put, many colleges are looking for quality, not quantity.
If you’re looking to narrow down your extracurriculars to the most essential, see How Do I Decide Which of My Extracurriculars is the Most Important?
How many meaningful extracurriculars do colleges want to see? Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this question, so you should judge for yourself. Join as many clubs as you can, but it’s important to know when you are overcommitting.
Examples of students who have overcommitted include those with 15 AP classes, membership in 10 clubs, three after-school jobs, etc. While it may be clear to everyone else that the student has overcommitted, it is not always clear to the student himself. Thus, it is important to know when you’re overcommitting and take the necessary measures to manage your time commitments if you find yourself in this situation.
For more information about how overcommitting can hurt you rather than help you when it comes to college applications, keep reading. You’ll find out how to know if you’re overcommitting, the potential harms of doing so, and what you can do if you find yourself in this situation.
How do you know if you’re overcommitting?
In the hustle and bustle of high school, it is easy to lose track of your commitments. With AP classes and exams, SAT/ACT tests, homework, extracurriculars, and other activities, students can easily find themselves involved in too many things.
You may be overcommitting if you start to notice any of the following things happening to you:
- You aren’t getting enough sleep, or you have no free time to relax and unwind. You’re always running from one activity or class to another with few or no breaks.
- You find yourself too busy to make a meaningful contribution in any of your activities. For example, you may be asked to assume a leadership position in a club but would be unable to make the extra meetings because of another activity.
- You are shirking the basic responsibilities of your classes and activities. If you can’t find the time to do your assignments for class or meet the minimum required hours for your activities, you probably have too much on your plate.
The Potential Harms of Overcommitting
If you take on too many responsibilities in high school, it can negatively affect your academic and extracurricular performance, health, and other aspects of your life.
Here are some possible negative effects of overcommitting in high school:
- Harms to your health: When you overcommit, you’ll often find yourself with so much to do that you may forego sleeping, eating, and other basic activities that maintain your health. This may not affect you at first, but if you continue to neglect your body’s needs, you may develop some serious health problems. These can be as minor as falling asleep in class or as severe as passing out due to malnutrition.
- Harms to your grades: If you are involved in too many things, you may find yourself neglecting schoolwork in order to keep up with all of your responsibilities. Perhaps you will forget to turn in an assignment or fail a test because you did not have time to study for it. All of these can pile up and lower your final grades and your high school GPA. If you’re wondering what that can do to your college applications, see Does a Declining GPA look Bad on My College Applications?
- Being discharged from clubs and organizations: With so many things to do, it can get difficult to complete all of your club requirements. There are only 24 hours in a day, and you may have to forego one club’s responsibilities to fulfill the requirements of another club. Extracurricular sponsors and officers don’t usually like it when you shirk your responsibilities in the club, so they may make the executive decision to discharge you from the organization. If this happens, you will not only have lost an extracurricular, but you will have probably angered the organization that you were discharged from, which may include close friends or teachers who feel let down by your behavior.
- Harms to your college application: Let’s say that you are in too many clubs and activities, but you somehow manage to fulfill the basic requirements and stay in all of them. Odds are, in order to stay in each activity, you are only meeting the basic requirements for each organization and are not making any lasting contributions worth noting on your college applications. Thus, when it comes time to fill out your college applications, you will be able to list many activities, but you won’t have anything meaningful to say about them. College admissions officers may not be impressed.
What can you do if you’ve overcommitted?
If what’s been described above sounds like you, you don’t have to panic. There are ways to take control of your time commitments and still have an impressive amount of activities for your college applications.
Here are some ways you can get your commitments back on track:
- Cut back on some of your activities: If you find that you’ve overcommitted, the easiest way to fix this is to decrease your commitments by dropping some of your activities. If you drop some of your clubs and organizations, you will find yourself with less on your plate and more time to dedicate to your remaining activities and classes. Just make sure that you drop the activities you’re not as passionate about, could not reasonably get a leadership position in, or don’t see yourself making a lasting contribution to. Also, remember that it’s okay to drop activities. For more info, read Will Quitting An Extracurricular Reflect Poorly on my College Applications?
- Take an easier course load: While colleges want to see that you have taken difficult coursework, they will usually not punish you if you haven’t taken every AP class you could have. Choose the advanced classes that you enjoy and those that may be required for your college major. As for the others, you can either drop the class or take the easier equivalent of the same course. For more information, see Can You Be An Engineer Without Taking AP Physics: How the Classes You Take Affect Your Chances at Admission.
- Ask for help: If you are feeling overwhelmed with your responsibilities and activities, remember that you are not alone. Try making an appointment with your high school guidance counselor, an expert in managing course loads and extracurriculars for students. If you don’t want to meet with your guidance counselor or they’re unavailable, you can try taking some things off your plate by asking your friends, family members, and other people in your community that you trust for help, whether that be providing emotional support, giving you rides, or picking up some of the slack with tasks you’ve been assigned for clubs. They can’t do your work for you, but they can probably give advice or offer a helping hand where they are able.
With college applications looming, it may be tempting to try and join as many activities, clubs, and advanced classes as possible to try and build your resume. However, in the long run, this is not the most effective strategy — it could have an adverse effect on your grades, your standing in your extracurriculars, and most importantly, your health and well being.
Moreover, it is important to remember that colleges will usually not punish you for not being able to completely fill out every box on the activities section of your college application as long as you have made an impact in each of your activities and have something to show for them. It’s not enough to just be involved in many different things — it’s more important to make a difference.
Lastly, just remember that no activity, responsibility, or application is worth your personal well being. While high school is the time to stretch yourself and see how much you can handle, you need to discover and know your limits. Don’t overwork yourself, and always try to make some time to relax and unwind. You will be a better student and a healthier individual because of it.
If you’re looking for some more tips about managing your time and dealing with overcommitment, see the following blog posts:
Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academics, choosing courses, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and much more!
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.