The Epidemic of Being ‘Well-Rounded’

Our ability to read and react properly to a situation plays a crucial role in our survival. That much is undeniable. Hunting for food, planning an assault during wartime, navigating office politics: these are all high stakes situations that require us to respond in real time and the consequences of a poor decision can be dire. As a result, we (whether directly or indirectly) undertake a series of actions that are aimed to strengthen our faculties for ‘doing the right thing’. Traveling, schooling, finding a new job. These experiences fortify our inner resolve and give us the courage necessary to live the lives we envisioned for ourselves. 

But like every good game of telephone, this message can get distorted when it trickles down to the other parts of life, namely during the college admissions process. In my experience working with college bound students, the term ‘well-rounded’ gets tossed around a lot. It sounds wonderful and sophisticated, except there isn’t much context that gets sent around with the use of the word. As a result, what I see happening is a lot of kids engaging in a lot of activities with no real motivation behind their participation other than to pad a resume. You might think, “well, that’s ok” when behind the scenes this kid is lacking sleep and his grades are slipping while he has no time to prepare for his standardized exams.

 In trying to become well-rounded, our students are undermining the very concept that admissions officers around the country are looking to accept. Participating in random activities that don’t tap into your strengths, interests, or vision for your long term development does not make you ‘well-rounded’. It may even have the opposite effect when you start to see diminishing returns in your school work and SAT scores, which ironically you need peak results for in order to be truly considered ‘well-rounded’ for the top universities. 

 All it takes to reverse this trend is a little self-reflection. Am I happy taking part in 10 clubs after school? Do I want more of a leadership role? What do I want to do next year and how are my current activities helping me get there? Parents, you can certainly help this process along by stepping in or encouraging your kids to do this kind of thinking as early as possible. The benefits down the line will be immeasurable, starting with a more decisive, independent teenager who actually personifies the term ‘well-rounded’. 

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