colored pencils
colored pencils

A Well-Rounded Class of Pointy Students

When I was growing up, everyone talked about the importance of being well-rounded. You heard this from your parents, who wanted you to be an athlete, an artist, and an academic; from your coaches: don’t just play one sport, play lots of sports; from your teachers: education is about exploration, try lots of things; don’t be narrow in your scope. This message of well-roundedness was everywhere. The same applied to college admission. Everyone knew that colleges wanted to see well-rounded students.

But college admissions has changed, and with application numbers rising each year, colleges are looking for ways to differentiate between thousands of applicants. I’ve often heard college admissions counselors say they want “a well-rounded class of pointy students”. These days, colleges often look for students who are more specialized or have a particular passion or strength. Maybe they are very devoted to environmental issues– they run their school’s recycling club, do environmental science research with a local professor, and volunteer on a local farm that gives a percentage of its vegetables to low-income families. They are not just a star athlete on the school’s tennis team but are also team captain, founder of a local chapter of the Aceing Autism organization to teach children with autism how to play tennis, and coach to little kids at the local tennis club each summer. These student’s applications have a focused theme and their resumes show deep commitment to one particular path.

But what if you’re well-rounded? Is that ok? YES! I once heard an admissions officer say, “We still need the glue on our campus.” Not everyone can be so pointy or specialized. We need those kids who like to get involved in a variety of things, and not just all leaders. Having said this, I do think it’s easier to stand out in competitive admissions pools when you are angular (another word for pointy) as opposed to well-rounded. You become “that kid”- the kid who trains service dogs or the kid who speaks Esperanto.

How do you go about being pointy? This is hard to force, so it’s best not to try to manufacture it. Instead, think of high school as an upside-down funnel. Start broad and get narrower. Use 9th-10th grade to explore, dabble, and join. As you figure out what you like and what you’re good at, narrow your focus and go deeper with those interests. If it’s genuine, it will be evident in your application. So again, don’t just check boxes, but instead lean into what you like to do, and do it deeply. This will ultimately lead you to your “pointy” passion in most cases. But not everyone is pointy! As I often tell my students, I’m still trying to find my special talent and I’m 50!

Side note: What you love and do doesn’t so much matter as much as the fact that you’ve chosen something to dig into. Colleges don’t have a ranking of what they care about most. The environmentalist in the example above is not seen differently than the athlete – they’ve both pursued their passions on a meaningful level.

However, colleges do care about a student’s strength of character. “Positive character attributes” has moved up the rankings of important factors in the admissions process – see below for the National Association of College Admissions Counselors’s latest “Factors in the Admissions Decision” report. So no matter what you do, make sure your application also includes what kind of person you are, what you care about, and what you do to help your community. This matters to colleges more than ever. And that’s a good thing! We want colleges to care and appreciate you for more than just your grades and scores. But the takeaway here is that it’s not just about having a passion. It’s your commitment, your care, and your kindness that also matters. 

Sometimes students find their interests easily; other times it takes some work and assistance to suss it out. Need help figuring out ‘your thing’? We love this work and are happy to be your sherpa! The earlier you start, the better. Schedule a call now to connect with a counselor.