For years you’ve probably heard the myth of the “well-rounded student”: the one who participates in a plethora of activities, takes every AP class known to man, is captain of the football team and also the captain of the mathletes. This urban legend of sorts has caused many competitive, college-driven students such as myself to enroll in classes I have absolutely no interest in, desperately try to succeed at activities I have no aptitude for, and partake in clubs for the pure allure that they “will look good on college applications.”
It is common for high school students to feel the need to conform to the mold of the ideal student, trading their passions and interests for the mundane in order to appease the ominous admissions officers of insert-prestigious-university-name-here. However, as every student desperately tried to fit this criteria, they all began to blend together. Now, the college admissions selections have altered to favor those who have a true passion for what they accomplished in their high school career. In other words, quality over quantity.
With the increasing selectivity in college admissions today accompanying the rise in college enrollment, students have to try harder than ever to stand out amongst a sea of applicants with similar definitions of “well-roundedness.” According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the purpose of higher education is to apply knowledge learned in the classroom to the real world, creating solutions to societal issues through instruction on a subject of interest. Therefore, colleges hope to see students working toward this level of real life problem-solving in their high school extracurriculars.
Along with this, due to the public education system’s emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), many students try to blindly challenge themselves in these areas to impress colleges. However, it should be noted that these fields are not the benchmark of academic prowess and college admissions officers value the arts just as much as they value the sciences. Similarly, many students with proficiency in the arts feel that they cannot apply to prestigious universities because despite being talented artists, they do not conform to typical standards of academic achievement. Former member of Faculty Standing Committee on Admissions Helen Vendler, counters this false assumption in an essay she wrote on the college admissions process:
“The truth is that many future poets, novelists, and screenwriters are not likely to be straight-A students, either in high school or in college. The arts through which they will discover themselves prize creativity, originality, and intensity above academic performance; they value introspection above extroversion, insight above rote learning. Yet such unusual students may be, in the long run, the graduates of whom we will be most proud.”
Education is a constantly evolving entity. As colleges become more selective, their standards for admissions change as well. Now, more than ever, the world needs impassioned individuals who are willing to step up and make a difference with their passions.