Every Child Wants to Be a Snowflake, So Be Special Instead
“In business, to be a success, you only have to be right once.”
Those are the words of Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team and also one of the investors on the TV series Shark Tank. Did you know Steve Jobs, the mastermind behind the iPhones you see everyone glued to on the subway, was once fired from Apple? Did you know he also created a mouse that resembled a hockey puck? No one remembers, and quite frankly, no one cares. Do people talk about Steve Jobs as the iPhone guy, or talk about how he got pushed out of Apple? We highlight the successes much more than the failures or unspectacular (think: iPod Shuffle).
What this means for students applying to college
Previously we talked about the importance of standing out for college admissions. So how do we develop a quality that will stand out? How does this affect what extracurricular activities to highlight on college applications? People remember the spectacular. So how do we develop something notable to promote?
Be a specialist, not a generalist
Here is what the typical high-achieving student’s time outside of the classroom looks like: some combination of piano or violin, martial arts, camp counselor, and sports. The vast majority are likely jacks-of-all-trades, masters of none. When you take your kids to their after school activities, how often do you run into the same parents at different activities? What does that tell you? Each of those activities is meaningful in its own right, but if everyone is more or less engaged in the same type of “well-rounded curriculum,” then no one stands out. And the last thing we want is for your child to be perceived as a commodity.
If the immediate-term goal is to get accepted to a top university, then think about what they are looking for. What is in it for them? If we want them to help you (i.e. college acceptance letter), then we have to help them get what they want. Top schools look for excellence. They ask, “Who is going to be really outstanding, famous, or rich down the road and add value to our university’s reputation?” More often than not, it is the specialist who is a master at a particular area, rather than the generalist.