The Ivy Coach Daily

June 4, 2015

Well-Rounded College Applicants

Highly selective colleges don’t seek well-rounded students. They seek singularly talented students.

It never ceases to amaze us how parents and students still believe that being well-rounded is a positive in highly selective college admissions. The regular readers of our college admissions blog sure do know better. Being well-rounded not only hasn’t been a plus but it’s been a major negative for many years now in highly selective college admissions. Sure, there was a time when well-rounded students — students who excelled at the flute, at wide receiver, and at Key Club were sought after by the nation’s elite universities. But that time is not now. That time passed quite a while ago. Well-rounded college applicants as the sought after group in highly selective college admissions…if the back of your SAT vocabulary card for ’anachronism’ doesn’t use this as an example, it sure should!

And yet parents still boast to us about their well-rounded children. And you can imagine that if this is how a parent is depicting a student, this is likely not so dissimilar from how the student will later depict him or herself on college applications. The truth is that being well-rounded sure can be important in life. It can be really nice to bust out some Beethoven on the piano at a dinner party (who does that?). It can be nice to catch a football on a crowded beach. But that which is important in life isn’t necessarily important in highly selective college admissions.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” the ubiquitous author writes, “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness…you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.” Gladwell is absolutely right on. It was true for Bill Gates with programming. It was true for Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors with his three-point shot (Steve Nash even recently termed Curry “the greatest shooter in NBA history”). Don’t be ordinary at lots of things. Be extraordinary at one thing. Ordinary’s boring. Extraordinary’s anything but boring. Highly selective colleges don’t want boring. They want extraordinary. Understood? We hope so.

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