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Is the standard college admission model biassed against introverts?

songbirdmamasongbirdmama 480 replies23 threads Member
Sorry if this is long, but I need to frame the question: D22 is an excellent student, participates in class, is intellectually curious, has a group of friends, but by the time the school day is over, she is shot. As an introvert, a full day of socializing in school is enough for her, and she really does not want more "people" after 4pm. She does participate in clubs (literary magazine, tech crew for play, choral groups), but does not find leadership roles appealing as she is very reserved. So in thinking about college applications, will she have the "resume" for selective schools that might match her intellectual and academic ability? Talking about schools like Williams, Haverford, Lehigh, CMU, UVa, Cornell.... It seems to me that once passing an academic bar, these schools look for particular extracurricular boxes to be checked off before proceeding (especially multiple leadership roles). Is this assumption in error? In general, how do admissions officers weigh activities relative to the essay and recs? Is there variability in weighing these components depending on proposed major (she is a STEM kid)? Appreciate your thoughts and advice!
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Replies to: Is the standard college admission model biassed against introverts?

  • MaineLonghornMaineLonghorn 41524 replies2253 threads Super Moderator
    @PrdMomto1 great post! I struggled as an introverted teenager. As I've gotten older, at least it's gotten easier to "extrovert" when I have to. I have discovered that in areas I'm passionate about, such as mental health, I can put myself out there. A little discomfort is nothing compared to helping people! I'm so glad your daughter is stepping out and taking some risks. :)
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  • milgymfammilgymfam 1467 replies28 threads Senior Member
    I have a D at Haverford- she’s my extrovert, but we move every two years so leadership positions were never in the cards for her. Haverford seems to want people who are engaged and passionate about learning and something, anything outside of school. My daughter’s main ECs were studying languages on her own and with private tutors, and a sport- an individual sport that she was passionate about and spent 30+ hours a week at, but that she was not even close to any sort of elite at.

    My younger D is an extreme introvert. She had no leadership positions and doesn’t even like clubs. She spent all her free time working, volunteering (in a nice, quiet library), and dancing. She had no trouble gaining admittance into schools. She comes across clear about her passion for working with kids and dancing both on paper and in person.

    I think your daughter will do fine!
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  • PrdMomto1PrdMomto1 505 replies7 threads Member
    @PrdMomto1 great post! I struggled as an introverted teenager. As I've gotten older, at least it's gotten easier to "extrovert" when I have to. I have discovered that in areas I'm passionate about, such as mental health, I can put myself out there. A little discomfort is nothing compared to helping people! I'm so glad your daughter is stepping out and taking some risks. :)

    Thank you! As an extrovert it has been hard on me at times to relate to some of what she struggles with, but luckily my husband is more introverted and relates better. She definitely feels more confident in college and less pressured to be someone she's not. And I agree, when you find things you care about, it's easier to push yourself a bit!
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 9861 replies110 threads Senior Member
    The most introverted student in my D's friend group had some of the best college outcomes. Didn't do any leadership stuff, didn't go on any of the school trip, rarely hung out with the friend group, and basically avoided most clubs other than a few of the academic teams and he volunteered a lot outside of school. What shone through for him (IMO anyway) was his curiosity about learning. He had zero direction about intended major but was the type of person that if he found something interesting, he would find ways to pursue it in more depth. His intellectual curiosity was extremely evident and I'm sure his recommenders wrote highly about his role in the classroom. He obviously had the grades and test scores to go along with it.

    So, I wouldn't worry! That said, some of the schools you mentioned are reaches for every single student so don't get hung up on those. Have a well balanced list and focus on the right fit. I'd have your D spend some time this summer doing some virtual tours. Schools like UVA and Cornell are very, very different than schools like Williams or Haverford. Your D will probably find that she'll end up having a preference for school size, location, and LAC vs University. That can help guide the list.

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  • songbirdmamasongbirdmama 480 replies23 threads Member
    Thank you for your reassurances! D22 just discovered her passion for chemistry, and will start peer tutoring/mentoring in the fall. I am glad that this type of activity is valued, and will definitely check out the above book.
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  • bopperbopper Forum Champion CWRU 14483 replies104 threads Forum Champion
    edited May 21
    I think that some colleges are looking to see what you bring to the community and often look for some leadership.

    I am an alumni ambassador and used to do interviews and this is what I saw when i looked for leadership in students:

    Leadership can be President of a club or Captain of the Team or Section Leader in Band. But it can also be:
    -Student involved in ethnic community center for years and then is asked to teach little kids
    -Actual officer in a club
    -Watched his little brother after school and encouraged parents to sign up brother for sports team and took him to practice*
    -Within a club, organized an activity for that club
    -Led a community service activity
    -Lead singer of a band - sings, chooses set list, organizes transportation for other members
    -Summer Camp counselor
    -Boy Scout Eagle Award/Girl Scout Gold Award
    -EMT Cadet
    -Boys State/Girls State
    -Tutors others


    (literary magazine, tech crew for play, choral groups

    So leadership doesn't have to be the Editor of the Magazine, but it could be someone who actively looks for other students to recruit, or is the sub-editor of the Poetry section, or who helps new students learn how to be on tech crew, Came up with designs for the tech crew, or is the section leader of the Sopranos, or who organized a fund raiser for the play, or whatever.
    Maybe she is the one who sees those new, shy kids in her activities and mentors them. It is okay to talk about that on your application.

    Play/Musical Tech Crew, 4 years. Mentored freshman who joined the crew, provided lighting designs, worked lights and sound board.


    *I did alumni interviews for my alma mater. I had a student that didn’t appear to have many ECs at all, much less leadership. But we were talking about that…and it turned out that he watched his little brother after school, so he couldn't do traditional after school activities. His parents were getting divorced and he started to notice his brother falling through the cracks. So he started making sure he did his homework, and also signed him up for a baseball league. He took him to practices and games.

    So not only did he babysit his brother, he showed leadership in making sure his brother had opportunities and support. This is not traditional club leadership, but definitely leadership where it mattered.

    I made sure this was noted in my interview report.

    edited May 21
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  • blossomblossom 10340 replies9 threads Senior Member
    The top schools are filled with introverts. They can be playing cello, working in a lab, cataloging ephemera in the WW1 archive, developing algorithms to track infectious diseases, translating Ovid into an language which is disappearing, etc.

    It is a myth that "leadership positions" are either required or desired. A college campus is a complex place and requires all sorts of skills, talents, wiring. You will meet the extroverts when you visit- because that's who volunteers to conduct tours, host prospective applicants for overnights, work the desk at the welcome center. Those are things that extroverts who love their school love to do. You'll need to do a deeper dive to see the invisible hands and brains who are doing everything else.

    I have a family member who recently graduated from the HYP which is rumored to only love the aggressive over-achiever, starting non-profits, chairing committees, exhorting the town council to move to sustainable practices for garbage collection.... plus winning every debate or competition that he/she ever engaged in.

    This person- a true, deep intellect (in the 19th century mode of an intellectual) has never joined a single club, chaired a single committee, led a single project. True intellectual and deeply introverted; prefers quiet to hub-bub, and happiest reading a book or strolling a museum.

    There is a place for this type of personality as well. But the academic chops come first- nobody is getting into Williams just because they were elected class president, but never getting elected to anything won't keep you out.
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  • happy1happy1 23831 replies2384 threads Super Moderator
    edited May 21
    The lack of leadership roles may imact your D at the very tippy top schools where having strong academics just gets you past the first hurdle -- it is hard to know. But with her profile many many colleges would be happy to have her. Also just so you know -- anything she might do outside of school (part time job, babysitting, volunteering at church/temple/library etc.) also counts as an EC.

    My S was an introvert and I think he got into the exact group of colleges he should have (he was not aiming for super elite colleges). He found activities that he enjoyed and while he did not have a "leadership position" he was recognized in other ways.

    For example he was part of the AV club filming school activities, meetings etc. and while he refused to run for an office he got an award for being their most reliable member. His other main activity was helping disabled children/men/women learn to swim (outside of the school) which he did every Sat. for three years. His college essay was about overcoming his own fear of swimming and how that led him to want to help others.

    As an aside, it is also important to choose teacher LOR writers carefully -- I think my S's LORs spoke about his academic strengths and how he became a more confident/outgoing student as the year went on.

    Like everyone else your D should work to create a college list that has reach, match, and safety schools that appear affordable and that she would be excited to attend. If possible it is helpful to apply to a couple of non-binding EA or rolling schools to hopefully get an acceptance or two in by December -- that takes pressure off the whole process.
    edited May 21
    Post edited by happy1 on
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  • TigerInWinterTigerInWinter 83 replies0 threads Junior Member
    A teacher who wrote a letter of recommendation for one of my kids happened to be the advisor for my kid's primary extracurricular activity. The teacher told us later that she emphasized in her letter how much my kid (who was introverted and wasn't an officer) led by example. I don't know how much weight colleges gave to that, but it made us feel better that such "unofficial" leadership was documented in my kid's college application.
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  • songbirdmamasongbirdmama 480 replies23 threads Member
    edited May 21
    I am relieved to hear so many positive anecdotes. D has other achievements that match the kind of things you describe, and it sounds like writing a good and honest essay can go a long way to clue in the admissions committee to what a student can contribute to a particular learning environment. She also has a long list of "sweet spot" and "safety" schools, but with her grades and scores, I won't discourage her from applying to a couple of those reaches.
    edited May 21
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  • PrdMomto1PrdMomto1 505 replies7 threads Member
    I am relieved to hear so many positive anecdotes. D has other achievements that match the kind of things you describe, and it sounds like writing a good and honest essay can go a long way to clue in the admissions committee to what a student can contribute to a particular learning environment. She also has a long list of "sweet spot" and "safety" schools, but with her grades and scores, I won't discourage her from applying to a couple of those reaches.

    Yes, essays and recommendation letters are great ways for students to really let admissions folks know a little about them beyond what they see in the rest of the application.
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  • compmomcompmom 11570 replies81 threads Senior Member
    I really liked the post by @blossom . I had a couple of kids at top schools, and neither had conventional leadership positions within their high schools, nor did many others we knew who went to their chosen schools.

    I would encourage your daughter to continue to explore interests and talents, as she is doing, without regard to college admissions. By all means provide- or she can seek-enriching activities within or outside of school to support those interests and talents.

    Selective schools want an interesting mix in their classes. It is really about how an applicant can contribute to that mix. I also think authenticity shines through. Your daughter sounds like she will have some great opportunities.
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  • itsgettingreal21itsgettingreal21 319 replies5 threads Member
    There will definitely be certain opportunities that value extroverts more, but most are truly holistic and looking for a mix and well balanced class. My D was like yours. While she didn’t apply to the schools you are considering, she did apply to many competitive full ride scholarships and definitely noticed that some preferred the extroverts (she did not win a single one of those; lost them all at the interview stage). It was their loss. Being an introvert can be a struggle, but introverts make great leaders once they find their interests. They just have to avoid the popularity contests.
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  • retiredfarmerretiredfarmer 1226 replies3 threads Senior Member
    Many of the best teachers are ceaseless optimists who have developed a special toolkit to devise the "key" that works. I remember one legendary math teacher at my university who was widely sought after by very advanced students from everywhere during summer break. These were bright students looking for a better understanding. He had the keys!

    In today's STEM world, products are very sophisticated and require multidisciplinary team members to communicate effectively . One does not need to be an extrovert, but does need to develop self confidence in their verbal communications. Extroverted cheerleaders can also be more of a distraction from than a solution to a problem.

    Let"s hear it for the bright introverts, but give them the tools and experience they need to apply their skills.

    Many years ago I was sitting in a room full of faculty who were tongue tied at a pivotal point in the meeting. The most knowledgeable experts in the room sat quietly as an ill informed speaker attacked an important aspect of the million dollar study. These knowledgeable introverts needed the confidence and skills to civilly answer the challenge. This experience taught me that introverts can do this with practice. It is a valuable part of the educational process.

    Years later I was speaking to a large group of prospective STEM students and their parents at Bell Labs in NJ. Two proud parents where hoping to send there son to study STEM as they felt he was too introverted to speak out himself. They had this picture of Stephen Hawking and other scientists who, they believed, just emulated answers from a deep will of knowledge. Little did they know about how hard he, and yes Einstein, actually worked to communicate effectively. Communication is a very necessary skill... even in the STEM world.

    Never forget that Einstein was tutored in math! ( I am not sure, but I think it was initially by his wife!)

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  • 1Lotus1Lotus 250 replies15 threads Junior Member
    Parent of 2 introverts here...one on the autism spectrum. Usually their quiet nature would come up at conferences. Late elementary/middle school ages, I read the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain and it gave me a lot of perspective on introverts and I have often used what I learned to gently defend them. I have suggested teachers read the book. It gave me the confidence that it is ok to be an introvert!
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  • LindagafLindagaf 10522 replies581 threads Super Moderator
    edited May 22
    @songbirdmama , my D, a soon to be college grad, was similar to the description you provide of your daughter. She had plenty of good choices for college, including a few very selective ones. I don’t think you should be too concerned. Your daughter does things and is clearly motivated and intelligent. She will probably mature in ways you have yet to imagine.

    Four years of college behind her, my own daughter has become a confident young woman with good friends. She has a great job lined up post-graduation. It took me about three years to understand that she would be okay, that she would find her feet and make her own path.

    Everything is clearer with hindsight, but I wish I could have seen then, when she was a junior in high school, what is so obvious now. Being an introvert is not a disadvantage, for the most part. Extroverts can screw up too. I think being a guiding influence is great, but allowing our kids to find their feet is crucial. I do think that helping my daughter find the best college for her was incredibly important. Some kids bloom where they are planted, and others bloom if they are planted in the right place.
    edited May 22
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  • Happytimes2001Happytimes2001 1988 replies14 threads Senior Member
    There is a great book on this topic Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking. It should be required reading ( especially by extroverts).
    There are many kids who fall into a rigid trap of thinking that leadership is being the Captain of the team or the Editor of the Yearbook. There are also introverts who are thought leaders and deep thinkers.
    I think the posts above are very informative. Yes, it may be easier for extroverts to sell themselves to a school. But colleges know that there are many valuable introverts as well. I'd second that having a strong recommendation is key. We've seen examples where there is a kid working the system and another more capable kid not pushing who is actually the better candidate. Sadly, the extrovert often wins the award. But not in all cases.
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