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Articles / Applying to College / What Qualifies as "Leadership" on College Applications

Nov. 5, 2010

What Qualifies as "Leadership" on College Applications

Question: What exactly is required for the leadership portion of the application? Is everyone expected to be an officer in a club, etc?

Admission officials don’t expect everyone to be a club officer or to hold any sort of elected position in or out of school, but they do want to give applicants a chance to point out that others (fellow students, teachers, administrators, etc.) have deemed them responsible and worthy of being in charge.


Students who have never headed a school group or who never captained a sports team may feel that they have no “leadership” posts to include on their applications. But, for college admission committees, leadership can take diverse forms – and not just the most obvious ones. For instance, I have advised students who have:

-been appointed managers, shift supervisors, etc. at their weekend, after-school, or summer jobs

-served as camp counselors or counselors-in-training

-spearheaded campaign efforts for a school, community, state, or even national election

-worked as babysitters in private homes, at their church or synagogue, etc.

-volunteered as peer mediators or mentors

-taught math, music, etc. to younger children

All of these duties require a form of “leadership.” You don’t have to be a student body president or Spanish Club secretary to qualify as a leader. Granted, some applicants really can’t come up with any leadership roles at all, and there’s no reason to force the issue. But, before leaving that section totally blank, all seniors should think hard about what they’ve accomplished and about those times when, perhaps almost unwittingly, they may have served as a leader, organizer, or role model for others.

(posted 11/04/10)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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