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  • Bentham Admissions Team

Depth is More Important than Breadth

Students hoping to get into elite universities often make the mistake of having a grab bag of extracurricular and summer activities, rather than focusing on a particular interest or talent and developing it throughout high school. Whether it is because they are still under the misconception that colleges want “well-rounded” applicants who play sports, practice the violin, put in public service “hours”, and participate in a couple of clubs, or because students just don’t understand the value of a focused narrative, they often create resumes full of impressive activities, competitions, and internships that don’t add up to anything compelling because the list is so unfocused. 

Why depth is more important than breadth in a college application

A student who both creates a program for veterans and works on ways of rethinking the design of her city, and competes at DECA with a third unrelated project, communicates that the student is more interested in getting into a prestigious university than in any particular passion, interest, or goal. In fact, admissions officers want to see that a student is driven in a particular way, and has worked hard, often independently of school assignments, to develop towards this goal. The student who keeps a vlog, writes a novel, does independent research about the properties of phytoplankton and eventually works with a professor in a lab, 

The Importance of a Narrative

Writing your college essays is not the time to think about narrative. From the time future applicants enter high school, their activities, competitions, class choices, and summer plans should build a narrative that builds towards a particular goal. Not only should you try to align your activities - if you enjoy debate, write editorials for the newspaper, and look for an internship on a political campaign - but you should also try to distinguish yourself from other applicants by your initiative and entrepreneurial spirit. Rather than spending money for a summer program where you will once again sit in class and follow directions ( also, college admissions offices don’t like an activity that works to the advantage of the economically privileged), spend your summer creating something. If you know you are interested in engineering, and you are in the engineering clubs and engaging in engineering competitions, and you spend the summer working on your family farm, why not see if you can engage in some sort of environmental engineering initiative on that farm?  You could create a composting system, a more efficient watering method, or intersperse crops with plants that naturally repel pests on a trial row or section. It’s easy to find such solutions with a little Googling. Self-initiated and self-researched projects are a big step forward in your narrative; if doing something alone is too daunting, it is easy to recruit friends who are also looking for activities to bolster their applications. Just make sure it’s something real. College admissions officers all too often these days see dubious nonprofit “organizations” that didn’t really do anything in an application.

It’s Not Too Late 

If you’re finishing eleventh grade and feel you don’t have enough focus and depth in your activities list, it’s not too late to add depth to one of your interests. You can spend the summer undertaking a project that will appeal to the admissions committee. If you want more guidance, contact Bentham Admissions.


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