by Kimberly Asselta, former admissions officer at Babson College
I was not the captain of my high school cheerleading team. I vividly remember the day my coach read the names of the 1993-1994 team captains. I was devastated when my name wasn’t called. My dreams of wearing that gold “C” on my uniform and being seen as a team leader came tumbling down. That was “way back in the 1900s” as my two middle school sons like to remind me, and I’m totally over it. Really. As I look back on my time in high school with the wisdom that over twenty years of life and work experience brings, I can recognize that the “C” on my sweater didn’t define me or my leadership ability. I learned a lot from that experience, but that’s for a different blog post!
This idea of leadership as defined by the titles we receive, and can later report on college applications, comes up often in my line of work, particularly when I was an admissions officer at Babson College. As a school known for business and entrepreneurship, applicants were always looking for ways to show proven leadership. While titles are great, it’s important that students spend time looking beyond them to better define and demonstrate their leadership potential in other ways.
Leaders in the classroom
Are you the type of student who loves getting involved in class discussions and debates? Are you unafraid to voice your opinions or ask the “stupid” question that no one else will? Maybe you’re the student the teacher relies on to help your classmates struggling with certain content or to take the lead in group projects. Or maybe you are the one student willing to come off mute to answer the teacher when they ask, “Can everyone see this slide?” If this sounds like you, guess what—you’re a leader! Consider having this teacher write one of your letters of recommendation, as they’re likely to mention these qualities in their letter.
Leaders in the community
Listing a number of hours of service-related activities on your application is certainly nice, but continued service that makes an impact to one particular cause is always better. Do you care about the environment? Organize a campus trash pickup day. Notice a need in your town or neighboring community? Start a book/food/clothing/sports equipment drive. The ability to recognize a problem and identify the steps to find a solution are important leadership and life skills! Don’t sell yourself short. Be sure to list your actions steps and the results of your work in the activity section of the college application.
Leaders at work
Part-time jobs have always “counted” as extra-curricular activities. Think about the skills a host at local restaurant brings to the job, like making decisions in a fast-paced environment and balancing demands from customers and fellow employees. Grocery store cashiers, camp counselors, dog walkers, babysitters—all of these positions teach responsibility, time management, financial independence, patience, customer service, and more! Think about the skills you’ve strengthened and the lessons you’ve learned from your work experience. Many students end up sharing their work-related stories as part of their personal statement or other required essays.
Leaders at home
2020, the year we stayed home. Last year many students learned to balance a virtual school day with new household responsibilities. Meal planning and other chores, organizing birthday drive-by’s, entertaining younger siblings while a parent was attending a Zoom meeting, virtually tutoring a cousin in math—these are the extracurricular activities of 2020! We’ve been forced to slow down and pivot many times this year. It hasn’t been easy, but you may have had some time to reexamine your values, reinforce your ability to adapt, and enhance your resilience. All of which are the marks of a great leader. You might choose to reflect on your new normal in the optional COVID-related essay question now included in many college applications, or fold these new roles into your activity list.
Congratulations to all the students who have been selected as leaders in their school community. Being named team captain, class president, drum major, etc., are great accomplishments you should feel proud of. But for those of you who don’t have a title, your work is not done! There are plenty of ways to make an impact in your school and community—you just have to see the potential in yourself!