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Move over, well-rounded student. These days, colleges are looking to assemble a well-rounded class made up of “specialists” or “angular students”—students who have fewer but deeper interests—as well as students who are involved in an array of activities. Years ago, colleges sought well-rounded students to achieve well-rounded classes. Now, college admissions officers note that assembling a well-rounded class can be achieved by admitting students who have strong interests that they pursue continuously and deeply.

While the philosophy has changed among college admissions offices, anxious college-bound students and their parents often doggedly chase after the ideal of the well-rounded student. Read on for what the shift from well-rounded student to well-rounded class means for college applicants and why it is good news for over-extended students.

What does the shift from well-rounded student to well-rounded class mean for students applying to college?

Colleges no longer demand that students be well-rounded and participate in numerous activities, as they once did. They prefer that students explore their passions and act on them. By picking students who do what moves them, colleges seek to assemble a well-rounded class of students. That means that students who participate deeply and enthusiastically in just a few activities and students who are genuinely interested in an array of activities (what used to be called the “well-rounded student”) can each contribute to the well-rounded class that admissions offers seek to assemble. By bringing in students with different interests and expertise, colleges attempt to form diverse communities that will make their campuses and their classrooms more interesting.

The “well-rounded student” of yesteryear is no longer the ideal. This means that students can limit their activities, so that they don’t have to overextend themselves. They can feel free to pursue what interests them.

Does that mean that I can sit around and watch Netflix after school?

No. Colleges have moved away from the idea that students must dabble in a little bit of everything, but they still want to see evidence of student involvement in extracurricular activities. What a student does with his or her free time contributes to the understanding that admissions officers have of who s/he is overall. By engaging in activities that genuinely interest them, students can gain a better sense of what they want to delve into further in college and what they value as people. Colleges, in the end, want to see that students are interested in learning about things and engaging the world. The great part is, students get to decide which things they want to learn about and how they want to engage the world.

Does that mean that I can stop worrying about what will look good on a college application?

Yes. The best way to look good on a college application is for students to participate in activities that they are actually interested in and stay involved with them. Students should not sign up for a slew of activities just to put something on the college application activities section. Colleges are well-versed in detecting students who join activities just to pad their resumes. Conversely, they can also discern when students are genuinely passionate about the activities they do. The best course of action is to participate in activities that students are truly interested in. That also happens to be what colleges most like to see.


Extracurricular activities still matter, but the shift from well-rounded student to well-rounded class means that high school students no longer need to dabble in all sorts of activities to demonstrate that they have a broad range of interests. The variety of interests now comes at a school-wide level. Because well-rounded now encompasses an entire entering class, individual students have more freedom to pursue what really interests them in a deeper way. Which also happens to be what college is all about.

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