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Articles / Applying to College / Paper, Plastic, or Tennis Anyone?

April 30, 2009

Paper, Plastic, or Tennis Anyone?

Question: I am a high school junior. I play on my school's girls' varsity tennis team (a fall sport at my school) and also hold a part-time job as a cashier in a supermarket. I had problems last fall trying to schedule work hours around tennis practices and matches. I told my parents that I want to keep my job instead of playing on the tennis team next year. But they said that it will look bad not to have sports on my college application. (I will be applying to a lot of really selective schools including Ivies.) However, I am not a great tennis player (second doubles on a lousy team) although I will probably be co-captain next year if I do play. Even so, I would rather keep the job and maybe join another (non-sport) activity that won't conflict with my job. Are my parents right about it hurting my college chances if I don't play tennis?

No! How's that for a nice, short, direct answer? ;-) Although as a parent myself, I tend to bend over backwards to take Mom or Dad's side whenever possible, in this case. your cashier's job will look as good--or better--on your applications than your tennis will. There's nothing wrong with the tennis, of course, and being co-captain will give you some "brownie points" for "leadership." But, even so, most admission folks view athletics as a constructive use of time but nothing more unless the applicant is going to help lead the college team to glory. If a coach is interested in you, it's a whole different story, but--from what you've told me about your tennis prowess--I don't expect that.


On the other hand, working at a real-world job can carry more weight with admission committees. At the Ivies and other so-called "elite" institutions, admission folks are often left-leaning, bleeding-heart types. So, whether you're a poor kid who needs to work to help out with family expenses or a more well-heeled one who simply wants to pay her own way, it will probably work in your favor at decision time. So do tell your parents that your true "advantage" won't be on the tennis court, and it could "serve" you well to stick with your supermarket job ... not just at admissions time but perhaps at tuition time, too.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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