I love when there are positive trends in college admissions. It happens so rarely that it is important to point out, celebrate, and encourage others to embrace this moment. Usually, I have to write critical op eds or appear on live television to denounce unfair practices in the industry. But this one is so good, so pure, and so a part of the fabric of our country that even college admissions officers and deans of admissions are on board.
It is a term that has been around for ages and it is what our country is built on. Yet students are realizing the power of two words strung together to represent something so much more meaningful than anything else they are doing: family responsibilities.
I don't know when it happened or how long it's been going on, but the Common Application and most college applications recognize this atypical "extracurricular activity." In fact, "Family Responsibilities" is one of many options students get to choose as a category to describe an activity they want to list in their applications. It often goes unnoticed, but it is in the dropdown menu—just as respected as the more common JV/varsity sports, research, paid jobs, and even volunteer work. However, most students overlook it on the dropdown menu and in their daily life. Omitting family responsibilities from the activities list is like not mentioning your race or ethnicity. It is so a part of who you are, even if you are still trying to make sense of it.
As the Common App rolls out the 2021-2022 application on August 1st, take a look at the dropdown menu on the activities list and see for yourself. "Family Responsibilities" is not only there as an option, it is becoming one of the most respected "activities" a student can do. The students who are volunteering or expected to help out with family needs are some of the most down-to-earth, loyal, and personally mature individuals in an applicant pool. Admissions officers know that if a student has a significant amount of time each day or week devoted to a family responsibility, they might not have time to do other things. And that is perfectly okay. Family responsibilities transcend buzzwords like "leadership" and "gold medals," and open the door for more genuine contributions like "impact"—impact that is felt by a family of two, three, four, five, or more.
Over the years, I have worked with some very special students who honored their family by helping out in these ways:
- Taking care of two much younger siblings in the morning, after school, and into the evening hours EVERY DAY because the parents worked two jobs each to keep the family together.
- Editing the parent's award-winning screenplay, videos, and social media posts in order to see this parent live the American Dream.
- Washing dishes, serving food, and closing the restaurant the parents owned no matter what test or project the student had the next day.
- Swapping roles from being chauffeured by their grandfather to and from school while the parents worked, to being the chauffeur for the grandfather, taking him to doctors' appointments, grocery shopping, and keeping him company as his health deteriorated.
- Being woken by their sibling who struggled with panic attacks every night, holding their sibling, talking to them, and reassuring them until the sun rose and it was time to get ready for school.
- Daily chores of feeding the animals and keeping the crops alive on the farm 365 days of the year.
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While these examples are more unusual and time-consuming, every student should consider the things they do that they often dismiss as just an expectation. Watching over siblings, checking in on grandparents, and helping out the family business are just a few things that happen in a day that mean more than a good grade, a big leadership title, or even a gold medal. The more time a student spends doing a family responsibility each week, the more revered they are in my eyes and an admissions officer's eyes. Most of all, though, the student's family will be forever grateful for their commitment, leadership, and impact. Family responsibilities are the cornerstone of college admissions because they reveal loyalty, sacrifice, and the love of family a student embodies. Nothing is more important than that, not even a perfect test score or being #1 in your class.