Colleges are Looking for Students With True Interests and Passions
“In order to ensure my child is accepted to Harvard, what would be the best activity to start now — violin or rowing?” This question from a new kindergarten parent took me by surprise. My response? “Neither.” Colleges are drawn to students who have discovered a significant interest or interests, pursued and committed to them, and have done so joyously.
Instead of trying to stage manage a student’s college admission process from preschool onward, introduce your child to a wide variety of activities, let her interests evolve over time, and support him on the journey of self-discovery. Most often the significant interest will emerge. Oprah Winfrey has said, “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” Preparing for college should not be all work, rather it is important for children to have some fun along the way and determine for themselves what it is that engages them.
A few students demonstrate unique interest in an activity or field of study from an early age and progress forward, but most students find their interests in high school sports, academics or the arts. The list of significant interests a student may pursue, which may in turn capture the interest of a college, is virtually endless. Colleges find worth in most everything in which a student chooses to engage, whether it is a part-time or summer job, helping out with the family business or participating in a club. The common denominator is that it is important to be engaged. Many, if not most, students have enthusiasm for a variety of activities, and there is great value in that as well.
I have seen student interests range from higher mathematics to historical research, cutting edge stem cell experiments to writing a novel and poetry. I once knew a young woman who was a Gaelic enthusiast, and by the time she graduated from Blake, she had made herself a most accomplished speaker of this rare language. Others have been dancers, figure skaters, musicians (in a wide variety of instruments), artists, singers and even an opera virtuoso. Some students have discovered what might be considered offbeat interests, but colleges have found them no less appealing. At Blake, we have witnessed world yo-yo champions, circus stars, jugglers, magicians and two beauty contest winners. We once had a student featured in the Star Tribune for sleeping out in the elements for 100 straight days and nights, ending on New Year’s Day, to draw attention to the plight of the homeless. Another student was the youngest deacon ever to preside at Westminster Presbyterian Church, while still another had her efforts recognized by KARE-11 as one of their “Eleven Who Care” for founding a nonprofit that made polar fleece blankets, hats and pillows for University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital patients.
For some students, their interest has emerged as a form of service. Working at LearningWorks, Blake’s public-private school academic enrichment partnership, has provided this outlet for many and ultimately has begun to shape life careers for students who discovered this commitment. The desire to serve has captured the attention of many Blake students and led them to participate on local boards for institutions such as the Walker Art Center, Planned Parenthood, the Minneapolis Library and the Edina Parks and Recreation Department. Others have pursued the arts, producing virtual galleries or winning architectural drawing contests. Some have taken to stage and screen outside of high school, while others have made their own films, one being shown on HBO. Politics has seen more than its fair share of Blake students, and we have often had delegates at both party’s state nominating conventions.
I have witnessed budding entrepreneurs start and run their own successful businesses, some growing to the point where they have hired and supervised workers, met payrolls and filed tax returns. One young man had such a strong interest in food preparation that, as a seventh grader, he talked a downtown restaurant owner into letting him hang around his kitchen for a day: soon he was serving as a sous-chef, then as an assistant chef and, in time, was entering the Chaines de Rotisserie International Young Chef competition.
I believe colleges think the real value is in following one’s true interests. Colleges want to discover how those interests have inspired students, educated them, excited, molded and formed them into the people they are today. Students who do so create a powerful message.