In this episode, I discuss 4 strategies that a student can adopt to secure a leadership position during high school.
With rampant grade inflation, watered-down course rigor, optional SAT/ACT tests, and ChatGPT-written college essays and teacher letters of recommendation, college admissions officers are desperate for something to help them differentiate among a sea of similar-sounding students.
Once institutional priorities have been met (e.g. DEI, athletes, children of donors, etc.), what else will help colleges separate the wheat from the chaff?
My answer: "leadership".
Leadership is becoming a hot new "theme" in many applications. Listen to this episode to learn the best strategies to secure legitimate leadership positions that colleges will appreciate.
[00:00:24] Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. today I'd like to give some suggestions on how to secure a leadership position while in high school. But before we get into that, I'd like to first establish why colleges give a lot of credit to students who attain leadership positions to begin with. What's the big deal about being a leader? Why do colleges care so much? The first reason is because leadership is challenging. Being in charge of any group or organization or team is not easy, especially for teenagers with a lot of options that are way more enjoyable. And I know you know what those options are. Leadership requires work and responsibility and accountability and coordination. All of the things it requires sacrifice. And so colleges like to see students in leadership positions because it's a good signal. And any student willing to take on a leadership role in high school will probably continue with this practice when they get to college. And that's what colleges want. They want students who will get involved in clubs and teams and organize student ski trips and movie nights and speaker events. This makes for a very active and vibrant campus. Leaders tend to shake things up. They make things happen. They engage in the community and often outside the community. So leaders are in high demand. And if a college has to choose between two otherwise equal students and one student has a bevy of leadership positions, significant leadership positions, chances are that the college will pick the student with a better leadership track record and leadership potential.
[00:02:13] Why wouldn't they? They're betting that the leader will bring more to the campus and community than the non leader. Now, I think we'd all acknowledge that not all leadership positions are created equal. And it's sometimes difficult to get an apples to apples comparison of different leadership positions. But the admissions officers are pretty savvy about sniffing out legitimate versus trumped up leadership roles. Which leads us into a discussion about the different types of leadership roles and how you might go about getting one. Essentially, there are four primary ways to secure a leadership role in high school. Number one, be early. Number two, be great. Number three, be an athlete. And number four, be a trailblazer. Let's go through each one. What do I mean by be early? Well, if you show up as a freshman, bright eyed and bushy tailed to the robotics club and you stick around for three years and you do some stuff and take some responsibility, there's a good chance that you could become a leader of the robotics club by the time you're a senior. That might be because you do good work or you have a lot of experience or because you simply outlasted everyone else. Maybe you won the war of attrition. Either way, by getting in early and establishing a foothold and a track record, chances are good that you could be the last one standing. What about being great? If you join a school club, for example, and you just work your tail off day in, day out, and you take all the toughest jobs and you organize and coordinate programs and you network with the other club members. Your high performance will shine through and oftentimes you will be rewarded for your hard work with a leadership position.
[00:04:11] And obviously that takes a lot of work and effort and timing and perseverance. What about athletes? Athletes have a more direct path to leadership, and that is by becoming a captain of their team. There are lots of different ways to become a captain of an athletic team. There could be a peer vote, a coach's vote, some combination. Maybe there's an election. And each method has its own pluses and minuses. But regardless of how the sausage is made, the ability to claim that you're the captain of a varsity sport, for example, still holds a lot of weight. And lastly, you can be a trailblazer. And by this I mean that you can start your own club and deputize yourself as the leader because it's your club. The other benefit of this strategy is that you get to start a club that you're interested in, which is a nice little bonus. You can customize the club to exactly meet your goals and ambitions and desires. And while on the surface this sounds great, it's not exactly a foolproof method. So these are the four ways to think about how you might secure a leadership position. And the reason I'm so adamant about getting this message out to ninth and 10th graders and why PrepWell Academy focuses so much on ninth and 10th grade is because many of these pathways require you to start early. If you wait until you're a junior, as most students do, the number of opportunities to lead will be vanishingly small. You have to get your meat hooks into something early, and that includes sports. Just because you play a sport doesn't mean that you're captain material. You need to start demonstrating leadership as early as ninth and 10th grade so that your teammates see you in that leadership role and your coaches see you as a leader for several years so that when it's time to select the captain, you've already laid the groundwork.
[00:06:10] The worst thing to do is to wait until 11th grade and then to start wildly shopping around for an organization that you can lead. It's possible it happens, but it's not likely. Because remember, most of these organizations have students who've been putting in their time since ninth grade. They're not just going to step aside and let you take the reins just because you feel like it. And as I mentioned earlier, not all leadership positions are created equal. There's a big difference between the student body, president of a 2000 person class and the president of a six member Spanish club. Obviously the roles and responsibilities of these two positions will vary greatly. So if you're ambitious and your goal is to compete at the more selective colleges down the road, then any old leadership position probably won't cut it. It's not as if colleges are simply looking at a checkbox that you indeed had a leadership position. They will look to see what kind of leadership position it actually was. If you want to play it safe, try to become a leader of a group or an organization that admissions officers will recognize. They'll understand and they give a lot of credit for. For example, any admissions officer who sees that a student was an Eagle Scout immediately knows what that means. They know that to become an Eagle Scout, it took multiple years of participation with lots of leadership training and plenty of adult oversight, so they would be confident in its legitimacy. And thus the Eagle Scout would get max credit for it. The same goes for something like student body president or editor of the school newspaper. There are certain leadership roles that are widely regarded as legitimate. Maybe you should try to get one of those.
[00:08:03] There will be students who become leaders of smaller, lesser known clubs who will probably not get as much mileage out of their leadership position. Again, if you're the president of a six member Spanish club that meets once a quarter, you probably won't get all that much credit for that. This is also the risk of starting your own student club. Yes. You get the benefit of putting a president on your application. But how much substance is really behind the scenes? The answer is I don't know. Starting your own club can go in two different directions. For example, if you start a recycling club with your two best friends and you all share the title of Co-President and you have a membership of seven people, including the three of you, and you don't really do all that much. A college admissions counselor is not going to be impressed. Even if you are the founder and president of the club, it looks like a fake club. And it looks like you and your two friends started it in order to show that you have leadership. That's lame. And a quick call to the students guidance counselor would easily given admissions officer the information that he or she needs to make a decision about the merits of said leadership position. Let's compare that to a person who starts a Shark Tank entrepreneurship club, for example, by himself. And the club grows from one member to 40 members over the course of two years, and it spawns several sister chapters at neighboring high schools. And the club put on an annual business plan contest at the high school where 400 people attended and where local business leaders were invited to participate. As the judges are the sharks and the club raised $20,000 in prize money from local banks.
[00:09:54] And the competition was televised on a local cable station. And on and on and on. Clearly, this student would get much more leadership credit than the person who co-founded a recycling club that didn't really do anything of substance. The moral of the story is don't think that you can take the easy way out by starting a club on your own just to get the title of president. If you don't plan on doing much with the club and admissions officer would smell this scam a mile away. They will know what constitutes a legitimate, credible club and what's a scam. In my opinion, the way things are going these days with grades and the fact that so many students are getting A's and class choices, with so many students taking honors and AP classes and optional SAT and acts which clouds that metric and chat. Writing college essays and letters of recommendation. There ain't very much left to go on for the college admissions officers. All of these things are starting to blend together. They're all the same. It's like white noise. So as this trend continues or maybe even gets worse, I believe that leadership will start to creep higher and higher and higher on the list of things that could differentiate you, because not everyone can be the leader. It's a pyramid with a point at the top, and there's only one person at the top. Unlike grades where lots of people get A's, not everyone can be the single leader. So my advice is to use this situation to your advantage. Maybe leadership will be one of the defining themes in your application. It's frankly easier to differentiate yourself as a leader than it is as someone who wants to go into STEM. 90% of students these days claim they want to go into STEM, but not everyone wants to be a leader.
[00:11:53] And even fewer have shown a track record of leadership to back that claim up. Maybe that will be you. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships. Many parents who listen to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in Prep Academy, which is great. If you don't yet, please consider enrolling them. Registration is only open during freshman or sophomore year. After that, we no longer accept new students. So if you have a freshman or a sophomore in high school and you like what you're hearing in these podcasts and you like to get more content like this tailored specifically for your child and their specific grade with their specific goals in mind, go to PrepWellAcademy.com and enroll today. If you know a parent with a middle school or high schooler that might find this helpful, please share the episode with them and give us a rating too if you have a chance. Word of mouth and positive ratings help our podcast reach a much wider audience. If you have questions, comments, or an idea for an upcoming episode, please reach out to me by email. DM on Instagram. Check at our blog Facebook page or connect with me on LinkedIn. I would love to hear from you. Until next week, Goodbye. Good luck and never stop preparing. This podcast is brought to you by PrepWell Academy. PrepWell Academy is my one of a kind online mentoring program that delivers to your ninth or 10th grader a short, highly relevant video from me every week.
[00:13:46] Every Sunday, in fact, where I give them a heads up about what they should be thinking about to stay ahead of the game to get these valuable lessons into your child's hands. Please head over to www.PrepWellAcademy.com and enroll your child today.
PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.
Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.