Becoming a "T-Shaped" Student

Have you heard the myth about students need to be well-rounded student for college admissions? It is just that, a myth. In terms of admissions, it is better to be a ‘T-Shaped’.

College admission is changing as colleges and universities are becoming more selective in the types of students they take in. As adults, we believed the secret recipe of students receiving admissions into student’s preferred college includes a nice mix of community service, school clubs, athletics, and sprinkled in a few advanced honors or college courses, like Advanced Placement or dual-enrollment. Unfortunately, the problem with a student being well-rounded is they usually lack focus or a specialized skill set.

College admissions today are looking for applicants who showcase two strong attributes. First, they want to see a strong passion for specific coursework, school activities, community engagement, or extra-curricular work. They prefer students with three or four strong activities or areas of interests for a prolonged period of time to show a continued passion and deep understanding, rather than a lazy interest. Second, they also want to see a broad set of skills to be able to work across multiple disciplines with ease and confidence. “T” students know how to work in small teams, solve problems, and show initiative and persistence to keep going when issues arise.

Here are some of the best ways to create a “T” shaped students:

  1. Growth before grades. Many times, as parents, we put added pressure on our students to obtain a certain grade point average to enter into college. While important, college admissions would rather find students who have faced adversity, struggled in a more rigorous class, and learned to overcome. Learning should come from having a growth mindset by taking risks and triumphing.

  2. Specialized coursework. High schools in the area offer a wide array of coursework to allow your student to specialize in areas in which they are interested in and excel. If a student is interested in being in the medical field, their transcript should showcase courses such as biology, chemistry, and anatomy and physiology. Taking on advanced coursework in their specific field shows they are willing to stretch themselves to meet their future career goals. Students could also look at online courses, often free, such as Coursera, edX, Lynda, Alison, and Udemy that provide coursework from experts from universities like MIT, Berkeley, and Harvard from a range of topics like coding, medical neuroscience, business, and psychology.

  3. Internships/ volunteer work. There are many opportunities for students to receive hands-on experiences throughout the many programs in the area. While there are multiple opportunities to travel abroad and take part in various summer programs, having students take part in their field of study shows admissions they are willing to work at pursuing their interests. A recent senior I worked with wanted to be a naval architect. While he was accepted into a very high priced summer program, the cost was just too much. Instead, we made a few phone calls and a local specialty boat-making company offered him an internship to do what he loves- build boats. He loved his summer experience, and used it as his college essay and recommendation.

  4. Part-time work. While finding part-time work for a teenager often won’t be in their field of choice, working in a collaborative, fast-paced work environment will show admissions those broad set of skills they are looking for such as responsibility, time management, and work ethic.

  5. Extra-curricular activities. The local schools and community have large amounts of activities students can be involved in. Students become involved in sports, martial arts, music, art, theatre, debate, technology and so forth. Encourage your student to find something they are dedicated to being actively involved for a long, extended period of time rather than a large variety of activities they are not committed to.