The value of an activity/accomplishment journal

We see some students (and often their parents) who meticulously record every hour of community service, every award and every academic achievement.  There's value to that, especially given how many college applications will ask you to describe how you've spent your time, and to estimate the number of hours per week and weeks per year that you participated in each activity. 

But even those carefully updated resumes leave out something that lots of colleges want to know about.  How did those activities and accomplishments make you feel?  That's why I think students should keep an activity/accomplishment journal. 

Lots of colleges have essay questions that ask you to describe the activity that had the most meaning for you, or an accomplishment that makes you proud, or a mistake/failure you've experienced and what you've learned from it.  Colleges don't want just factual recitations of the events.  They want to hear how these experiences affected you.  And you'll never be better able to describe those moments than right after they actually happen.

You're never going to be more in touch with the pain of losing a city basketball championship, or the thrill of winning your first student council election, or the pride you felt when your first issue as editor of the school paper was published, than on the days those events took place.  Why not capture how you feel by writing a short paragraph, something just for yourself that you don't have to share with anyone? 

Here's an example of how this could really help you later. 

When you're a senior and a college asks you to describe an achievement that made you proud, you could try to think back three years ago and remember how it felt when you raised your grade in geometry from a D to B+.  You could try to describe how much you struggled in math and why it made you proud that you never gave up.  But it will be hard to recall the details of what it really felt like.     

Or you could look back at a short journal entry you wrote three years ago that read,

"Today I got my geometry test back, and it was the first time in my life that I got an 'A' on a math test.  As soon as I saw that big red "A" with a smiley face next to it that Mrs. Ashlock drew, I actually welled up with tears.  I was seriously worried my football teammates were going to see me cry, but I pulled it together.  It was a good day."

Bam.  You now have a powerful, specific example to include in your essay.