Doing more than dabbling

A student asked me this week if writing a feature-length screenplay this summer would be a strong addition to his college applications. “Will this look good?” queries pop up all the time for college counselors, and it’s easy to have a visceral reaction when we assume this is yet another student intent on making every decision based on what colleges ostensibly want to see in an applicant. But I don’t find these questions unreasonable at all. If a college—one that is evaluating a student for admission—asks a student to share something, it’s only logical to want to know the response will be well-received.

Most good counselors approach questions like this in a similar way by first stripping college admissions out of the equation. Does this student really enjoy writing scripts? Is this a project they’re excited about? If college apps worked in such a way that the admissions office would never know about the screenplay, would the student still write it this summer, just because it’s something they genuinely wanted to do?

If the answer to those questions is yes, then go for it. Worry less about the college application impact and embrace the opportunity to do something productive that you really enjoy.

But outside judgement is a powerful force, especially when that evaluation leads to an admissions decision. So once we’ve established that a student is genuinely interested in something, a Collegewise counselor will try to give an honest answer about the potential impact. In this case, most colleges won’t take the time to read a submitted screenplay. And while “Wrote feature-length screenplay” sounds great, there’s no way to verify the strength–or even the existence–of the work. So I encouraged the student to think about ways he could really demonstrate his interest to an even greater degree.

Could he get some friends together who are interested in filming or directing and actually shoot the movie?

Could he take a screenwriting class at a local community college or even online (wouldn’t have to be expensive at all)?

Could he turn it into a play he performs with friends at school?

What else could this student do, this summer or after, that would show this lone screenplay is just one part of an even more compelling picture?

Not every activity should be taken to a reasonable extreme. So I reminded the student that if he just wanted to enjoy the freedom to write whatever he wanted to write without deadlines or direction and then call it a day, he should sit down at the keyboard and let the words fly. Don’t let the purported admissions correlation make that decision for you.

But if the idea of doing more than dabbling within an interest lights you up, then you’ve got the chance to boost your mood, your skills, and your college application.