There’s a very strong feeling among college applicants that you “have to do everything and do it well” in order to be accepted into college–and this goes doubly strong if you’re aiming for one of the nation’s elite universities.
Invariably, this leads to high school students joining as many clubs as possible, participating in as many extracurriculars as they can cram into their schedule, playing as many sports as they are able, and volunteering at as many places as they can find, all in the quest to become the quintessential Well-Rounded Student that they believe all colleges want to see, and that will guarantee them admission to the college of their choice.
Here’s the deal, though: Although well-rounded students were once sought after by admissions officers, they’re no longer what colleges covet for their freshman class. Admissions committees instead try to create a class of dedicated and passionate specialists.
Assembling a team of experts
Let me present a metaphor. Assume you’re the coach of a baseball team. You want your team to be good, right? So you go out and find the best catcher, the best pitcher, the best first-baseman, the best second-baseman, the best third-baseman…the best for each position on your team. Sure, it’s great if they can play other positions, but what you’re looking for is specific excellence that will add to the overall success of your team. You’d rather have someone who is absolutely exceptional at playing their position than someone who is just okay at playing many. You want this because if you have a whole host of players who are excellent at playing their respective positions, together they will form an excellent, unstoppable team.
Now, let’s turn that metaphor and focus it on a college admissions officer. Sure, an admissions officer wouldn’t automatically reject a student who was objectively well-rounded and did many things well. However, an applicant who exhibits a very clear preference for certain club or activity has a better chance of being admitted in today’s college climate. Why is that?
College admissions officers, much like our baseball coach, are looking to put together a great team. And a great team is not just composed of people who can play every aspect of the game well, it’s also composed of people who are absolute wizards at a single aspect of it. Just like the coach is looking for individual excellence that he can then combine into a excellent team, the admissions officer is looking for specific brilliance that he can combine into an interesting, enriching, diverse college class.
Presenting your passion
So what does that mean for you? That you should relax, take a deep breath, and focus on what you want to do, and what you’re interested in while you’re in high school! Don’t care one bit for sports, but love to write? Don’t force yourself to join a team–instead, join the newspaper. Can’t stand math, but love to debate? Don’t gag your way through the Math Olympics Team tryouts; instead, join Model UN. Find your passion and then throw yourself into it! If you love playing tennis, join your school’s team, teach a free children’s tennis clinic every summer, start your own tennis clothing line, and conduct a local charity tennis tournament. Show the college that you are passionate about a single activity rather than semi-interested in a half dozen endeavors.
Don’t fill up your résumé with things you’re barely interested in, all in the name of appearing “well-rounded.” Instead, be an “angular” student–someone who isn’t good at everything (because, after all, who is?), but is exceptional at some things. We all have an angle–take the time to really analyze yourself and find yours. Not only will your résumé show your exceptionality and the love and sense of enjoyment you have for the things you do, it will also demonstrate the enthusiasm you have when you participate in your activities. Embrace your angularity, and relish in your diversity and uniqueness. Your résumé–and your college application–will thank you for it!
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