The Digital SAT is coming. Get ready to ace it.

The Myth of Well-Roundedness

Can striving to come across as well-rounded actually hurt your chances of admission?

Student A ranks in the top 10 percent of his class, with solid grades across the board.  He writes for his school newspaper, contributes to the yearbook, and plays soccer in the fall and baseball in the spring.  During his junior year, he signed up for Model United Nations, Woodworking, Jazz Band, Puppetry Enthusiasts, Future Business Leaders of America, Modern Dance, Peer Tutoring, and Poetry Club, even appointing himself Vice President of Showing Up for a new student group he founded called the “Resume Padders.”

Student B also ranks in the top 10 percent of her class, but her grades in the humanities aren’t as stellar as her marks in math and science.  She’s never had much of an interest in sports, but she loves technology and started a robotics team at her school.  Building the team from the ground up was challenging, but her efforts paid off when she and her teammates placed 2nd in a prestigious statewide competition.

So which student has the advantage when it comes to college admissions?

For years, students have been told that college admissions committees look for “well-rounded” individuals who excel at, well, everything.  And, on the surface, that advice would seem to make sense.  After all, what college wouldn’t want to attract strong students with diverse interests?

However, the problem with well-rounded students is that they all tend to look the same.  That uniformity not only makes it difficult for well-rounded students to distinguish themselves from their peers; it makes it tricky for colleges to put together a class of students with wide-ranging talents and passions.

“In the last thirty years, the focus shifted,” says Christoph Guttentag, Duke’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions. “Everybody in admissions stopped talking about the well-rounded student and started talking about the well-rounded class.”

Guttentag adds that Duke still admits many students he would categorize as well-rounded, but “we always have our eyes open for students who do one thing exceptionally or unusually well.”

These specialized students (often referred to as “spike” or “angular” students) stand out not by the breath of their activities, but by the depth of their commitment to one particular endeavor.  As Vanderbilt University states on its college admissions blog, “What really matters to us is that you love what you’re doing.  If you’re just choosing activities to fill a resume, it shows.”

The Solution: Become a World Champion Thumb Wrestler!

Okay, maybe it’s not that easy.  Suggesting that students become exceptional in something is almost as helpful as suggesting they get perfect grades or test scores.  “You’re on the track team?  Awesome!  Have you considered qualifying for the Olympics?”

In other words, if it were that easy, you’d already be doing it.

But don’t despair.  While admissions officers might not be impressed with your membership in what The Washington Post has called “sign-up clubs”, you can still make yourself stand out by  demonstrating perseverance and initiative, even if you’re merely good at something and not truly great.

Don’t just show up to Debate Club or Model Congress.  Take a leadership position.  Organize a conference.  Write an article about your experience for a local newspaper, discussing how the insights you’ve gained could be used to tackle a pressing social issue.  Will anyone over the age of eighteen take your advice seriously?  Of course not.  Don’t be ridiculous!  But you’ll have demonstrated commitment to an activity, and that’s what counts.

You don’t need to win a Nobel Peace Prize to grab the attention of admissions officers.  You simply need to prove that you take pride in contributing to your school and community, and that you’ll apply the same dynamism when you’re on campus.

That said, if you do win a Nobel, you should probably lead with that.

“Generic Geniuses” Don’t Despair

So what should you do if you’re the kind of student former Yale Admissions officer Ed Boland refers to as a “generic genius?”

If you’re naturally the kind of student who excels at many activities, but you haven’t landed on a specialty yet, take a hard look at your extracurricular pursuits and see how you can weave your disparate interests together.

For example, science and volunteer work don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.  However, if your dream has always been to work with Doctors Without Borders, a combined passion for science and volunteering makes perfect sense.  Similarly, if you really like sports and math, maybe it’s because you’re laying the groundwork for a career as a high-stakes gambler.

OK, bad example.  But you understand what we mean.  Don’t allow your extracurricular activities to read like a laundry list of fleeting interests.  Search for a common thread among your activities and illustrate how your well-roundedness is actually far more specialized that it might first appear.

That’s what Student A did.  He analyzed his long list of extracurricular activities and wrote his college application essays on the “surprising connections between woodworking and modern dance.”  True, he got rejected from every school he applied to, but he took the money he saved from not going to college and brought his Resume Padders club online, creating the website that is now known as LinkedIn.*

*Some of this may not be true.

JUL 1 - aug 19 Schedule

Class 1: MON, JUL 1, 2024, 7:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 2: MON, JUL 8, 2024, 7:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 3: MON, JUL 15, 2024, 7:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 4: MON, JUL 22, 2024, 7:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 5: MON, JUL 29, 2024, 7:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 6: MON, AUG 5, 2024, 7:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 7: MON, AUG 12, 2024, 7:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 8: MON, AUG 19, 2024, 7:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Jun 23 - aug 18 Schedule

Class 1: SUN, JUN 23, 2024, 09:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 2: SUN, JUN 30, 2024, 09:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 3: SUN, JUL 14, 202409:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 4: SUN, JUL 21, 2024, 09:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 5: SUN, JUL 28, 202409:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 6: SUN, AUG 4, 202409:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 7: SUN, AUG 11, 202409:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 8: SUN, AUG 18, 202409:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

JUL 1 - AUG 19 Schedule

Class 1: MON, JUL 1, 2024, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 2: MON, JUL 8, 2024, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 3: MON, JUL 15, 2024, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 4: MON, JUL 22, 2024, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 5: MON, JUL 29, 2024, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 6: MON, AUG 5, 2024, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 7: MON, AUG 12, 2024, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

Class 8: MON, AUG 19, 2024, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT

JuN 23 - Aug 18 Schedule

Class 1: SUN, JUN 23, 2024, 07:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 2: SUN, JUN 30, 2024, 07:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 3: SUN, JUL 14, 202407:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 4: SUN, JUL 21, 2024, 07:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 5: SUN, JUL 28, 202407:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 6: SUN, AUG 4, 202407:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 7: SUN, AUG 11, 2024, 07:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT

Class 8: SUN, AUG 18, 202407:30 PM – 09:00 PM EDT


1. Visit the orthodontist. 2. Watch PBS. 3. Go an entire week without rolling their eyes at their parents. 4. Watch C-SPAN. 5. Retake their AP Chem final. 6. Intern at a local CPA’s office. 7. Turn off their cell phone. 8. Mop the kitchen. 9. Clean their bathroom. 10. Renounce social media. 11. Write a 10-page history paper. 12. Get a bunch of allergy shots. 13. Wait in line at the post office. 14. Watch the Weather Channel. 15. Be abducted by aliens. 16. Attend a clarinet recital. 17. Tour a Soviet-era nuclear plant. 18. Eat a healthy and nutritious dinner. 19. Do calisthenics. 20. Bake snickerdoodle cookies for that guy who’s always loitering by his van. 21. Watch a black-and-white foreign film without subtitles. 22. Clean out the rain gutters. 23. Pretend they’re 42 and recently divorced. 24. Listen to NPR’s Weekend Edition. 25. Read a newspaper. 26. Visit the DMV. 27. Eat crispy fried tarantulas (considered a delicacy in Cambodia). 28. Serve as a “breath odor evaluator” for a toothpaste company. (Yes, this job actually exists.) 29. Go on a double date with their parents. 30. Undergo dental surgery. 31. Babysit their annoying stepbrother. 32. Empty Mr. Whisker’s litter box. 33. Take out the trash. 34. Clean the rain gutters. 35. Tell their parents they’d like to sit down to discuss the Birds n’ the Bees. 36. Stare at a blank television screen for several hours. 37. Be fitted for orthodontic headgear. 38. Organize their closet. 39. Vacuum their entire house. 40. Eat that substance their school cafeteria claims is Sloppy Joe. 41. Kiss Tucker Carlson. 42. Make origami turtles for the residents of a local nursing home. 43. Do a few hundred burpees. 44. Try Uncle Morris’s beef stew. 45. Watch Hillbilly Handfishin’ on Animal Planet. 46. Eat “bird’s nest” soup, which sounds kind of scrumptious unless you know the broth is made from bird SALIVA. 47. Set up an Facebook account for Grandma. 48. Start a backyard garden. 49. Dust home furnishings. 50. Do an exercise known as the “Bulgarian Split Squat.” 51. Help Dad trim his back hair. 52. Hunt for spare change between the sofa cushions. 53. Hunt for leftover Cheez-Its between the sofa cushions. 54. Mow the lawn. 55. Learn how to knit. 56. Research Wikipedia’s entry on the history of Q- tips. 57. Count how many times they can blink in one hour. 58. Compose a haiku. 59. Do one of the American Dental Association’s oral disease-themed jigsaw puzzles. 60. Watch televised bowling. 61. Give Grandpa a foot massage. 62. Give Grandma a foot massage. 63. Play tea party with their six-year-old stepsister. 64. Read The Red Badge of Courage. 65. Browse Burlington Coat Factory’s fall collection. 66. Floss. 67. Listen to The Scarlett Letter on audiobook. 68. Watch televised bowling. 69. Lie really, really still and pretend they’re deceased. 70. Join their twelve-year-old sister and all of her friends for a dance party!!! 71. Wash their parents’ minivan. 72. Journal about their feelings. 72. Give themselves a haircut. 73. Make homemade kombucha. 74. Learn to crochet. 75. Get a head start on their LinkedIn profile. 76. Watch a black- and-white movie marathon. 77. Visit the library. 78. Run a relay race. 79. Eat slimy san-nakji, which is considered a delicacy in Korea. 80. Eat khash, a traditional dish in Southeastern Europe that is so disgusting you’re just going to have to Google it to find out what it’s made of. 81. Eat the Swedish delicacy blodpättar, which kind of sounds like what it is. 81. Eat bat soup, a traditional dish in Micronesia. 82. Eat harkarl, rotten shark meat that is considered a delicacy in Iceland. 83. Eat the Scottish dish known as haggis. 84. Eat escamol, a Mexican dish that kind of looks like it’s made of rice but definitely isn’t. 85. Eat “Rocky Mountain Oysters,” which, despite the name, may not be from the Rocky Mountains and definitely are not oysters. 86. Wrestle an alligator. 87. Be a “professional apologizer,” a person whose actual full-time job is to apologize on behalf of other people. 88. Be an ostrich babysitter, which is apparently something people do in South Africa. 89. Ponder what life would have been like if they had been born in Kazakhstan. 90. Take a transatlantic flight on Biman Bangladesh Airlines, widely considered the worst airline in the entire world. 91. Eat fugu, a potentially lethal blowfish. 92. Do a form of running exercise known as “laps of misery.” 93. Walk the neighbor’s dog. 94. Clean their room. 95. Frolic naked through the mall. 96. Do a handstand on two fingers. 97. Do one-armed chin-ups. 98. Do a form of exercise known as a “flying human flag abdominal crunch.” 99. Watch the 2011 movie Tree of Life. (Trust us, it’s booooring.) 100. Use sock puppets to practice their future networking skills.