What is more important, being well rounded (having width) or being focussed on a specific activity (having depth)?
This is a great question and one which many other students also aren’t sure about. When looking at a college application, each country has different metrics on what the most competitive application looks like. In the UK, NZ and Australia, there is a focus on academicia; however, US universities still have their own academic requirements, but they also place a heavy weighting on a student’s extracurricular and leadership experience.
For this reason, I’ll focus on how your question applies to a US application. When applying to the US, students must fill out a “Common Application”. This is an application that goes to all the schools you apply to and is your chance to showcase your extracurriculuar involvement. There are 10 boxes that enable you to succintly summarize the top 10 activities that you do. It’s generally a good look to put something in each of these boxes, especially for top tier schools. A good rule of thumb is to fill these boxes with a wide range of extracurriculars and leadership activities. Think of music, sports, community service, prefect positions, campaigns etc. Once you know what you’ll put in each box, aim to take 1-3 of these activities to a high level. For example, perhaps you aim to represrent your country for soccer and expand a club that you started to city-wide scale.
However, it should be noted that this is a rule of thumb and their can be outliers, e.g. a person who is representing the country at the olympics can have all their activites focused around their sport (as this is likely consuming all their time).
I hope this helped and let me know if you have any more questions,
The term “well rounded” is often used by Admissions, but sometimes misconstrued to mean that universities prefer “well rounded” candidates". This is true to the extent that the admissions process is holistic - school grades, standardised test scores, extracurricular resume, teacher recommendations - you gotta have them all.
But it really means is that universities are selecting a “well rounded” student body, rather than “well rounded” individual students. A diverse Freshman populace means admitting applicants who can most contribute the to all facets of campus life be it in class, the lab or the sports field. This is why Athletes, Legacies and VIPs are recruited in alternate routes to the Common Application.
There’s a few more things to consider when strategically optimising your extracurricular resume well ahead of time:
Continuity / commitment: how many of the last four years of high school, and how many hours each week have you committed to it? This demonstrates that you don’t just dabble in, but dive deep when you discover an interest, and a likeliness to continue your participation at College.
Connectedness: have you participated in a few random activities, or several engagements that collectively display your academic or personal interest? If you instigate a tree planting volunteering initiative, scale it to a mass group of 50 volunteers from 1, found a recycling social enterprise, scale that across multiple schools within your region, then enter a university social entrepreneurship competition, then organise the inaugural social case competition for high school students, your overarching hook in your candidacy will be that of a social entrepreneur.
Interestingness: a simple example, but having run the marathon (which is an impressive feat on its own) doesn’t scratch the surface of having climbed Mt Everest. Practicing YoYo for 10,000 hours and winning an Open Men’s YoYo tournament is more interesting than achieving grade 6 on the violin.
It’s not what you do, it’s what you achieve. And it’s not just what you achieve, but how this has influenced you that will be captured in both your extracurricular resume and Supplemental Essays.
For a quick review of your extracurricular resume to date and an initial strategy, send your current list of ECs and other engagements in a document to email@example.com