Do Universities Value Well-Rounded Applicants? Not really.

The saddest thing I see is all of the time, energy and resources that are spent on activities that the student does not value and the universities don’t value. Most of the reason for this is because of the phrase “well rounded.” Guidance counselors, teachers and parents all say the same the same thing “…colleges want well rounded students.” They are wrong.

Colleges don’t want well rounded students; they seek a well-rounded class. There is a significant difference.

Let’s imagine for a moment two students apply, student “a” is an amazing prospective physics student. This student has spent all of her time exploring physics both in and outside of the classroom and has settled on wanting to study particle physics. She is not traditionally “well-rounded,” because she has engaged in zero sports, zero music and zero service. But based on research she did and recommendation from the AP physics teacher she did an independent study with, the admissions committee believes she has the potential to make a significant contribution to the physics department.

Student “b” is traditionally well-rounded, she has been captain of the swim team, member of science Olympiad, president of the debate team, member of the orchestra, community service awards, and is an accomplished pianist. But the student is interested in biology (maybe pre-med) and other than science Olympiad there is little engagement in the area of interest.

Assuming similar statistics and demographics, student “a” will very often be admitted over student “b.” Colleges seek to admit great physics students, great violinists, great historians, great computer scientists and together they create a well-rounded class. While well-rounded students are often left on the outside looking in.