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"Focus on your interests." | A Yale Student's Advice on Extracurriculars

We had a great opportunity of interviewing KX,

  • an alum of Ivy League university, Yale University in Connecticut.

  • a musician, composer, and pianist

We asked him some advice on: Extracurriculars

Here are some main points he stresses:

  • "Work is only work if you are doing it against your will; otherwise, it is called fun."

  • "Social interaction is crucial to living a fulfilling life, as after all humans are social animals"

  • "Joking about your mistakes is the best way to ensure they won’t happen again."

Q: For some of your major extracurriculars, roughly how many days a week did you spend involved in it (preparing for competitions, attending meetings, etc)?

A: Music production/composition/audio technology: 4 hours/week. Piano: 3 hours/week. Programming: 2 hours / week. Competitive math: 1 hour / week. My extracurriculars were in music, STEM, and their intersection.

Q: Did you ever prioritize your extracurriculars above your schoolwork or grades?

A: Once your grades are above a certain point, continuing to focus on improving them results in diminishing returns. By then, it is much more meaningful to develop yourself in areas that you are fond of. In other words, try to aim for A’s in your classes, but don’t obsess over getting 100% on every assignment.

Q: Did any of your extracurriculars shape your future or are related to what career path you want to pursue?

A: Yes. I plan to continue to pursue computer science and hopefully create something that will dramatically improve society. While I do not plan to pursue music as a career, the area has many intersections with computer science and composing will continue to be one of my favorite hobbies.

Q: How do you balance extracurriculars with home, work, and social life?

A: Social life for me existed primarily in school and through my extracurriculars; I seldom dedicated time purely to social life. I never really thought of it in terms of balancing extracurriculars with other aspects of my life; it was more of a “just do it” sorta attitude. This I do not recommend. Social interaction is crucial to living a fulfilling life, as after all humans are social animals. It is one of the key components to longevity. And most of all, social interaction just feels good. But make sure to keep six feet apart and WEAR A MASK.

Q: What accomplishments or impacts did you make in the extracurriculars you were involved in?

A: Piano: volunteer performances at senior center, Family House (residency for families of children with life-threatening illnesses), Gifts for Grace (fundraiser for a widow living with HIV in Uganda), NorCal Wildfires Benefit Concert, two school musicals; state awards. Music production/composition: won several national awards, founded school Music Production Club. Audio technology: attended seminars with graduate students and workshops at Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), created my own digital instrument that was performed live at CCRMA.

Q: Did you set yourself a limit beforehand on how many clubs/extracurriculars you were going to participate in or did you join as many as you could and drop out of some along the way?

A: I just joined clubs I found interesting. If it’s not interesting, you will naturally want to quit. If it’s truly interesting, you won’t have to worry about dropping them. Work is only work if you are doing it against your will; otherwise, it is called fun.

Q: How did you determine what extracurriculars to join (friend recommendations, parents, personal interests, etc.)?

A: I was personally interested in the aforementioned extracurriculars, and my parents were very supportive of my extracurricular development. They were also very demanding in my commitment to them.

Q: Did you delve into different types of volunteering or stick mainly with one category/one group? Were these volunteering opportunities related to things you want to pursue in the future?

A: I did a variety of music-related volunteering, since it was an area I was proficient at. I believe that music is a great way to connect with people on the emotional level, and I will continue to bring joy to the world through music. In addition, I was part of our school Service Commission, where we tutored peers, facilitated legal parking, collected funds during sporting events, helped parents during school events, etc. Tutoring is a great way to give back to the school community.

Q: Now about volunteering, about how many volunteer hours did you total in your four years of high school?

A: Approximately 100 hours.

Q: Did you volunteer mostly during summer or also during the school year?

A: More time during the school year due to school-related events.

Q: For clubs, which clubs were easiest to get leadership positions from your perspective?

A: The easiest way to get a leadership position is to create your own club and make yourself president. Or, you could bribe the leaders of an existing club, and they will covertly give you a raise. On a more realistic note, I wouldn’t focus on getting leadership positions; just focus on contributing to the club and people would naturally want you to become a leader. The best leaders are democratically elected.

Q: How did you manage to get leadership positions in different clubs?

A: Knowing how to connect with the interests of the club members. Being able to communicate your ideas effectively in a verbal manner (a.k.a. speeches). In addition to founding Music Production, I became Secretary of Math Club and President of Programming Club.

Q: If you founded a club, where would you say was your inspiration founded from?

A: I noticed that our school lacked a way for music creators to communicate with each other, so I created Music Production Club. Don’t create solutions for problems that don’t exist. Don’t just create a club for the sake of it.

Q: If you founded a club, what were some challenges that you ran into along the way and how did you overcome them?

A: During the first year, membership started at 20 people in the beginning of the year and dropped to one member by the end. So I thought about why that was the case. Reason one: I focused on teaching people everything they need to know to produce music instead of inspiring people to want to teach themselves. Reason two: I did not interact with members on a personal level. As such, I improved the club the next year by addressing these issues. During the first day of club the next year, I showed the members a graph of the membership vs. time for the previous year. Joking about your mistakes is the best way to ensure they won’t happen again, seriously. We were able to maintain a tight-knit community, and even during the pandemic, we frequently communicate with each other.


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