OPINION: Reinstated criteria for Honors Societies leave many students chasing requirements

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In an email sent to students in October, Coordinator of Student Activities, Jaime Baranoff revealed the launch of Townsend Harris High School’s Peer Tutoring Program for the year. The email discussed the premise of the program and opportunities for student involvement. It revealed a statement of requirements which said, “Being a peer tutor is a requirement for honor societies like Arista and Archon.”

Due to the numerous requirements needed for honor societies, some students may find themselves committing to programs with the primary aim of checking off boxes.

Beginning in freshman year, some students join clubs and extracurricular activities with the intention of only fulfilling a requirement. However, a balance can be struck between both exploring students’ interests and fulfilling requirements. How often is the journey to discover your passion obstructed by the urge to adorn your application? And what may such outcomes mean for students?

How often do students find themselves caught up in “checking off boxes”?

Several students were randomly selected to share their personal experiences with their struggles to balance passion with requirements. One student who spoke with The Classic revealed that in the spring of this year, he volunteered with an organization called Luv Michael, which he came across through a school-wide email. Prepared to “advocate and earn hours,” which an attachment to the email read, he quickly found himself doing only the latter. By sharing a few social media posts with friends, he realized he was able to make it through the program. “As long as I secured those forty hours, the actual program didn’t matter,” he said.

Hearing from their peers that they managed to rack up community service hours through Luv Michael, many other students we interviewed admitted they also took a crack at this seemingly easy opportunity. Consumed with completing a requirement, these students would miss out on an opportunity to derive meaning from Luv Michael’s program. A small checkbox can eliminate the pursuit of passion and meaning.

In an anonymous survey distributed by The Classic this month, 81 students across grades responded to questions on two fictitious scenarios. One scenario, which details the predicament of a senior, is featured below:

A senior at Townsend Harris High School has been on the soccer team for two years and loves the sport. But as the college application season is approaching, he realizes that he may need to withdraw from the team. One school on his list requires three letters of recommendation but he has only secured two. Hoping to get a third, he considers the possibility of quitting the soccer team and joining the school’s robotics team where he’s somewhat acquainted with the advisor. 

Question: Should he quit the team to join robotics and potentially get a letter of recommendation from the advisor or stick to his love of soccer?           

In particular, 58 respondents said the student should quit the soccer team and join the robotics team to get a recommendation letter. From the same pool of respondents, 18 were freshmen and 21 were seniors. The urge to fulfill requirements not only exists among seniors pressed by college applications, but it is also apparent in freshmen embarking on their first year in high school.  

So what? 

Requirements tarnish the high school experience for many students. In some cases, students overlook the significance of a potentially meaningful activity, permitting requirements to take priority in their pursuit of that activity. Other times, students participate in activities that they dislike with the intention of plainly fulfilling requirements. High school is one massive checklist, students appear to believe, and if you’re a freshman, the chase starts right away.

Photo courtesy of Classic Photography