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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

We DO Want Well-Rounded Students...But Not in the Way You Think

The first time I heard the phrase "well-rounded," I was in high school and even though that was a long time ago, I thought about it in the same context that many people use today. I thought about showing my well-roundedness through activities. While there were students whose extracurricular involvement was purely driven by their interests, many of us assembled lists that we thought broadcast variety. There was this perception that to be considered well-rounded, you need to cover certain bases: athletics, arts, academics, service, leadership, etc. I was so nervous about this that even though I didn't couldn't handle Model UN along with my other activities (pre-internet, being in Model UN required a mountain of work), I stayed in it out of fear that I needed it to look well-rounded.

Perhaps my experience is why I've always spent a good amount of time explaining that we don't have a checklist when it comes to activities and that everyone doesn't have to be well-rounded. After all, the incoming class of 3,800 students will be well-rounded. We don't have to engineer that. It just happens.

That being said, the "well-rounded" idea does apply in our academics. In recent years, I've had more students articulate a feeling that they should be specializing in a certain academic field of interest. They think it will "look good" to show a focus in one subject...and they're dropping core subjects to do that.

High school is the time to build a great foundation. College is where you solidify that foundation and then leap into specialization. We want you to have a well-rounded academic foundation so you can go any direction once your get to college.  Dropping core classes in high school to load up in an area of interest isn't necessarily going to "look good" to admission officers.

I'm not talking about magnet or governor's school programs. In my experience, those allow for deep work in certain disciplines without sacrificing work in other core subjects.

By the way, the vast majority of UVA students don't declare a major until they've been here for a year (Schools of Engineering and Architecture) or two (College of Arts and Sciences). If you think you know what you want right now, be aware that you might change your mind. It's really common!