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5 Tips to Help Introverts Succeed In and Outside of the Classroom

For many students, the thought of becoming President of Model United Nations is a terrifying prospect, to say the least. What if you genuinely prefer quiet hours spent writing or sketching to campaigning door-to-door for a position in student government? While our culture might lead you to believe that “quiet” activities like these are not ideal for a student who is interested in applying to competitive colleges, Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, argues that introverts have something special to bring to the table.

“It feels like if you’re not the editor of the paper, president of the student body, or captain of the soccer team then nothing else counts because that’s what high school culture tells you,” Cain said in an interview with David Cutler of Spin Education. “But that’s not really true from a college admissions point of view. They might actually be more interested in the kid who is excelling in less common activities. It makes you seem more distinct and more individual.”

So, if you tend to fall on the introverted side of the spectrum, how should you go about developing these “quiet,” less common activities for your college application?

1. Practice…whatever it is you’re passionate about

The answer is simple: practice. Whether you love to play the piano, paint, write poetry or code, take the time to hone your craft. This will not only help you to develop discipline, but also will showcase to admissions officers the same determination and dedication that it takes to become president/leader/etc. of a school organization.

So, develop a strategy to practice consistently, whether you put aside specific hours each week or set daily reminders on your phone. If you’ve found something that you’re truly passionate about, then practicing shouldn’t feel like a chore. And even if it still does, start small and set goals for yourself to keep motivated.

2. Put your work out there

Now that you’ve practiced, practiced, practiced, you probably have a collection of work that you’re quite proud of! But maybe you don’t feel comfortable getting up on stage and reciting your latest lyrics at your school’s annual poetry slam. Don’t worry — there are plenty of other ways to put your work out there.

Why not submit your latest short story or op-ed piece to a local magazine or writing competition? Or offer to draw the t-shirt design for an event at your school? Opportunities like this will not only show off your talents, but will also demonstrate to admissions committees that you’re willing to take initiative and get involved, even if it’s behind the scenes.  

3. Engage academically

Introverted students are sometimes misperceived by their teachers as disinterested because they tend to participate less in class discussions, which could negatively impact participation grades or even letters of recommendations, which can play a huge role in the college admissions process. Even if you don’t feel comfortable being the most outspoken one in class debates, it’s important to demonstrate to your teachers that you’re genuinely interested in the material and not just showing up to class because you have to. But how else can you do this apart from speaking up?

Well, in addition to submitting thoughtfully completed assignments, introverts can schedule time with their teachers to ask questions and speak privately about class material. Or you could seek out research opportunities to show genuine interest and get involved outside of the classroom. Though speaking in front of groups is something that everyone should learn to feel comfortable doing to some extent, there are plenty of other ways to demonstrate to admissions officers that you are willing to engage academically.

4. Make an impact

Regardless of whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, all students should be aiming to make an impact in their communities. However, as an introvert, taking charge of a community service initiative or interacting with people you don’t know might feel intimidating. But there are plenty of ways to contribute that are behind the scenes…  

Consider organizing a clothing or food drive. Or cooking regularly for a local shelter or religious organization. You could even volunteer to write for a cause, as many charitable organizations and nonprofits are understaffed and need help sending emails and newsletters. Colleges and universities simply want to see that you’re interested in giving back and contributing to your community. How you go about making said impact is less important!

5. Share your experience

Many students worry that they need to travel somewhere internationally for a service project or win numerous first prize trophies in their respective activities in order to write an effective college essay. But WHAT you’ve done is actually far less important than HOW you present the experiences that you’ve had. Maybe there’s something unique about your journey of learning to play the violin that you could share. Or maybe you translated a poem that led to a process of self-discovery that you could write about (here’s a fun little brainstorming exercise for helping you identify these unique elements).

Moments of personal development don’t have to occur while “leading a team,” and there’s no shame in sharing a private moment of introspection in your personal statement. In fact, as Susan Cain suggests above, these unique experiences will probably come as a breath of fresh air to admissions committees, who have read tons of essays about typical examples of leadership.


About Anna Carapellotti

As the Senior Editor at Admissionado, Anna works with students every day to help them express their most unique stories in their college essays. When she’s not editing applications, you’ll most likely find this University of Pennsylvania graduate translating poetry, practicing yoga or teaching ballet.

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