When you visit colleges, both online and on-campus, read college guides and attend college nights at your high school, you’ll often hear that college admissions officers like to see “leadership” in your application. What exactly does “leadership” refer to? And why do colleges and universities like to see that on your application?

Leadership can take many forms. Some types of leadership are more obvious than others, including:

  • Titled positions in a school club, such as President, Vice President, Secretary or Treasurer. Additionally, there could also be more specific roles, such as External Secretary or Communications Chair.
  • Captain of an athletics, debate or quiz bowl team. Captains usually are voted in, or selected, in the junior or senior year of high school.
  • Editor of a school newspaper, yearbook, magazine or literary journal. Note that you don’t have to be the Editor-in-Chief, though that’s an impressive title. You can also be a copy editor, section editor, sports editor, business editor or photography editor. 
  • Founder of an organization. If you are ambitious and want to create a new organization or program at your school or in your community, you should consider founding one.

Non-traditional titles – ones that you might not have considered leadership roles – could include coach, mentor, tutor, referee/umpire, or student ambassador.

Now that you see all sorts of titles, and not just the obvious ones, can be considered leadership roles, have you ever wondered why colleges and universities like to see applicants in these positions?

A club leader is one who will: organize and execute activities; interact regularly with other members of the Executive Board; plan events; stage elections for future leaders; and work closely with the faculty or staff advisor(s). A captain is someone who will: run practices and drills; liaise with the coaching staff; lead on the field, moot court, swimming pool or other setting; and set an example of sportsmanship and teamwork. An editor: manages others; meets deadlines; and brings together various ideas and opinions to create a cohesive product.

Universities have dozens, if not hundreds, of clubs and organizations – they need to be filled with engaged college students, and these clubs all need to be led so that they can continue. More importantly, though, leadership connotes dedication, determination, commitment and continuity. Leadership also allows applicants to demonstrate public speaking skills, ambition and maturity

You don’t need to be a leader in everything you do in high school. Colleges don’t want nor expect that! But if you are very involved with even one or perhaps two of your extracurricular pursuits, consider a leadership position. And if you think that leadership roles are just for extroverts, think again – a one-on-one tutor, peer advisor or mentor is equally impressive and valuable to universities.

Finally, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting involved with some activities in Grades 9 or 10 so that you can become a leader by the time you get to Grade 11 or 12. In the end, you’ll be grateful for the leadership experience, and it could someday lead to more visible leadership opportunities in your career.

About the author
Stephen Friedfeld

Stephen is the co-founder and COO of AcceptU. He received a BA from Cornell University, an MA from Columbia University Teachers College, and a Ph.D. from Rice University. Prior to founding AcceptU, Stephen was an Assistant Dean of admissions at Cornell for four years and an Associate Dean of graduate admissions at Princeton University for six years. Stephen is an IECA Associate Member.

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