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Angling for Admission: How Early Should Students Specialize?

I’m not going to pretend that I have any idea what actually goes on inside of admissions offices. What I want to talk about is whether high schools students should strive to become well-rounded or if they should specialize. Some have described these more specialized students as being “angular,” since they are pitching a certain angle to schools. Here’s the question—do colleges want the piano-playing quarterback with a 4.0 average or the student who focused on working on their own research in biochemistry?

There’s a lot of talk about passion in college admissions. If you know what you’re really into, the best course of action is to show, not tell. Avoid seeming inauthentic—pursue interesting opportunities, not just those that might look great on an application. Some even think that the notion of passion is outdated and rather problematic.

If you’re not sure what you really want to devote yourself to, that’s also okay. It might even be better. After all, you don’t want to close any doors too early. Make it clear that you want to use some of your time at university figuring out what makes you tick. Do yourself a favor and gather information so you can ultimately chose the right major. The next 5 or so years of your life will be the most dynamic and exciting yet—there’s no way to know what you’ll end up doing.

Colleges seem to be interested in what students do outside of the classroom. They want students that will contribute in places other than just lecture halls. The thing is, both generalists and specialists are active outside of classes—so the trick is to do something or many things. Just be sure it makes you stand out as an active part of at least one community.

Here’s another tip: figure out what flexible skills and experience you developed while involved in your extracurricular adventures. Although you might not always be a member of your theatre troupe, it is critical that you recognize and maintain your skills in public speaking and improvisation.

The closest I’ll come to an answer is this: Colleges want to see the person behind the data points listed on a transcript. This may seem trite, but there’s truth to it. Establish a balance between nailing your AP exams and creating awesome extracurricular experiences. Focus on one interesting hobby or try 10—just be smart about whatever you decide and make sure you’re pursuing things for reasons other than the college admissions process.