Leadership, service projects vital
September 6, 2012 1:26PM
Updated: October 9, 2012 2:29PM
Dear Mr. Bradshaw — I still am mystified that my neighbor’s child was denied admission to all the top colleges he applied to last year. He is a brilliant student with an outstanding academic record.
My son is a sophomore, and I don’t want that fate for him. Tell me, what are colleges looking for in an applicant? Is it more than just good grades and test scores?
We have asked many people, and no one seems to have an answer that would account for an excellent student not getting in. I hope there is still time to adjust my son’s curriculum, if that is the issue. —Concerned ParentDear Parent
— America’s leading colleges no longer are seeking only students who have excellent high school grades and test scores. They are looking for students who have skill sets beyond the classroom and much more emphasis is being placed upon extracurricular activities. Top schools want well-rounded students who will make the most of opportunities and resources around them and who have meaningful impacts on their communities and in the world.
In my 20 years of interviewing and preparing students for top colleges, leadership, by far, is the most important criterion used in deciding who will gain admission.
It is difficult to develop these skills within the confines of traditional secondary school extracurriculars. The students who get noticed are those willing to step outside the box and launch their own ventures.
Learning what it takes to make this kind of impact while still in high school can be tough and time-consuming. I have worked with many students interested in developing leadership skills who started community projects. Here is what made them successful.
First, they chose projects that were important to them — in one instance, a program to help improve the environment. Another created a plan for combatting drug use among students.
They wrote informal proposals for their projects, had clear visions of what they wanted to accomplish and who they needed to get on board to help achieve their goals.
Next, they wrote mission statements and detailed outlines for their projects — two key elements that must be included in a proposal. The mission statements were relatively simple and specified what they sought to accomplish. The outlines spelled out the specific steps needed to accomplish the missions.
The projects that were successful also required the following.
† Form and manage a dedicated team and sustain an active membership base for the organization.
† Communicate effectively.
† Build community support and excitement for the project.
† Plan events that build support of the constituencies important to the project.
† Write and produce effective letters, invitations and promotional materials.
† Take appropriate steps to ensure the long-term viability of the organization.
† Set realistic budgetary limits.
Colleges will take notice of leadership skills that come from launching and growing your own venture.
Good grades and test scores still are important to admissions counselors, but leadership roles in community-service activities and career-relevant work experience will help you to stand out among the thousands of applicants.