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Can introverts go to college?

I’m an introvert with average grades who sucks at sports. What can I put on my college resume?

Our elder serves up a ton of ideas, and loads of encouragement. You’ve got this!

Dear EWC

Hello, I am a 15-year-old in school. I am currently thinking about colleges, and I realized that I’m quite average, with average grades, minimal volunteering, and almost no leadership work. I can’t do leadership in school, because leadership roles are chosen by the teachers and they usually pick students with good grades and don’t want to give others with poor or average grades a chance. I suggested it several times to the teachers to pick a wider range of students, but none of them would budge. I want to get into a better college, since my parents both went to good schools, have had the same expectations for me. However, at this rate, the best school I’ll be going to is a community college. I’m an introvert who likes keeping to myself and I’m also painfully shy and don’t really talk to anyone else other than my friends and family. I tried sports, but I’m not very good at that, no matter how hard I tried. I’m average at art, music and creative writing. I really want to improve my social skills to be able to put into a college resume. Any ideas? Thanks

Willow replies

Before we start chatting, let me first say how impressed I was when I read your letter. Even though you are only 15 you are thinking ahead and planning for the college application process already. Thinking things through and taking the time to develop a plan is pretty common for people who describe themselves as introverts, and by doing this in advance you’ve given yourself a head start that many of your more extroverted classmates don’t have. Good for you!

Since you’ve mentioned things you’ve considered at school let’s talk about those first. Everyone has strengths; sometimes it’s a question of figuring out a way to put them to work in a way that works for you. For example, you write you’re not very good at sports, but that’s a very general statement. How many sports have you actually tried, and how long did you stick with them? Let’s look at sports another way. Maybe you’ve tried playing big team sports and they aren’t for you. Fair enough. Have you considered more solitary sports, like cross-country, golf or tennis? You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to participate in a high school sport, so please consider you might have better skills at something than you give yourself credit for. My guess is that every high school sports team has members whose abilities in the sport cover a wide range. Focus on sports you love and consider giving one or more another try. Even if you conclude that participating as an athlete isn’t where your skills lie, many schools also use students in support roles for their sports teams. You might consider volunteering as a scorekeeper, an equipment manager, line judge or some other non-athletic role to get involved.

You’ve also written that you’re average at art, music and creative writing but let me ask you to think about where that perception came from. Are you basing it on school grades, a general feeling or judging yourself on some other criteria? The arts are highly subjective, and I urge you to cut yourself some slack. Maybe a particular teacher didn’t award your drawing or short story with a good grade, but maybe that was just a function of their particular taste. Don’t take another person’s opinion and believe that opinion must be true. In the world of art, Picasso and Van Gogh were routinely criticized; in literature, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and even Dr. Seuss could not find publishers. In music, the same problem was faced by greats like The Beatles and Elvis Presley. In their day, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein faced rejection of their work. The point is to follow your passion, and if it’s in the arts keep creating. There will be an audience for your work. You might be surprised to see some more famous names who were told they weren’t that good. Thank goodness they didn’t listen and persevered! Take a look.

While you do that, though, how do you involve yourself in things in time for college applications? Again, consider a support role in school clubs or activities. Join the school paper and get involved in photography, or in typing and organizing the articles so the paper looks great. Does your school have a theater group? You don’t have to get involved as an actor, but there is plenty to do backstage with costumes, building and painting scenery, lighting and a thousand other solitary tasks required to put on a show. If there is a teacher in your school you feel close to and who manages a school club, talk to him or her about where you might fit in. Many schools have small clubs that are involved in community service or specific causes, and if there is a cause that resonates with you one of these small groups might be a great match. Talk to a friend about joining these or similar activities with you. If your strengths are in science or math, consider clubs like robotics.

Your letter focuses on extracurriculars at school, but what about activities in your community, outside of school? Your volunteer or extracurricular activities don’t need to be school-related to look great on a college application. I don’t know where you are located, but in every place I’ve ever lived, there have been organizations that desperately need volunteers. Community-based sports leagues (like Little League baseball, softball, etc.) might need umpires, assistant coaches or other assistance. Organizations like 4H have many small clubs that appeal to a wide variety of interests. Nursing homes often welcome young people into chat one-on-one with residents who otherwise would not have visitors. Libraries that offer storytime to young children might be looking for readers, as might organizations that help the blind. Animal shelters often need helpers. If you belong to a church or other faith community speak to your religious leader; he or she might need help with activities or projects in the organization’s meeting place. If you’re into writing, enter essay or poetry contests outside of school. If programming is your strength there are contests for that, too. Charities may be looking for people to collect donations or raise funds. I am attaching a link here that has many other ideas. All could be placed on a college resume.

I would also recommend that you consider finding a job next summer. Work experience is also part of a college application, and the experience of working, sticking to a schedule and earning your own money will give you valuable life experience. You might need to focus on your academics and the other activities we’ve already discussed during the school year, but having summer employment – office work, lifeguarding, working in a local park, etc. – will illustrate your work ethic and help you in many other ways. Again, focus on jobs that are more individual rather than putting yourself in large groups.
I know you have described yourself as an introvert and someone who is painfully shy, and I understand that. I’ve been there. But in my experience, the best way to deal with that is to put yourself out there and take that first step. I don’t mean you need to try and force yourself to become an extrovert! But you clearly understand your own strengths, weaknesses and personality type. In my opinion, getting involved with activities where you aren’t dealing with big, loud groups of people but are able to use your strengths to benefit others as well as yourself will get you where you need to be for those college applications. Nobody said it will be easy but once you have taken that first step, you’ve accomplished the hardest part.

And please don’t dismiss the idea of a community college for your first two years of college. Many students choose to take that route today because it’s a great way to get courses required by most four-year schools out of the way at a much less expensive price. It also gives you more time to improve your GPA, think about what your passions are and decide what you would like to pursue before you transfer to a four-year university. When your parents (and I) went to college, community colleges weren’t as common as they are now. College costs were much lower, so going directly to a four-year school was the norm. Things have changed, and many students today purposely choose community college first for the reasons we’ve already discussed. Please don’t try to follow the route your parents took if it isn’t the right route for you. Today there is more than one way to earn that college degree and you will realize the best experience by following your own path.

I’m going to suggest a book you might like to read to give you some more perspective on all of this. It’s by Susan Cain and is geared specifically toward introverted teenagers. It’s called Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts.
In general, colleges are not looking for straight-A students with nothing else to offer. Rather, they are looking for students who are well-rounded and will be able to contribute to the campus community. There are over 4,700 two- and four-year colleges in the US alone, and plenty of the thousands of students accepted to college every year have what you describe as “average” grades. The key is to differentiate yourself in some way, and you are very smart to realize this early enough to do something about gaining the experiences you need to make your eventual applications stand out. I hope you will consider a few of the ideas in this letter and the attached links. Talk to your teachers and guidance counselor who know you best and ask for their help and suggestions. Act now, at the start of this school year, as that’s when it’s easiest to start with any new activity.
I hope you have found something helpful in this letter. I will be thinking of you and know you will be successful. Good luck. I’m rooting for you!

Letter #: 445466
Category: School

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