Well-Rounded Students vs. A Well-Rounded Student

When I was in applying to college, the big buzzword college counselors bandied about was “well-rounded.” The message came straight from admissions offices, and it was unequivocal. They wanted to see students dig into a little bit of everything: athletics, service, leadership, arts, paid work, etc. So high schoolers endeavored to take on as many activities as possible to give them what they wanted. Admissions meant well. Their intention was to encourage students to explore a variety of interests so that they could gain a clearer understanding of what they might later pursue in college. However, for many students, the pursuit of becoming well-rounded led to simple resume-padding as they tried to check as many boxes as possible to “look good” for college.

Checking Off Boxes

I was the poster child for this. I was in marching band, debate, Model UN, German club, percussion ensemble, a youth ministry puppet team, show choir, jazz band, youth group, and Boy Scouts. I also worked at McDonald’s and taught swimming lessons at the local YMCA. It might sound impressive, but to be candid, my involvement was hollow for most of these activities. I was so over-extended that I couldn’t dedicate enough time and energy to find any real meaning in these activities. I showed up, but that was about it. My favorite example is that I was president of German Club, but under my leadership, all we did was eat pizza once a month. If anyone had asked me why I became president of German Club or what meaning did it have for me, I wouldn’t have had much to say. But at the time, my goal was to check the box on leadership when I listed it in the student activities section of my college application.

Focusing on Depth Versus Being a Well-Rounded Student

There’s nothing wrong with being well-rounded when it comes from a genuine place and is born from thoughtful planning. But now colleges are singing a different tune. Instead of asking students to be well-rounded, they are happy to see what I like to call “spiky” students. (Get it? Not round, but spiky.) I think it’s a helpful image. The idea is that students are allowed to find a few things that really matter to them and drive their experience to the greatest depths possible in these areas. It’s no longer about how many things are on your resume. It’s about which ones and why.

What Activities Interest Me Most of All

So ask yourself, “What are my spikes?” What are the areas of your life that matter most to you, and how can you build even more momentum there? Spikes can be from a single activity or interest that plays a big role in your life, or they can be made up of a number of related activities and interests. For example, a student with a STEM spike might choose to have a STEM-related internship, take part in math competitions, and enroll in advanced STEM coursework. Another student with an athletic spike, let’s say swimming, might participate on a swim team, coach younger swimmers, and work as a lifeguard. There are a number of ways to go about sharpening your spikes.

The point is that you should feel free to choose activities and interests that are genuine and relieve yourself of any burden you feel to sign up for things purely for the sake of your college application. Admissions officers are far more attracted to authenticity than they are to a two-page resume.

If you have any questions about college admissions or what it means to be a well-rounded student vs a “spiky” student, please contact us.