For decades, serious candidates to America’s competitive schools, colleges, and universities have struggled to achieve the ideal profile – that of the truly well rounded student, blessed with a great mind, superb grades, abundant leadership qualities, an office in student government, two or three varsity sports, yearbook editorship, and possibly another half dozen community commitments that have resulted in at least occasional reference in the local newspaper. It’s exhausting just to think about it.
So much collective energy has been invested in this pursuit, in fact, that countless numbers of students have been deeply scarred trying to achieve this elusive and nearly impossible goal. All for naught. That’s right, a pursuit based upon a misunderstanding. So, how could such a thing happen? How could so many guidance counselors, so many deeply caring parents, so many college recruiters have gotten it wrong? Misinterpreted, at a minimum.
Back in the 1960’s, when admission to competitive institutions first became a frenzied race to be won by only a few, the candidate profile emerged as the main topic for discussion within and among the most ivy-covered admissions offices in the land, quickly spreading to every other fortunate school with piles of surplus applications. How is the admissions committee going to make so many distinctions? What are they hoping to find in all of those credentials?
Somewhere, no doubt in response to an inquiring journalist or candidate family, the answer eventually bubbled out of committee: We are looking for the most “well rounded” entering freshman class we can put together. The most well rounded class? Packed with the most well rounded matriculants, presumably? Perhaps not, but that subltle difference – the greatest point of confusion in the last half century along the road to selective admission – has certainly extracted a high toll from those struggling to achieve this ideal profile. So, what did they mean by “well rounded,” then?
The well-rounded entering class is, in simplest terms, a collection of the most profoundly talented and accomplished individuals available for selection: musicians, scientists, writers, athletes, leaders – individuals most notable for their depth of interest, not their breadth of associations. Individuals. Eccentric specialists. Uncommon vision. A collection of gifted individuals – sometimes singly faceted – who become, in aggregate, a well rounded entering class. A diverse class filled with individualists: That is the intended and true objective of the search for the well-rounded.
Carter P. Reese
Director, Informed Educational Solutions
- Harvard Accepts 18 Percent of Early Admission Applicants (thecrimson.com)
- Selective Admission: a Primer (myiesolutions.wordpress.com)
- Study documents admissions trends over last 10 years (insidehighered.com)
- The Practical Limits of Self-expression (myiesolutions.wordpress.com)
- College Planning – Extracurriculars Matter ? To You and to Colleges (bigfuture.collegeboard.org)