As a martial arts instructor, I’ve heard many students say they hope having a black belt will look good on their college applications. (Equally often, I’ve heard kids or parents say a student can’t come to class because of all the other activities they’re pursuing for their college applications!) Of course, “putting it on the resume” is a poor reason to train for black belt. At the same time, the personal qualities forged in the process of earning that belt can be good indicators of college success.
So, can your black belt really help get you into the college of your choice? We at Kids’ Karate Workbook decided to ask an expert. The result is some excellent advice for college applicants on how to present themselves and their martial arts achievements in the college admissions process. Stephanie Bertagnole is an Admissions Officer and Freshman Advisor at the University of California, Berkeley, one of the nation’s top universities. She has also trained in Cuong Nhu karate, along with her husband and son. Here’s what she had to say in answer to our questions:
How common is it for a college applicant to list “black belt” as an achievement?
We see numerous college applicants list “black belt” as an achievement. However, what sets one applicant apart from the others is the level of detail they provide regarding their achievement.
Is martial arts training considered a good extracurricular activity to have on one’s application? Do some admissions officers look down on it as “violent”?
The UC Berkeley admissions office views the martial arts as an excellent extracurricular activity. Martial arts training is not regarded as violent by our admissions officers and we are aware that martial arts training is both an excellent physical activity and that training can improve academic performance (according to our applicants). There are several martial arts clubs on campus including Judo, Tae Kwon Do, and Wushu. Additionally, martial arts training offered as a recreational activity for students, faculty and staff. For more information about our martial arts programs, please visithttp://recsports.berkeley.edu/sports/martial-arts/.
How much do admissions officers know or find out about different martial arts, or different degrees of black belt?
As with many extracurricular activities, clubs, and competitions, we learn about martial arts training and achievements from the applicant. The applicant should assume that the application reader knows nothing about their martial arts training. It is their responsibility to impart detailed information about their training and the level of their achievements. Just as academics will vary from applicant to applicant, individual extracurricular activities such as martial arts training will vary as well. The level of detail one provides about their martial arts training and achievements will help make their case for admission.
Does it count for more if I’m in a martial art that emphasizes sport competition? Does it help if I’ve won a lot of championships?
Not necessarily—many applicants may not have access to competitions or simply choose not to compete for a variety of reasons. Competing can add value to an application but so can leadership roles such as instructing, serving as a role model in your community, or service to others.
I’ve heard I should have lots of different extracurricular activities on my application to make it look better. I have so many different activities, I can’t practice martial arts as often as I want – but I want my application to look good. Am I doing the right thing, piling on activities?
We see a variety of applicants including those who are involved in many different activities to those who are dedicated to one activity. For UC Berkeley, the quality of the program or activity is a key factor in the admission process and will significantly influence the application review. A student who piles on activities or simply participates in a variety of activities radically differs from one who dedicates a significant amount of time to their activity and has earned a high level of achievement within their sport, club, or volunteer work. If an applicant dedicates themselves solely to one activity, it is important that they understand how to convey their dedication to the application reader.
I often see martial arts applicants break down their martial arts training into several components. If they are an instructor at their dojo, they list these hours as a volunteer activity or work (if paid for their instruction). Their martial arts training is listed as the primary activity and the hours dedicated to their training should be listed here—applicants should remember to include the time spent outside the dojo conditioning and practicing. Achieving the rank of black belt is an honor; this and other related achievements could be listed as honors or awards. Martial arts training camps a student has attended could be listed under special program participation. Applicants should use the college application to their advantage—especially the essays or personal statements to provide in-depth information about their training.
There are so many young people doing martial arts and earning black belts as kids or teens. How can I make my achievement stand out from the crowd?
Every applicant is unique and so are their individual life experiences. Applicants can make their achievements stand out from the crowd through their essays or personal statements. I find it especially helpful when an applicant talks about challenges they have faced in their training or opportunities that have arisen as a result of their training. What is their response to these challenges and/or opportunities? How does the applicant apply their martial arts training off the mat and outside the dojo?
Can you give some examples of what an admissions officer likes to see/doesn’t like to see?
The college applicant pool is as diverse as the criteria by which a school reviews and selects students. I advise students contact individual colleges and universities to learn about their review and selection process. For UC Berkeley, each applicant starts from a neutral standpoint and our admissions officers look for items within the application that add value to one’s application. We like to see students who go above and beyond minimum requirements in academic or personal achievement. We do not penalize an applicant if critical information is missing or if they missed an opportunity to convey information in their personal statements. These applications simply remain at a neutral standpoint. We make the best possible case for admission to our school based on the information an applicant provides in their application.
Without revealing anything confidential, are there any good “martial arts applicant stories” you can tell?
There are so many who come to mind but the following two examples did a fine job presenting crucial information in their application and personal statements.
There first was an applicant who was competing at an international level in Tae Kwon Do. Their application stood out because of the level of detail provided regarding their achievements, training, and competitions. The student used the extra-curricular page of the UC application to their advantage by using key words or phrases to describe an honor, award, or competition. Furthermore, the applicant informed us that they often completed school assignments and papers on the plane or in a hotel room. We learned that they were an independent student, self-sufficient, and demonstrated impeccable time management skills required to succeed in both their martial art and in school.
Another applicant that stood out was 3rd degree black belt who achieved this rank by the age of 17. This applicant was an assistant instructor who helped manage the dojo but never competed for personal reasons. This young person took on a high level of responsibility for the students within the dojo and community as well as maintaining a high level of academic achievement within the school. Their application provided details regarding time spent training, instructing, managing the dojo, as well as time spent conditioning and practicing outside the dojo.
"How can somebody break a brick with a flick of his arm? Will I ever have that ability? The power behind every punch is enough to throw a man to the ground." A five year old me, was thinking all such questions in his mind when he walked into his first Tae Kwon Do class. It was all about becoming a man. Surely power, strength, agility and concentration would help me become one. But, little did I know that these years would bring out my innate attributes of sweat, blood and hard work.
I trained for twelve long years. Gradually with each passing year, I began surpassing my own skills, acquired the previous year. Pursuing a strenuous extracurricular activity alongside a demanding academics made the task doubly challenging. At times I would be too exhausted to even sleep. It was then that my dreams of myself standing at the pinnacle, becoming a master of the art that lent strength to my aching muscles, to undergo the same strenuous regime the next day. I progressed from the white to the red belt and subsequently the much coveted black belt. I trained in two formats of the art-GTF (full form) andWTF(full form), which then afforded me the opportunity to join the prestigiousKiyaKhan School of Martial Arts.
Every year the Katas became more complicated. Yet, with regular practice and increased concentration I was able to master them. At the Kiya Khan School of Martial Arts, alongside my own practice I also trained my juniors, which bolstered my confidence in my abilities. The fact that the younger boys looked up to me as their idol gave me the impetus to outperform my own self.
Then came the big day on the 19th of Dec'09, when I was to appear for a test which would give me my 1st Dan Black Belt. This is a significant achievement as it would grade me as a qualified instructor of Tae Kwon Do. That night, I lay tossing in bed too anxious to sleep.What if something went wrong? Finally, when the day broke, I tried to convince myself that I had prepared myself well. My twelve years of penitence had lent me courage to face the test with confidence. I mustered all my wits about me and set out to conquer the arena.
I had six rounds to clear in all and three brick breaking techniques. I faced the first 3 sparring opponents with ease. Thereafter I started to feel the exhaustion as I had not slept well the last night. Dehydration and exhaustion started to take their toll on my body. At times all became dizzy. Yet my aspiration to see myself attain the 1st Dan Black Belt, kept me at the test. Although fatigued I managed to overpower the 4th and the 5th opponents. It was then time to break the bricks. Breaking the first two successfully, I attempted the third with confidence. Suddenly, I experienced excruciating pain. As the pain subsided, all I could feel then was numbness. Worse, I could not even feel my hand from the wrist to my fingertips. Memories of 2006 flooded back when I had broken my hand in a similar manner. Neither did I give up then, neither would I do that now. I was standing at the crossroads. I did not want to wait for another year to appear for my 1st Dan Black Belt. So I decided to push on!
Nursing my hand, I mustered all my resolve. But, much to my horror, when I saw that I was to face a 4th Dan qualified opponent, I stood paralyzed for a second. This tournament would decide my fate and yet destiny deemed that I fight this man, much more qualified than myself, today. His aggression and ability lent him an upper hand in the bout. I stood badly beaten but not discouraged, in the first round. Only two and a half minutes were left and I was 3 points down. The next round started. Even before I could move, he punched me in the face. I felt blood trickle down my nose into my mouth. All my senses awakened. I could not let anybody take away the glory of this day from me! Packing all my energy in a single 'flying reverse back kick' I knocked him out.
I had done it! I received the precious 1st Dan Black Belt!
The most significant lesson learnt that day was that a black belt was not about tying a colored cloth round my waist, which is outside but it was akin to receiving a black belt on the inside. It represents the 12 years of sweat, diligence, and hard work put into to 'my Tae Kwon Do' and life training.
Tae Kwon Do has taught me to believe in myself and to never give up even when the odds are stacked against me. Extending similar lessons to academics, I motivated myself to complete the 'Particle Physics Thesis Paper' which won me first prize in the district wide science project. This feat also kept me charged for the yearlong 'Salt Analysis' project, which I completed successfully.
Having realized my potential to thrive in a demanding, diverse and pressurized environment, I started looking for opportunities in academics and extracurricular, rather than waiting for them to come by. Consequently, I found an opportunity to undertake a 2 year internship in Engineering Physics at L & T. This has lent me deeper insights into Mechanics and Hydrostatics. Since my school never had a physics and a green club, I started them. I toiled alone, but soon students came and joined. I conducted experiments ranging from optics to electricity and magnetism, taught them how to do it and instilled a passion for science in them.
Tae Kwon Do has redefined my character, personality and state of health. Synergizing my strengths now comes naturally to me. It has prepared me to perform my best even when I am under pressure. This will surely enable me to cope with a rigorous undergraduate program at Harvard.
Thus, Tae Kwon Do has made me a better and stronger person, in every aspect of life.
Fun story, a good essay that shows off your strengths and your obvious love of tae kwon do, but your account of your tae-kwon do experiences is rather long, shorten the story and to give it a faster, more exciting pace. The account of training with the juniors for example, may not be necessary.
"it was all about becoming a man"-not sure what to think of this sentence.
Your last paragraph with your achievements in Engineering and Physics is really, good, I would expand more on the fact that you started the physics and green club, and what you did, its impressive!
The last sentence is a little awkward, is it necessary?
You seem like you will be a strong candidate! Good luck! Or better yet, good essay!
This was great - really mentioned your strengths.
Try to focus not SO much on Tae Kwon Do. Adjust your narrative a bit. It almost seems as though you're mentioning TKD and then throwing in some other accomplishments to try to link them together. Try to find a better way of jumping from TKD to physics.
made the task doubly challenging
... Well, I prefer a word like "extremely" .... may be my prejudices :P
[quote=arunesh]Neither did I give up then, neither would I do that now. [/quote]... Wow... you are so courageous : ) You've written it so well.... Wish you good luck!
okay, thanks for your time
I guess the long list of your achievements might work against you, but still it's up to you whether you keep it or not. At the same time, you might want to write how TKD inspired you to do those initiatives you took in school more clearly. Overall, your essay is fantastic!
is this ending okay
Tae Kwon Do has taught me to believe in myself and to never give up even when the odds are stacked against me. My high school life past the Black belt experience was magical. My faith in myself increased a thousand fold. Tae Kwon do gave me strength the strength to take challenging courses. As a result, I motivated myself to complete the 'Particle Physics Thesis Paper' which won me first prize in the district wide science project. This feat also kept me charged for the yearlong 'Salt Analysis' project, which I completed successfully. I learned programming and coded 28 challenging C++ programs on my own within a period of 5 months. Since my school never had a physics and a green club, I started them. I toiled alone, but soon students came and joined. I conducted experiments ranging from optics to electricity and magnetism, taught them how to do it and instilled a passion for science in them
Having realized my potential to thrive in a demanding, diverse and pressurized environment, I started looking for opportunities in academics and extracurricular, rather than waiting for them to come by. Consequently, I found an opportunity to undertake a 2 year internship in Engineering Physics at L & T- a multinational company. This has lent me deeper insights into Mechanics and Hydraulics. Post internship, I designed an award winning effective flood control system for our township.
Tae Kwon Do has redefined my character, personality and state of health. Synergizing my strengths now comes naturally to me. It has prepared me to perform my best even when I am under pressure. This will surely enable me to cope with a rigorous undergraduate program at Harvard college.
I think the essay would come together more if you mentioned your achievements earlier in the essay and how they are linked to tae kwon do.
i don't think a flash back would be a good idea. even if u r right, i don't have time to re edit it. i have 9 more ivy essays to do!!!! lol
Nice topic and well written.
However, Harvard supplement essays should be no longer than 500 words.
It will count against your chances.
Only one advice shorten your essay!
it's not a supplement. i will be submitting it as an extra essay along with supplementary materials. lol
I agree with Sukhomoon. Less Taekwando, and more you.
And cut the crap.
None of this : "So I decided to push on!", "I had done it! I received the precious 1st Dan Black Belt!"
I know that you want us to be excited for you and whatnot, but its not working; this isn't a Disney movie summary and life isn't as exciting.
Oh, and why Harvard? Why are you applying to Harvard? What will they do for you (and what will you do for them?) Because now, you seem like a great, intelligent candidate, but you dont show the motivation to go to that school. And adcoms aren't necessarily looking for the wisest or smartest kids, they're looking for the most passionate kids.
And what's your major? you spent the entire essay talking about taekwondo, but relatively little talking about relevant passions. Unless you want to become a professional taekwondo expert, and if so, your physics stuff confused me.
Good luck, mate. I think if you tidy the essay up a bit, you'll have a better chance.
Please check my essay too and let me know what you think..