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Colleges and Employers Seek Well-Rounded Applicants, Not Just Busy Ones

Today students may find themselves caught up in the competitive race for college acceptance or a full time job. Many students push to be involved in as many activities as possible to catch the attention of admissions officers or employers. After achieving top grades and test scores, “building a resume” is now being viewed as a top priority.

Is this really what is necessary to gain admission to college or get hired for a job?

The consensus of admissions officers and employers is actually a resounding, “No!” What is far more captivating to these decision-makers are the applications of well-rounded students who have been discovering and developing their talents and interests. The most intriguing students are those who forgo a long list of superficial involvements, and offer a select but diverse list. Whether members or leaders of an organization, they can describe in detail what they did, what they accomplished, and what they learned from their experiences, even if an event or project didn’t work out. These are students who have worked with others to achieve a goal, improve a situation or make a difference. Colleges and employers seek students who have gained some depth of experience in activities that genuinely reflect their abilities and interests. They are looking for commitment and quality, not quantity.

The 3 R’s of Being Well-Rounded
Three themes run through track records of well-rounded students: responsibility, resilience, and resourcefulness.

  • High school seniors named to the 2012 Chicago Tribune All-State Academic Team were recently profiled in an article in the Tribune. As a member of the baseball team, one student learned how to recover quickly from his mistakes.
  • Another student, accomplished in art and music, wanted to encourage the creative expression of others. She created opportunities for younger students to share their artwork, writing and music with appreciative audiences.
  • A third student, himself an athlete, volunteered with an organization that provides physical and visually disabled athletes opportunities to participate in sports.

All the students on the Team used their time in high school to learn and demonstrate leadership skills. Whether as head of a group or participating group member, they know how to work effectively with others to accomplish a goal. Often their choice of activities included helping others rather than just developing a talent for themselves.

How Does a Student Become Well-Rounded?
Parents can help students become well-rounded by being strategic and doing some backwards planning. As eighth-grade students prepare for their first year of high school, the timing is perfect for parents to initiate a conversation about activities to consider in high school. Each child is unique. Some may prefer more extraverted or competitive activities, others may be social or helpful. Some students enjoy deeper learning or creative expression. Others may find earning and saving money important to their goals. Explore what is available in your school, community and other organizations.

Students entering college typically have even more diverse opportunities for involvement. It’s not unusual to have over 200 student organizations on a large university campus! Many options could include their current interests such as music, dance, math club, or sports. Or open the door to a wide range of clubs and organizations such as anime, law, different cultures, environmental issues, and more. Students are at an age where they may become involved in organizations providing community service like Kiwanis’ Key Clubs or Club Interact sponsored by the Rotary Club. Volunteer opportunities abound, from groups that assist in soup kitchens, provide tutoring for local children, or prevent bullying, substance abuse or domestic violence.

This is also a perfect time for students to participate in career-related groups like Future Teachers, Model United Nations, and Architecture Club on the high school level; Pre-Law Club, Accounting Society, and Physical Therapy Club on a college campus. Beyond the satisfaction of using talents and making a contribution, another advantage of being engaged in extracurricular activities is to provide students with the experience and opportunity to manage their time, priorities, and keep balance in their lives. They will use these self-management skills for the rest of their lives.

Another characteristic activity of well-rounded students is having a part-time or summer job. Here, in the context of an actual workplace, they can learn job-related, customer service, and conflict resolution skills, and take on increasing levels of responsibility. Colleges and employers always look favorably on students who have work experience of some kind, and have earned a percentage of their college expenses. When students have identified a career direction for themselves, they are able to seek out a job within their career field, giving them an excellent introduction to their future career. Some students are introduced through a part-time or summer job to a job or industry that later becomes their career. Other students start their own businesses, gaining experience in entrepreneurship.

Cultivating Well-Roundedness in Teens and Young Adults
Parents, teachers and other adults can be instrumental in helping students become well-rounded.

  1. Be selective in choosing involvements Advise students: Don’t do things just to do them. See the involvement as an investment, contribution or exploratory step.
  2. Develop their known strengths – and perhaps try something new Help students identify their talents and the kinds of activities where they can use them. It takes time to build skills that lead to independence and mastery. On the other hand, making time to try something completely new and different will teach them something about themselves and their learning process.
  3. Help students reflect on their experiences There is so much to do, students don’t always get a chance to reflect on what they are doing and how they feel about it. Questions like “What worked well?” “What didn’t?” and “What would you do differently?” is a way to get teens to think about their experiences and what they have learned. These answers provide the anecdotes and stories for interviews.

Finally, know that admissions officers and hiring managers are skilled at evaluating student applications and take their responsibilities seriously. In the same way that you established criteria to define a “good fit” for your top choice for college or employment, these professionals also have defined the criteria that identify which applicants will be a good fit for their campus or company. Students can help these staff members make sound decisions by submitting application materials that accurately communicate who the student truly is and what they can contribute to a college or workplace.