It is the one of the most confounding questions in college admissions these days; is it better to be a well-rounded applicant? Or to have a focus in one area? Should I play a varsity sport, have numerous distinctions concerning my musicianship, and have state level awards in club X? Or should I be editor-in-chief of the school paper, enter (and win) a myriad of writing contests, and work on publishing a novel?
Some say that colleges search for a well-rounded student body, but not well-rounded students. In other words, they look to create diversity by having students who excel in different areas, rather than having everyone pretty good at everything. But what colleges show a slight (and unfounded) preference for should not be taken as a ticket in.
The real question is: what is easier? To be well-rounded, or focused?
Well-rounded students divert large amounts of energy to vastly different pursuits. This energy usually does not build on itself; what are the chances that something at basketball practice will help with something that’s happening in debate team? Nevertheless, the time investments to be “good” in different areas is enormous.
Despite the time commitment, being “well-rounded” leaves the student with a bland list of disparate activities on their application that will not be impressive to anyone.*
In contrast, a student with focused extracurricular pursuits will have their spent energy build on itself. To use the writer example from above, articles written for the school newspaper could be submitted to student journalist contests. Contacts made through the position of editor-in-chief may prove to be useful when looking to publish a book.
After a while, all of the time that the student-writer has put in will begin to create results that could not be had if the student diverted energy to other pursuits. The end result creates an applicant who is just as (if not more) interesting and accomplished than their well-rounded competition. Despite their equal impressiveness, the focused student will have invested much less time to accomplish the same stature when compared to the well-rounded student.
If you are naturally a well-rounded person, and can easily handle large time investments, that’s fine; just don’t expect admissions to be blown away by an unoriginal list of sports/arts/club involvement.
In the end, being a student with focused extracurricular activities allows for uniqueness with a smaller time investment that is simply not possible for a well-rounded applicant. You’ll have plenty of extra time to do things such as self-studying an AP test, or to just devote toward having fun.