Top colleges look for top students. But what exactly makes a “top” student? Many of us are under the impression that it’s all grades, while some think they should flood their schedule with every possible extracurricular activity available.
However, colleges don’t look for just the highest scorers or highest ranked or the most involved students. Instead, colleges love to see balance from their applicants. Being a well-rounded student doesn't start spring of junior year—it’s a process you focus on throughout your high school career and one of the best ways to prepare for college.
But how do you become a well-rounded student? Generally, this means having a diverse and healthy mix of rigorous academic and extracurricular engagements. Instead of leaning to one side or the other of the scholastic/fun seesaw, you should focus on finding the balancing point between challenging courses and the extracurriculars you enjoy the most. Colleges love this because it shows that you’ll be able to give a valuable contribution to the various communities on their campus and their academic rankings.
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The first step toward becoming a well-rounded student is figuring out what you’re good at. This typically reflects which major you might consider when it comes to academics. It can also help you decide which courses to take in high school and which extracurriculars to participate in. This includes taking challenging honors or AP-level classes in diverse subjects. Don’t be afraid of not doing well in the class or on AP exams, because even signing up for these challenging courses sets you apart. It shows your prospective colleges you’re willing to undertake challenges.
As for extracurriculars, try various options early on to discover which ones you want to devote your time to, then commit to two or three that you really love and stick with them. Try to work your way up to a leadership position in at least one activity to demonstrate strong dedication and leadership skills. Colleges will love to see you at the top of a school organization because it shows you’re dedicated to the activity and may be able to contribute to its collegiate counterpart. It shows you know how to balance work and play.
Another important part of being a well-rounded student is staying active in the summer. Finding things to do to develop yourself looks much better than sitting around waiting for the school year to start. Getting a job will be a huge personal benefit by teaching you valuable lessons in responsibility and independence (not to mention the benefits of a paycheck!). It will also show colleges that you have a strong work ethic.
Many colleges, schools, and organizations offer summer programs for students to learn about particular career fields or even summer extracurricular groups such as music programs. Attending these programs shows your interest and eagerness to learn about a subject. If you attend a college’s summer program, that may help you get acquainted with some of the faculty and familiarize yourself with the campus. Even if your top choice doesn’t offer one of these programs, attending a summer program at a different college or university in the same geographic area will help you decide if you want to live there for four years.
Finding the balance
It’s vital to show a college that you’re a dedicated and valuable individual. Don’t stretch yourself too thin, but don’t limit yourself either. Find a balance while still challenging yourself and enjoying your high school career in the process. Commit and excel at a few extracurriculars while working your way into leadership positions. Show strong effort in challenging courses in diverse subjects. Continually develop yourself in diverse areas, and you’ll become that enviable, well-rounded “top” student.
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