In today’s competitive university admissions market, where every student is putting forward top grades to highly selective institutions, a well-developed student profile can be the difference for holistic admissions. The approach to developing one’s student profile has historically focused on being a well-rounded individual with interests and experiences in a wide range of areas. Though being well-rounded is commendable and can develop strong character, for highly selective admissions, it is not always enough.  So how then do students differentiate themselves within the college application process when everyone appears to be high-achieving and well-rounded? 

The ‘pointed’ applicant is a term being used more commonly within the context of holistic admissions. This word ‘pointed’ is used to describe individuals who have developed their interests and invested their time in a significant area – they have extended high into their ‘point’ or more specifically, their area of interest.  They have connected their learning and their extracurricular activities through a common thread and in doing so they have demonstrated to a university their potential direction and the type of student they could be within and beyond their postsecondary community.

Consider the example of a student who loves football (soccer). This person may play for their school team, a community or club team and perhaps even for their national team.  Their involvement may then extend beyond competition – they may also coach younger or underprivileged children how to play the sport or perhaps through a service organization they help raise funds to send dozens of soccer balls to a developing region or maybe they help to oversee the conversion of a pitch in an underserved community.  This individual may have also used their EE in History to write about a historical event or person who evolved the sport. This student, with a deep passion for football, has revolved other areas of their life around this sport in ways that enhance their learning and interest in subjects that may not be directly related. 

Though the pointed candidate’s interest does not always have to be related to the university program to which they are applying, if there is a connection, it can be helpful to demonstrate one’s understanding of and passion for further studies. In other words, a developed student profile can provide evidence for the best fit of a student to a particular program and vice versa.

Take a student who is applying to Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) as an example.  If they have studied Business or Economics within the IBDP, they could use their Internal Assessments (major IBDP assignments) or their IBDP Extended Essay to examine the minimum wage ordinance in Hong Kong. This individual can now articulate authentically about how they will further their knowledge within upper year courses in ILR , such as Labor and Employment Law. Perhaps this individual has volunteered their time with NGOs or charities in support of Foreign Domestic Workers in Hong Kong and can demonstrate a genuine interest in and connection to university courses that focus on Immigrant Worker Rights.

For this approach to be successful, however, eager students or parents cannot start with the end in mind. One cannot decide which school or program they wish to attend and then work backwards to develop their own or their child’s profile.  Developing a pointed interest has to happen organically; this isn’t to say that parents sit back to let nature take its course, but it has to be child driven – an intrinsic and self-motivated passion.  Why, you ask? How will they know? The savvy admissions readers who work at these institutions are acutely attuned to the written voice of the teenage applicant.  For a well-developed profile to carry any weight it not only has to show commitment and leadership, but more importantly it has to display at best, passion, and at least, true enjoyment – what they are looking for is genuine engagement and authenticity. 

So what can you as parents do to help your child develop their profile? Firstly, where possible, expose your child to a wide array of activities in their earlier years and encourage a balance between extracurricular activities and school learning.  Let your child guide this development. Please do not try to anticipate what admissions representatives or a particular institution may be looking for when considering your child’s profile.  As the parent, observe them carefully during activities, their body language and facial expression; watch for what motivates them and makes them feel empowered; listen to what they are saying about different activities and note what they are reading, and what they are caring about. What do they want to tell you about at the end of each day?  Then, where possible, offer them, or better yet, help them to find resources or opportunities to develop in these areas.

It is also important to take stock of yourself as the parent within this process: if you begin to take more interest than your child does or you find yourself working harder than them or if each interaction around the activity becomes a battleground, this may not be their pointed interest. 

Seeing that fire or desire drive your child and watching them flourish and thrive through their personal development, extracurricular activities and academics are the true rewards for a well-developed profile.  This effort being noted by a university admissions representative should only be the icing on what is already a very delicious cake. 

To read more about what selective universities say they are looking for in a student profile, please check out these suggestions from Harvard College and The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania.