My Son's Job Is His Only Activity. Do Colleges Care?

By Eva Ostrum, Consulting Educator


My son works 20 hours a week to pay for his car, not to help support the family. This job takes up all of his time outside of school and leaves him no opportunity to get involved in other activities. Will admissions officers understand and accept the way in which he has chosen to spend his time or will his lack of organized activities hurt his chances?


Some will and some won't, depending on the institution, on the rest of your son's profile (academic transcript, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, and family/school/community context), and on the story he tells about the importance of having a car....

Let's assume for now that your son is applying to a college or university where the rest of his profile would not rule him out. He needs to clarify the context in which he has decided to work 20 hours per week to finance his car. Does he use the car simply to go to the mall, go on dates and to drive around with friends or does he use it to drive to the closest large city and take advantage of resources there? Has he learned any mechanics to maintain the car himself? Are automobiles and/or automotive mechanics his passion? Is his car a 30-year-old Mustang that he restored himself?

Without any additional circumstances and all other factors remaining equal, I would tell you that a student working to support her family comes across as more powerful and compelling than a student working to buy luxury items or material possessions. ...

Context influences everything in college admissions. Explore with your son how having a car and working to pay for it have exposed him to new experiences and helped him develop unexplored sides of himself. Including the points that come up in that conversation in an application essay, for example, could paint this part of your son's profile in a much more meaningful light than simply listing the job on the application without providing any context.

Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from The Thinking Parent's Guide to College Admissions: The Step-by-Step Program to Get Kids into the Schools of Their Dreams by Eva Ostrum. Copyright © 2006 by Ostrum Education, LLC.

Eva Ostrum award-winning educator and author, counsels parents and students on the college admissions process and on improving student academic performance.


Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.