For anyone who has applied to college, first-semester of senior year is a tense time. Will I get in? Many have fantasized about opening that acceptance letter and pulling out, “Welcome to Harvard.”
That pleasure is vouchsafed to precious few. The admission rate for Stanford University hovers around 4% of its applicants. Rejections include valedictorians, athletes, and plenty of 4.0 gpas. Competitive and accomplished students, and their parents, are often shocked when this occurs. How could a student with a perfect GPA and test scores be rejected?
The answer is simple.
There are nearly 40,000 high schools across the country. That means 40,000 valedictorians. With only eight Ivy League universities, the number of valedictorians alone is more than three times the number of open slots. This means that these highly selective universities turn down students who are “perfect on paper” all the time. Being valedictorian is great, but it is not enough to warrant admission to the most selective colleges in the country.
So, what does?
Countless parents and counselors advise their students to be well-rounded, in terms of their academics, participation in sports, volunteering, extracurricular activities, etc.
I suggest that you do the exact opposite.
There are a lot of students who do a little bit of everything. Who among you has joined a club or done an activity just because it will look good on your application? Admissions officers are a pretty savvy bunch, they can spot these fake interests a mile off. They know that if you just took up the cello in your junior year, that cello isn’t going to make it to your freshman dorm room. They far prefer to see a proven, genuine interest, and preferably one that you have taken to a higher level. If you have spent the last ten years of your life playing the cello, you are probably pretty good at it and you are likely to bring that skill with you to college where it will add to the community. A richly diverse student body comes not from admitting lots of students with a well-rounded background, but from admitting a well-rounded selection of individual experts.
Doing a little bit of everything is better than doing nothing, but it doesn’t help you to stand out. Most students, and people in general, work hard on improving their weaknesses. They try to present an adequate skill level across all areas. As a result, they are mediocre at most things. The well-rounded strategy backfires in most cases because the student comes across to the admissions officers as average in all fields and does not shine in any one field in particular.
Harvard is not an average college, so why would they accept an average student?
I advise that students work diligently on their strengths. Forget about striving to be well-rounded. I see “pointy” students gain admission to the top universities in the country. These are the students that are exceptional in one, maybe two areas, with emphasis on the exceptional part.
This strategy takes time to implement; it requires persistence and dedication to become a specialist in your field, and that is the exact reason why it is so extraordinary. The university wants to know that you are willing to put in consistent, sustained effort in your chosen field until you achieve the kind of success that makes you stand out amongst your peers. “Pointy” students demonstrate that they have the direction, the passion and have laid the groundwork to do this, making them the preferred candidates for any university.
I will let you in on another secret.
The most innovative companies in the world – such as Apple, Google, and Amazon – follow the same strategy. They hire “pointy” candidates too.
The “pointy” students stand out, not just in college admissions, but in life.