Spring term is underway, and board applications are churning out. In this week alone, I’ve been emailed at least five board applications, most of which are from clubs I’ve never even considered participating in. As this period of the year comes around, I’ve begun to hear unattractive sentiments about board positions and leadership ambitions. Especially because the Seniors are receiving their college acceptance letters, I’ve realized that now more than ever, Andover students correlate certain board positions to college acceptance. Even worse, I’ve noticed that we have a culture of assessing a student’s merit based primarily on that person’s board positions.
One of the most intrinsic and important aspects of Andover is our competitiveness and our dedication to excellence, so it is inevitable that the topic of college applications and acceptance causes students to become frantically stressed. The anxiety that accompanies the need to compile a thorough, comprehensive, and well-rounded college application attacks Seniors and Uppers, but the mentality trickles down to affect even Lowers and Juniors. Though most Seniors and Uppers have already made a “name” for themselves and are more concerned with maintaining grades than applying for club positions, most Lowers have turned their attentions to board positions, to the clubs that will determine their leadership positions on campus when they become upperclassmen.
While the emphasis on partaking in extracurriculars is one of the greatest merits of Andover, the reason behind involvement is not always so honorable. Many students, entering Andover wide-eyed and enthusiastic, will choose clubs based on genuine interest. But gradually, as we are exposed to a system of calculated ambition, we realize that not all clubs were made equal. Or at least, not all clubs are considered by our peers to be equally important. We become aware of the significance and value of a club, determined by the students who lead them and the students who led them. We measure board positions like we do grades. We begin to judge students not by their passion and character, but by the “prestige” of their extracurricular activities.
There are many students who have retained a mindset that isolates them from this culture, and I commend them, but many more students have and, sadly, will become ensnared within this value system. Believers of this false pretense often characterize students involved in the “Big Three” – The Phillipian, Model UN, and The Philomathean Society – as more-qualified college candidates than those affiliated with smaller organizations. The system also devalues smaller affinity groups, like MOSAIC, which, arguably, carry just as much significance as the “Big Three” since they give students of multiethnic backgrounds the opportunity to grapple with and understand their identities.
This is a difficult topic to navigate, because, in some way or another, it affects the vast majority of Andover students. Even as I criticize this skewed value system, I know I am guilty of not only condoning it, but participating in it. I am clearly aware of the fact that it’s ridiculous, yet I still sometimes assess my worth simply based on the clubs I am involved in. When someone shares their activities and commitments, I can’t help thinking that a board position in a certain club qualifies someone or had a direct impact on their college acceptance.
It’s a tall request to ask Andover students to drop all of their clubs. In fact, it wouldn’t necessarily solve anything. It is impossible to distinguish students who actually feel passionate about their extracurricular activities from those who join a club simply for the sake of a resumé. Sometimes, I myself feel confused about my own intentions. I might have initially joined a club out of genuine interest, but at one point, it may have turned into just another line in my imminent college application.
Next time an application email appears in your inbox, I encourage you to think about your intentions. Do you want to join this club because you are genuinely intrigued by it? Or, is it just another stepping stone to college?