By Leslie O’Connor, College Counselor

College Corner appears in the Wyvern Weekly with suggestions and dates to help make the college search and application process as stress-free and enjoyable as possible. We have a number of college events coming up next week! Note: All college visits not otherwise noted take place in the College Resource Room on the Downtown Campus.

Wednesday, November 14th

  • Columbia College Chicago – 1:00 – 1:30 p.m.

Leadership in the College Process
The emphasis on leadership in the college process can be another stressor for students as they try and figure out the many ways they can add traditional leadership positions to their resume. But as I stated before in “College Corner” about resume-building, not every student can be the School Committee president or captain of the varsity team. Educator and writer Brennan Barnard illustrates through quotes from college admissions deans and directors the many ways in which leadership can be defined in the college application process.

Lessons on Leadership
By Brennan Barnard, Contributor to HuffPost

While it may be easy to define a leader in principle, college applicants want to know how colleges view leadership. Who are these “leaders” that admission committees want to admit, and what qualities are they searching for?

“Someone who stops to ask the question: “What is the RIGHT thing to do in this circumstance?’” – Andy Strickler, Dean of Admission & Financial Aid, Connecticut College

“Leadership is a deep engagement in an area of interest – not necessarily an officer in an organization. Rather than the president of the student government, I love the student who has been the chair of the dance cleanup committee for a few years. Who wants that job? And yet, she consistently gets a few students who will stay late after the dance to clean up the detritus left by classmates. That, to me, is leadership. No accolades but lots of commitment and follow through.” – Deb Shaver, Director of Admission, Smith College

“A leader is someone who shoulders responsibility for larger group decisions. A leader is also someone who inspires others to act, holds forth broad ethical and inclusive principles and organizes the time and energy of all people to a purposeful and successful diverse community of living.” – Paul Thiboutot, Vice President and Dean of Admission, Carleton College

“Someone who inspires others and who brings differences together toward a common goal. A leader is willing to take risks in the presence of adversity.” – Beth Wiser, Executive Director of Admissions, The University of Vermont

“A leader is someone who influences others to make a difference. A leader can be loud and bright but a leader can also be quiet and soft – if he or she inspires, excites, and motivates others, I would call that leadership.” – Kelliann Dietel, Admissions Counselor, Lafayette College

“Someone with highly developed emotional intelligence who is a mentor, a decision-maker (through collaboration and consultation), and an ethical role model. A leader is engaged in the discussion and is sensitive to the validity of ideas outside of their comfort zone.” – Beverly Morse, Associate Dean of Admissions for International Admissions, Kenyon College

“A leader is someone willing to establish a collective following; however, a great leader is one who takes in the advice of their peers to achieve a collective goal or initiative. A great leader listens and understands the need to persist when the going gets tough.” – Tim Neil, Assistant Director of Admission, Sewanee, The University of the South

“A leader is someone who notices what is not being accomplished that should be worked on and improved…not for their own gain but for the benefit of the group or a special subgroup that has less resources and needs help. A leader also organizes others to assist her/him in this effort.” – Don Bishop, Vice President for Undergraduate Enrollment, University of Notre Dame

“A leader is a great listener who can motivate others to be thoughtful and effective. Too often we are stuck assessing leadership roles and have a harder time identifying leadership qualities.” – Peter Hagan, Director of Admissions, Syracuse University

“A leader is someone who supports and encourages those around them, communicates big picture goals clearly and effectively, and continually builds relationships to advance the mission of the team. Someone who tempers action with wisdom and balances humility and confidence.” – Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admission, Georgia Tech

“A leader is one who motivates and inspires others to a common vision.” – Michael Sexton, Vice President for Enrollment Management, Santa Clara University

“A leader is someone who takes initiative to stand up for what they believe in, who is critically self-reflective, and who knows how/when to support the voices of others when others step up to lead.” – Erika Blauth, Assistant Director of Admission, Colorado College

There you have it … easy, right? These sentiments can be inspiring, and simultaneously overwhelming. While it is comforting to realize that colleges are looking beyond traditional position titles for demonstrated leadership, it does present a greater dilemma. How on earth does one begin to show these lofty qualities on a college application beyond the small box where a candidate can list “club president,” “lead in the musical,” or “athletic captain?”

An experienced admissions officer is like a miner, digging for evidence of leadership in many forms. It is incumbent upon them to look deeper and value different models and demonstrations of leading. Educators must refuse to accept a narrow concept of effective leadership. It is the applicant’s job to find creative ways to provide the evidence for which the admissions office can dig. Students need to articulate for themselves the authentic story they want to tell and then communicate that message in their application.

When asked how they identify the qualities of a leader in an application, admissions officers point to interviews, essays, and teacher or counselor recommendations—each as a way that candidates can highlight unique stories of thoughtful leadership. Absent a title, ongoing involvement in an organization or activity with increasing engagement can show commitment and one’s growing role in the community. Application readers are looking for instances when students are willing to make a stand or take a risk. They are curious to see how students show care for, and positively impact, others’ lives. Even small signs of responsibility matter, such as an applicant taking the reins in the college search and not just following the crowd or their parents’ direction. Frequently it is the pursuits that students don’t do for a resume that carry the most weight, so don’t chase the position, live the qualities.

Leadership is about the common good, not divisiveness, isolation, or touting one’s greatness at the expense of others. It is not about always being right or having the answers. It is about openness, listening, dedication, support, unification, and intention. Compassionate leaders are those who can positively influence culture, and who can accept failure and admit imperfection. These are the young people that colleges seek as they scour the country for our next leaders. True leadership will be a collective effort, much greater than any one title or position.