We’re often asked, “What is the most common misconception in highly selective college admissions?” And for many years, our answer has been the same: “Students and especially parents still believe that highly selective colleges want well-rounded students. Simply put, they don’t.” This isn’t a new trend. This is an old one — one dating back to the late twentieth century. Ok, so we just made it sound so much older but it’s true nonetheless. Highly selective colleges haven’t sought kids who are good at lots of things for many years. Rather, they’ve been after singularly talented students — students who excel in one area. They want the specialist, not the jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
Highly selective colleges haven’t sought well-rounded students since the time when jean jackets were in fashion.
But we imagine regular readers of our college admissions blog, parents who come back here week after week for insights into the college admissions process, are savvy enough to know that colleges want students who are great at one particular thing rather than good at lots of things. And yet when it comes time to describing their children, as parents often do with us during free consultations, they brag in a way similar to this: “My son is one of the top violinists at his school. He is a Science Olympiad champion, does Model UN, plays varsity tennis and is heavily involved with his school’s Key Club.” So this same parent who intrinsically knows that highly selective colleges seek singularly talented students, this same parent who thinks that her son is God’s gift to humankind, is blind to the fact that her son has actually demonstrated no discernible singular talent through high school. Rather, he falls down the well-rounded rabbit hole.
We’re not sure why savvy parents are blind to their child’s own limitations as a candidate for admission to highly selective colleges. Maybe it’s because they love their children so much. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to think that their child’s commitments are unspectacular. Who knows. But maybe by pointing this out, it’ll lead to some self-reflection. Or maybe not!