In the early eighties, when I applied, the buzzword for college acceptance was “well-rounded,” which referred to a student who participated in many different activities. That is no longer what colleges are looking for. Now, they want to build a well-rounded class made up of students who will each fill one or two slices of their total round pie: in other words, students who are unique, focused, and angular (or express excellence or uniqueness) in their interests.
Peter Johnson, The Director of Admission at Columbia University, echoed this view when I heard him speak recently. Johnson said that Columbia is seeing a rise in what he calls “Niche Applicants” and what I call Angular Applicants. These are students who have already demonstrated a deep independent intellectual curiosity or expertise in a given area from science research to humanities to outstanding athletics. An angular student can also be a student who has developed a degree of excellence in one or two areas—leadership, intellectual curiosity, athletics, or community service—or who has a special talent or exhibits unusual personal character.
I developed The College Application Wheel™ to serve as a framework and tool to assist parents and students in identifying a student’s strengths and “gaps”—areas that students may need to fill in such as community service or higher standardized test scores—it will also help determine where energy should best be spent in making a student shine or stand out from the crowd. It will help students understand what makes them unique, how to find a college that values them for who they are, and help them see where there is a match between the student and a specific college.
The College Application Wheel™
- Academics/test scores
- Extracurricular activities
- Intellectual curiosity
- Special talents
Colleges don’t expect students to excel in all eight of these categories, but they do look at these areas to determine if a student will be a good academic, cultural, emotional, financial, and character-based “fit” with their institution. Colleges want to build a well-rounded class made up of students who will each fill one or two slices of their total pie: in other words, students who are
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