The best colleges these days are not looking for a well-rounded student. They are looking for a well-rounded student body. There’s a big difference.
A well-rounded student body requires a variety of students with individual strengths, as opposed to individual students with a variety of strengths. A student with depth of talent or commitment in one or two areas may be much more appealing than a student with a bit of talent or a scattered commitment in many areas.
For example, in any particular year a college may be seeking students with passion and achievement in writing to fill anticipated openings in the school’s newspaper and literary journals. Or they may need soccer players – a goalie, in particular – since graduation will claim half of the starting team. Or they may seek students who have shown a passion for politics to fill spots in student government. Students with a passion a mile deep in one particular area will be much more desirable than students with a passion an inch deep in 10 different areas.
How does this play out in admissions? For candidates, the advice is simple: in your application, present as much of a singular profile as possible. It’s fine if you were involved in 10 extracurricular activities in the past few years, but choose the one or two that have interested you the most and every chance you get, emphasize their importance in your life.
If, for example, playing the oboe is your true love, talk about it, describe that passion in one of the essays in the Common Application, describe how you feel when you play it, explain how you got to perform with the local symphony orchestra, mention your oboe-playing idols and say why you like them. By letting the admissions office see the depth of your love for the instrument, you will stand out in the crowd, and with such intense competition these days in college admissions, standing out in the crowd is a path to the thick envelope.