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Colleges are Not Looking for Well-Rounded Kids


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What might be the principle pedagogical aim for many parents – raising well-rounded children – does not create the most qualified applicants for college admissions.

Colleges today want to build a well-rounded class, but they don’t want it composed of renaissance men and women. Instead colleges want angular applicants who each offer outstanding promise and genuine passion in one or two fields. By combining a burgeoning chemist, an aspiring poet laureate, and a high school hockey star, a college can create the best class for its students – or so the thinking goes.

This ideology has enormous implications for students and families as they consider various extracurricular activities. If you’re a student, find the thing or two about which you are truly passionate and pursue them vigorously; don’t focus on filling up a resume with 10 placeholders you think might look good on an activities sheet. Whether your passion is ballet, neurology, or the violin, don’t sacrifice depth for breadth.

John Sheffield presents on the college application process in March to students and parents in Sacramento.

If you are like the many who have still not found your passion, don’t give up! Keep trying things. Keep searching for the experiences that combine your interests and talents and enable you to grow. Don’t be afraid to take chances and try something outside of the box- there will always be hundreds of high school football players applying to your top school, but how many botanists will there be? If you are playing a sport and enjoy it, but it is not something you want to continue in college, you should still keep searching for something that utilizes your skills and captures your interests.

Don’t necessarily give up on an activity you enjoy, but always find time for something that may yield more meaning for you. One of the best essays I have ever read was from a football player who never gave up on his passion for baking pastries and utilized his skill to significantly affect his community. It cut against preconceived notions and offered insights into his interests and personality.

This does not mean you can slack off academically. Rather, this is an encouragement to get best grades and test scores you can, and cultivate one or two other passions.

Find what you like, and pursue it until you have experience and promise that distinguishes you from other applicants. Not only will this help you in admissions, but it can also help you find a life-long pursuit. Too often high school can be an exercise in fitting in; to be the best candidate for your dream school, you should focus on what makes you stand out.