A Well-Planned Summer

Source: NYTimes, Aug 2011

Students preparing to apply to college are increasingly tailoring their summer plans with the goal of creating a standout personal statement — 250 words or more — for the Common Application in which to describe “a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.” Specialized, exotic and sometimes costly activities, they hope, will polish a skill, cultivate an interest and put them in the spotlight in a crowded field of straight-A students with strong test scores, community service hours and plenty of extracurricular activities.

As colleges look for specialization, “mastery” and “passion” have become buzzwords at many New York City private schools. Along with the perception that perfectly developed essays are essential is the sense among some parents and teachers that colleges have shifted from valuing balanced students who excel in several areas, like history and ice hockey, to demanding students who perform well across all subjects and have an area of “mastery,” like squash or fencing, that showcases one’s depth.

“Colleges have moved people from thinking they should be exceptionally well rounded to using the vocabulary that ‘well rounded’ means ‘no edge,’ ” said Bruce Poch, the former dean of admissions at Pomona College.

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