Back in the day I was applying for scholarships and to college, “well-rounded” was the buzzword. Students who spread themselves thin over many activities won all the awards. My own personal college activity record was a nightmare. I was a member of no less than 16 organizations, president of two, and officer in ten. I was a member of 30 committees, 17 of which I chaired. I founded several organizations, met monthly with college deans in an advisory capacity, and traveled across the state representing my school. I was involved in college sports for one year, was the first Truman Scholar at my school, and was hired as a research team member while still an undergraduate (which was unheard of at the time).
But that was nothing compared to a good friend of mine, a real man-about- campus. This guy was considered one of the top leaders at our school and every night he would start the process of briefly visiting all the meetings on his schedule. He would show up for 10 minutes, shake a few hands, then head off to the next meeting where he would do the same. This continued all evening, every evening. In that day and time, our crazy behavior was rewarded.
Thanks goodness times have changed! The jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none mentality that dominated my childhood has given way to placing value on thoughtful activity. College Admissions Officers at top schools would rather see a student passionate about a single topic than a serial-joiner who does many things at a superficial level. They no longer seek to fill their freshman classes with well-rounded kids. Their goal is to make an interesting class, filled with kids very different from each other whose synergy will make that college a better place.
Let me give you an example. My daughter’s freshman college class featured an Olympic ice skater, a linguist who mastered multiple languages while still in high school, a gifted harpist who could have gone to conservatory, a Native American student who was the first in her family to ever go to college, a computer geek who ran multiple tech businesses, etc. These kids didn’t do everything. They did what they loved very well.
Just for the record, we don’t want our kids to be one-dimensional and I worked very hard to make sure mine weren’t. But neither did we join a bunch of things because it would “look good for the resume.” I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve seen countless times that Christian schools and homeschools are so worried about looking like everyone else that they add all the clubs, and the offices, and the stuff that public schools have. And you know what? They succeed. Their kids look like everyone else. So much so that they get lost in the stack of thousands of college applications where everyone is the same. It is a deadly mistake.
Here are some tips to help your child develop into a better person and stand out in the college admissions process:
1. Don’t seek to impress – if you start that game you will find yourself looking for verification from everyone else and will soon have a checklist (supplied by other trapped people) on how you need to live your life.
2. Follow your child’s heart – help them find who they are and then routinely invite them out of their comfort zone within the confines of the thing they care about. If they really, really love something, it is easier for students to do hard things.
3. Don’t be afraid to be different – most of my clients don’t look like anyone they know. Outstanding kids don’t. They blaze new trails rather than following the well-worn and dusty path that most people take.
4. Develop important skills – help your child develop real-world skills in the area they love whether that is skill in the area itself or skill in sharing that passion with others (writing, teaching, public speaking).
5. Do something that matters – If we leave our children cocooned at home with their interests, the world is robbed of a vital spark. It is my belief that everyone has something to share that will make the world a better place. Help your child make that kind of contribution.