Well-Rounded: A College Standard

Along with terms like innovator, change-maker, service-oriented, and demonstrating leadership, 'well-rounded' has become one of the most commonly used and least meaningful words in education. Gone are the simple days of having two (maybe three) interests. Now, to be successful you must be 'well-rounded'---whatever that means.

Play a sport? You better have some artistic talent too. Love chemistry? Well, start writing poetry and learn some Spanish while you're at it. Have a job? You're going to need to make room for some community service hours. Oh I'm sorry, did you think you were going to sleep in high school? Think again.

The college application landscape has become a vast and treacherous landscape. While the welcoming green pastures of mediocrity certainly seem appealing, the precarious peaks of excellence entice us all. Thus we begin a grueling journey up a mountain of test scores, GPAs, rankings, essays, and analysis of our personal achievements (or lack thereof). For some the trek ends quite quickly, and the bitter taste of failure sends them scrambling back down to safety. Others struggle on only to realize the summit is much higher than they first thought and set up camp at a small peak with a nice view. Only the select few will complete the journey (and even then the rather high cost of settling on the summit will send climbers back down).

On my own personal college application journey, I heard over and over: college wants well-rounded students, they want leaders, unique students. Now, I'm a bit of a math nerd (and cynic) and in my completely unprofessional opinion, a planet populated by more than 7 billion people isn't exactly brimming with 'uniqueness'. Also, what high school student has the time or space to do original research, build a school in Africa, or invent the next fit bit? The expectations of some colleges are outright ridiculous.

Being well-rounded used to mean having multiple interests, doing well in school and having a handful of extracurriculars. Now if you aren't checking off every box, you're simply average. How can that be? Well-rounded has somehow morphed into extraordinary and true well-roundedness is bland and uninteresting.

When did normal become so drab? Why are we constantly asking more of young people at a time in their lives widely recognized as difficult and turbulent? When will we stop conforming to the colleges?