Back in the day, highly-selective schools were impressed by the proverbial "well-rounded student" who seemed capable of doing just about anything - from sports, to academics, to community service.
"Old School" Well-Rounded Student:
College Admissions Officers used to assemble their incoming classes by selecting many of these "well-rounded" applicants.
Campuses eventually became havens for lots of students who were good at lots of things.
Today, things are different.
In fact, many schools today are not as impressed by generic "well-rounded" students and have turned their attention to more "angular" students.
Angular students take a deep dive into one (or two) core activities - often at the exclusion of others - to become world-class in their field.
"Modern Day" Angular Student:
Today's top-tier campuses are increasingly filled with students with world-class expertise in one or two areas to which they have devoted a majority of their time and energy.
A Well-Rounded "Class" (not "student")
Today, many Admissions Officers state that their goal is to assemble a "well-rounded class" not a class full of "well-rounded students".
This new philosophy is impacting how students think about investing their time, money, and energy during high school.
Winners and Losers
The winners in this shift appear to be the students who have found (intentionally or by luck) what they love to do, tripled-down on it, and risen to the highest level in that field. They have found their "angle".
The losers may be the students who continue to bounce around from activity to activity demonstrating success, but with a shallow depth of engagement and low impact on a cause beyond taking up space on their resume.
Angularity comes in many forms. Sometimes schools have quotas to fill in some of these buckets.
For students who have already established themselves as "well-rounded" students, there is still hope.
When I work with students who never specialized in anything (intentionally or unintentionally), I help them craft an application that shows how their breadth of experiences has allowed them to synthesize ideas from a wide range of topics - something that a specialist is unable to do.
Some of the most successful people in the world have been able to connect seemingly unrelated fields in innovative ways (e.g. Steve Jobs).
What's your child's "brand"?
With applications skyrocketing, Admissions Officers are desperate for a short-hand way to assess, identify, and remember what each applicant brings to the table - especially when trying to advocate for your child in committee.
Why not help them out?
You can help by having them think about their own personal "brand". This may sound contrived or something that a marketing team might be assigned to do - but it works.
I teach "personal branding" in PrepWell Academy (online version) and spend considerable time on this with my "Private" students.
As in the business world, a good brand is memorable, cuts through the clutter, and captures the essence of a student quickly, efficiently, and with impact.
I'm not suggesting this idea simply to cater to Admissions Officers. I think it's valuable for students to think about who they are and what they represent. How would your child brand themselves? It can give them a better sense of their identity.
How would I brand the two students above?
The "Old School Well-Rounded" student above would be difficult to brand. Too many activities, not enough meat on the bones, and a bit too generic. That's exactly the problem. Nothing jumps out!
The "Modern Day Angular" student above might be remembered as the "Broadway-Bound Gymnast". It's unique, memorable, and something that quickly captures the student's essence.
Several of our PrepWell Academy lessons focus on your child's personal brand and how to think about it.
When I work with PrepWellers 1-on-1, this is a major task that we undertake that often influences every other part of the application process.
PrepWell Academy Branding Hall of Fame (sample of some of our favorite PrepWeller brands)
How is your child doing?
Is your child more "well-rounded" or "angular"? Does it make sense for them to continue on their current path? Should they specialize in something? Should they stick with the "synthesizer" approach?
Have they thought about their own "brand"? What kind of brand would they assign themselves?
If your child is not yet enrolled in PrepWell Academy, maybe they should get onboard? We teach these principles and challenge students to think about all of these concepts.
We'd love to hear your thoughts. Please share what you've learned in the comments below.
Author: 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, 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.