Well-Rounded vs Pointed Students: Is It Better to Be Egg-Shaped?

Rubin Caco

When looking at an application, college admissions officers review the entirety of a student's profile—everything from their academic scores to their extracurriculars, passions, and goals for the future. This process is called "holistic review," where everything about an individual is considered when deciding to accept or defer them. Because everything about a student is essential, how does one build their profile? Is it better to be a well-rounded student with many different achievements or one of the pointed students with a direct focus?

What are "Well-Rounded" and "Pointed" Students?

Well-rounded students explore many different subjects, fields, and activities. Generally speaking, they focus on learning as much as possible in various areas to become a strong scholar. On the contrary, pointed students typically have a singular focus—one drive that takes the whole of their attention. Pointed students are often interested in becoming the best at their subject and don't wish to allocate time away from that focus. 

What do Colleges Look For?

What colleges look for in their applicants has not always been the same. Standards and interests change, especially in the most selective Ivy League schools. This past week, Yale announced a change in their standardized test policy—reverting a prior switch to test-optional application. What was fashionable decades ago may not be so in the future. This is true of all industries, but it's vital for those with a specific vision for their academic path to understand what the top schools are looking for. 

Zak Harris, one of our Former Admissions Officers at InGenius Prep, states how standards have changed in the college admissions process. "For so long, academics were the 'thing' that led to a student being admitted to college. If they met a certain standard, they were admitted. These days, academics aren't enough and don't help a student stand out within the admissions process. Certainly, a student has to have excellent academics, but now, the 'fit' within that campus, along with every other piece of the application, matters so much more. This is why students that only have strong academics are often waitlisted or denied from schools that are very competitive."

Though academics are still essential for the most competitive schools, many of those schools want more from their students than just high scores. A student's personality and character are increasingly becoming essential to college admissions officers. 

Well-Rounded Students: Pros and Cons

Well-rounded students perform in many different areas, potentially at high levels, but may also lack focus on any one area. For example, a well-rounded biochemistry student will have biochemistry as their main field of study, but they will also engage in other activities. They may volunteer at an animal shelter, lead a debate club, create a charitable event for hungry villages worldwide, and compete in international music competitions for piano players. 

These achievements are impressive in their own right, and they can all be performed at a high level, but on an application, they may also seem to an admission officer as unrelated. 

Nick Strohl, Former Director of Admissions at Yale and now at InGenius Prep, stated that being well-rounded can be both beneficial and detrimental depending on the circumstance. "Academically, successful applicants to top colleges are expected to be excellent students in just about every subject area, so ‘well-roundedness’ academically is helpful. That said, there should be a clear academic focus on a future major or cluster of majors."

"Extracurricularly, top schools are looking for students who make an impact on their community and serve in leadership roles. It's hard to make a big impact in more than 1-2 areas… In this regard, striving to be ‘well-rounded’ by participating in too many extracurriculars can be detrimental, as it spreads the student too thin. Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to extracurricular involvement."

Pointed Students: Pros and Cons

In the example of a pointed student, they also focus on a field of study—such as biochemistry in our previous example—but those pointed students will put most if not all of their focus on that study. They have a clear pathway towards their academic career and take advantage of the opportunities that come their way. They will do their own bio-chemical projects, join in biochemistry competitions, get internships in labs, or volunteer in studies. 

However, a student's application persona and their achievements in extracurriculars can have a significant impact on their college admissions. For students who have a singular focus, it's recommended to expand that focus in ways that can showcase their profile in new and exciting ways. Nick Strohl says this about pointed students, "If a student is ‘pointed,’ they can look to build upon that area of focus to extend it in new ways… For example, a student with a ‘pointed’ profile in biology/medicine could write an essay on the history of science and medicine to demonstrate their skill in the humanities and as a writer."

What is an "Egg-Shaped" Student?

An egg-shaped student is something in between well-rounded and pointed—a student with a specific direction and theme to their achievements that reflects the nature of their study rather than a student who tries a little bit of everything but with no connecting motif.

This means that egg-shaped students delve into many interests, fields, and activities, but all serve a greater purpose. They come together to make a student with a clear theme—a direction or purpose that speaks to something greater. In the example of an egg-shaped student, we combine the best aspects of both well-rounded and pointed students to create a profile with direction, purpose, and a strong focus, but also rounded achievements beyond the scope of just the student's field of study. 

For the biochemistry major, egg-shaped students will focus on their academics and aim for high marks, but they will also take other tasks to supplement their interest. They may play a sport like basketball and independently study themselves—experimenting with biochemical properties such as which exercises and supplements increase athletic performance. They may take sculpting classes to make écorché models and examine the intramuscular structures of the human body. They may take psychology classes to understand the mind/ body connection better, engage in charitable activities to aid those with physical or mental health issues, and study music to learn the effects of music on human mood and performance. In this case, this student becomes more than just a candidate studying biochemistry—their profile now shows a dedicated scholar passionate about health and wellness, focusing on biochemistry to study the human body and help those around them. 

How to Become an Egg-Shaped Student

Becoming an egg-shaped student is a long process that involves years of profile-building. Students should start the process as early as possible for the best results—as early as 9th grade and continue to build their profile through junior year. Students often benefit from guidance on this subject, working with an industry expert to help them identify their interests, set goals, and strategize a winning application that will stand out to admissions officers. 

To get started on this process, InGenius Prep offers our Candidacy Building and Academic Mentorship programs. Our expert team of Former Admissions Officers and Industry Experts are here to guide your students and set them up for success at their dream school.

Call today to schedule a free consultation with one of our advisors and learn more about how to build a strong student profile for the top colleges.

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