Subtle Leadership

This week Georgia Tech’s Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Dr. Paul Kohn, joins us on the blog. Welcome, Dr. Kohn!

Colleges want to enroll leaders: in how many ways are YOU a leader?

Traditionally, leadership is defined as both having a vision and the capacity to engage others in the pursuit of that vision. The persuasiveness of a person and the resonance of the idea or vision usually act like magnets, drawing others in a desired direction. Because leadership is contagious, colleges see leaders as contributors to the student body, campus culture, and the classroom, as well as potential contributors of ideas to make the world a better place. When an applicant combines leadership with a commitment to service, they may be considered a competitive candidate by the most selective institutions in higher education.Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts; it is about one life influencing another.

Some institutions clearly state their commitment to leadership and service, while for others it is a more subtle characteristic of the student body. In either case, leadership is likely to be a component of the application review process and admission criteria at many schools.

While there is a limit to how high test scores and grade point averages can climb, there are limitless ways in which leadership and service can manifest. And these attributes can manifest in ways you hopefully find enjoyable, which can feel satisfying in the midst of enduring high stakes testing, or reaching for perfect grades.

If you are on the verge of submitting your college applications, you may be concerned with your leadership resume. Maybe you worry you didn’t do enough… or you wish you could have done more. If so, how can you convince the university of your dreams that you WILL do more in the future?

The Range of Leadership

The range of leadership opportunities for high school students can be limited. For many students, leadership experiences are usually found within student clubs, or religious or athletic activities. However, if your circumstances have kept you from becoming captain of the _____ team or president of the _____ club, there may still be a wide range of experiences for you to highlight as examples of your leadership experience or potential.

You may need to look deeply for examples of subtle leadership, and the extent to which those can be seen as precursors of leadership potential in the future. Have you really captured all your leadership experience, or is some of it less obvious? Is some of your leadership experience atypical and not often cast as “leadership?” For example, a subtle way in which you may have demonstrated your ability to lead is by giving a voice to those who may have otherwise not been heard. Has your writing or public speaking reflected a commitment to helping people in this way?

Here are some other questions to consider:

  • Have you demonstrated and preached tolerance of divergent ideas and thoughts?
  • Have you helped a classmate accomplish a goal?
  • Have you helped members of your family through a difficult time?
  • When have you helped others know the path without literally ushering them down it?
  • Have you given a speech or written an op-ed piece about the benefits of voting or contributing to certain causes?

Truly examine your experiences and look for the times you inspired others, demonstrated good decisions, set an example of honesty and integrity, or showed commitment and passion for a goal. Look for moments in which you cooperated with others to achieve an outcome, or you displayed empathy for others.

Connecting Subtle Leadership to Your Application

I hope these examples will help you think differently about the experiences you’ve had through school, your work, your family, or your community. Using this lens, you may see a much larger number of examples demonstrating your leadership ability. In fact, there may be so many that you now need to sort out which are the worthiest to put forward in your college application. First, identify the ones which mean the most to you. Then, consider which ones hint at the ways you will get involved during your college years and possibly beyond.

Leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example.If you’ve done your research about the colleges to which you are applying, you should have a sense of the campus culture. Where does your sense of that campus ethos intersect with the leadership experiences you have now uncovered?

For example, a student who did a notable science fair project about recycling might connect the dots to a campus-wide emphasis on sustainability. This student might describe the influence their project had on the behavior of their family or classmates and couple that to their intent to participate in the college’s campaign to reduce waste or become more energy efficient. If this student were planning to major in environmental studies, the intersection works even better at building the case that the applicant has shown leadership potential, has researched the college, is committed to the idea, and plans to devote time beyond the classroom to this interest.

Highlighting your past actions can show an admission staffer you are committed to improving the world, your school, your class, or your family. All of these should be evident in the ways you have spent your time and the ways you think about your future. Hopefully you’ve strived to set a good example for others to follow—and that is leadership.

Dr. Paul Kohn joined the Georgia Institute of Technology in August 2010, coming from the University of Arizona, where he was Dean of Admissions and Vice President for Enrollment Management. As Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Dr. Kohn oversees Undergraduate Admission, Financial Aid, Scholarships, Registrar, and Strategy and Enrollment Planning. Dr. Kohn serves as Chair of the Student Information System (SIS) Governance Committee, served on the Strategic Technology Initiatives Committee and sits on the SIS-Planning Committee and Technology Governance Steering Committee. Dr. Kohn also serves as the Institute’s representative on the University System of Georgia’s Enrollment Management Administrative Committee.

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Author: Rick Clark

@gtadmission