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ECs: Balanced or focused?

themaskedbandicootthemaskedbandicoot 18 replies12 threads Junior Member
Hi everyone, this applies to applications in general as opposed the solely the common app.

My question is, does it look better to have ECs of a particular kind, or a balanced set of ECs on the application?

Let me elaborate: I know a girl who's won several exceptional awards (including some international awards) for community service, one for physics and one for biochemistry. I know another girl who hasn't won major awards but has devoted herself entirely to physics, and she's currently doing an independent research project after having found a mentor after a few years of fruitless searching. Both are high school seniors, but the former has a better financial background, and definitely more connections.

Which of these would you think would be more attractive to colleges- someone who has demonstrated achievement in unrelated areas, or someone who hasn't yet made a major breakthrough but definitely has the capability and focused passion to do so? Which do you think would have a more compelling narrative, assuming both the candidates' grades, test scores and other statistics are uniform? Or would this differ from university to university?

I'm curious to find out what everyone thinks :)
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Replies to: ECs: Balanced or focused?

  • themaskedbandicootthemaskedbandicoot 18 replies12 threads Junior Member
    Hi everyone, I'd like to know your thoughts on which candidate of the two following is more likely to be accepted to a top-notch college:
    Candidate 1: Has won several international awards for community service, one minor award for physics and one international award for biochemistry.
    Candidate 2: Hasn't won any notable awards, but explores physics at a great depth and is probably nearly as advanced as a graduate student. She's been searching for a research mentor for the past few years and has finally found one.

    Both candidates have uniform test scores and grades and Candidate 1 has a better financial status and definitely more connections. Candidate 2 has minimal community service experience and is unable to participate in Olympiads because of her citizenship.

    My question is, how would an admissions officer compare depth of knowledge vs prior achievement? Or would this assessment vary from university to university?
    Is it better to have a variety of unrelated ECs for which one has one awards, or exhibit passion and focus throughout middle and high school? Also, will the opportunities each candidate has been exposed and the candidate's personal initiative factor into the admissions process?
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  • bopperbopper Forum Champion CWRU 14392 replies103 threads Forum Champion
    Check out "How to be a High School Superstar" by Cal Newport.

    "The basic message of the book is this: Don't wear yourself out taking as many classes as you can and being involved in every club and sport. Instead, leave yourself enough free time to explore your interests. Cultivate one interest and make it into something special that will make you stand out among the other applicants and get you into the toughest schools, even if your grades and scores aren't stellar. Newport calls this the “relaxed superstar approach,” and he shows you how to really do this, breaking the process down into three principles, explained and illustrated with real life examples of students who got into top schools: (1) underscheduling—making sure you have copious amounts of free time to pursue interesting things, (2) focusing on one or two pursuits instead of trying to be a “jack of all trades,” and (3) innovation—developing an interesting and important activity or project in your area of interest. This fruit yielded by this strategy, an interesting life and real, meaningful achievements, is sure to help not only with college admissions, but getting a job, starting a business, or whatever your goals."

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  • sherpasherpa 4863 replies96 threads Senior Member
    A student with multiple international awards is a very compelling applicant.
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  • themaskedbandicootthemaskedbandicoot 18 replies12 threads Junior Member
    I understand that, but do you think Candidate 2 would have a worse chance just because she hasn't won notable awards? Essays could play a role as well.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 30029 replies59 threads Senior Member
    Candidate 1 especially if international student
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  • ninakatarinaninakatarina 1619 replies44 threads Senior Member
    I think that the answer would depend on the rest of the application pool. If the school has a lot of strong physics applicants but weak biochem applicants, Candidate 1 would be more attractive. If the school doesn't have a lot of strong physics applicants, Candidate 2 would be more attractive. You have no way of knowing what the rest of each school's applicant pool looks like, so it's best to put in your best work on the app and apply to multiple places.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35301 replies399 threads Senior Member
    Neither has an advantage. Both could be rejected, if this is all they show. If you mean for a top holistic college, it's the whole picture- not this crafted slice you give here. There's an entire app to submit. Awards aren't what tips you in and neither is research.

    International awards for service don't suggest the sort of local community activity top colleges like. And very few hs kids do grad level research, without a mentor. Or after finding one.

    Even framing the question this way hints you don't yet understand what it takes. If you don't, that's a risk, no matter which kid you are.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 9243 replies93 threads Senior Member
    If we are talking about international applicants, applicant 1 will have more options simply because of not needing financial aid.

    But as noted up thread, run your own race. You can't control anyone else's application but your own.
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  • BuddyHBuddyH 4 replies4 threads New Member
    I say do whatever interests you the most. If you pursue what you really enjoy, most of the times you will have a more focused profile.
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  • awesomepolyglotawesomepolyglot 3881 replies69 threads Senior Member
    Haven't you posted this before?
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  • abcdefgcollege2abcdefgcollege2 7 replies6 threads New Member
    In all honesty, I believe both candidates are--in a sense-- equally attractive. Even though they've each gone to different lengths with their ECs, both show unbridled passion for their craft(s), and that fact is desirable to any admissions officer. However, you still have to take into account the course load, the personal statements, the financial needs/capabilities of each student, and how each girl's personality/ambitions fit with the university.

    So, both girls should just close their eyes, roll the dice, and see what happens! It's pretty much random anyway...
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  • mathmommathmom 32910 replies160 threads Senior Member
    I think it's easier to sell yourself with focussed ECs, but colleges really do like both. I had one of each kind of kid. Older son's EC's were all STEM/computer programming. He sold himself as a computer nerd. Younger son's EC were orchestra (2 of them), Literary Mag (which he was really on just because friends were), Science Olympiad (for the other friends and because it was fun to be on a successful team), and he also sold origami earrings he made himself. He sold himself as someone with wide ranging interests, a sense of humor and a curiosity about the world. He was in international relations major. And given his grades and scores, I'd say he did better than expected. The CS kid had very high scores and grades and applied to some extremely reachy programs/schools. He got into two out of the six, which was fine since you can only attend one college.
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  • Groundwork2022Groundwork2022 2989 replies72 threads Senior Member
    Both of the OPs examples could be strong candidates. One has chosen a competitive path and one a research path, which hints to the AOs what the personality of each girl might be like. A large research university might be looking to build a class that includes both talents.

    I usually advise students on these boards to have at least one EC related to their major and at least one unrelated.
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  • BKSquaredBKSquared 1546 replies8 threads Senior Member
    Based on the EC criteria alone, I am going with the first girl, "won several exceptional awards (including some international awards)" vs the second girl "who hasn't won major awards but has devoted herself entirely to physics". Demonstrating accomplishment is much more powerful than just "trying". The more difficult and closer call is if the physics focused girl had at least the same if not higher level of accomplishment as the rounded girl.
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