Selective colleges like specialists, but do you know what a specialist is?

Post By: COYD Staff

Student leadershipStudents get really discouraged when they hear from college counselors that the most selective colleges only want students who are the nation’s leaders in one particular activity, subject or sport. They say colleges want specialists, not generalists. To an extent, I agree with this theory but I think this theory is easily misunderstood. When students hear specialists, they think they have to be the next “2010 chess champion of the Midwest” or “Inventor of the Year”. So if they don’t possess one of these titles, they feel defeated. What they don’t understand is they probably have what it takes to be a specialist. They just don’t know it yet.

To illustrate this point, I want to refer to Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. In one section of the book, Gladwell talks about the Law of the Few. In the Law of the Few, Gladwell states that “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” If you look at that statement, we see that Gladwell identifies these people as those who have a “particular and rare set of social gifts”. These people sound like specialists to me. If we read further, he describes these 3 types of people. They are named Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.**

Connectors are people who “link us up with the world…people with a special gift for bringing the world together.” They are “a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances.”

Mavens are information specialists. People we rely upon to connect us with new information. They are obsessed information collectors who have a strong desire to be of service and influence. They enjoy sharing this wealth of information with other people.

Salesmen are negotiators or persuaders. They are charismatic people who are excellent negotiators. They can basically sell ice to an eskimo.

Gladwell tell us that each of them is equally important and each of them possesses a rare set of social gifts. When you look at these 3 types of people, you don’t see traditional specialists. These people probably aren’t chess champions or nationally ranked athletes or nationally ranked scientists yet Gladwell identifies them as those who possess rare gifts and those who can cause a social epidemic, a tipping point.

So even though you might not be the track champion of your state of Texas, you can be the “Salesmen” that leads the fund-raising efforts for a new race that raises money for diabetes in your city.

Colleges want to see leadership on your application but remember, leadership and specialists come in different shapes and sizes. With hard work, dedication and self awareness, I believe every student has the potential to be an excellent leader and specialist in their own way.

**Gladwell, Malcom. “The Tipping Point”


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