In a recent op-ed, Washington Post writer Jonathan Zimmerman reflected on the current news making headlines in higher ed this summer. With Harvard and other elite universities under international scrutiny for allegedly discriminating against students of Asian descent, students and their parents around the world are on edge about how to gain an edge–and what to avoid in order to stay out of the ever-thickening “no” pile. According to Zimmerman, one of those damning traits just might be introversion.
Would you rather stay in on Saturday night and read Pride and Prejudice while snuggled up with the cat? Do you write phenomenal essays but shy away from speaking up in class? If so, you just might be an introvert, and according to Zimmerman’s logic, this could be a problem. The argument goes something like this: introverts are less likely to take up the sorts of endeavors that elite college adcoms register as indicative of leadership ability. While the quiet math geek might have real intellectual prowess, the kid who has the charm and confidence to talk to potential customers and grow his own business is more visibly driven. The more extroverted student wins out not because he is more talented but because his skills are more easily demonstrated and interpreted by admissions officers.
To be clear, we don’t think this is a good thing. If colleges really want to cultivate student bodies with diverse interests, talents, and perspectives, then it only makes sense to admit students who do and see things a little differently than your average class president. But change takes time, and introverted students should not rely on admissions officers to see their value without conscientiously packaging their abilities and interests in a language that adcoms can understand.
To that end, it is difficult but not impossible to demonstrate leadership potential as an introverted student. Instead of leading dozens of volunteers or running for the executive board of every club, politically-minded introverts, for example, can help write a proposal for a new bill. An artist might solicit submissions from other students and put together a magazine. A budding scientist might apply research done in a lab to combat deforestation in the local community.
As you can see, introverts are replete with opportunities to stand out, despite an admissions process that may be rigged in favor of their more extroverted peers. It might take a bit of extra work, but you can be true to who you are while also winning the admissions game.