Having interviewed candidates for Yale, my alma mater, I’m often asked by parents and students how Global Leadership Adventures can enhance a college application. My standard response is to quote the Yale website: “Yalies set out to make our world better…We are looking for students…to become the leaders of their generation in whatever they wish to pursue.”
Great, but what in the world does that mean?! How do high school students become leaders and make the world better? Every year, parents and students misinterpret what colleges are looking for and invest time and energy into misguided pursuits.
While I don’t claim to know everything that happens in the admissions office, I’d like to dispel what I believe are three myths about college applications and summer programs.
Myth 1: Volunteering abroad helps you get into a good college
Simply volunteering abroad will not help you get into a good college. Rather, it’s what you learn that can make a difference. On a GLA program, you will volunteer in a developing country and experience a culture and lifestyle very different from your own in an authentic, non-touristy community. In that environment, GLA teaches you to reflect on your experience: How is this country different from yours? How can you connect your knowledge and talents to those in need? Where can your passion lead you? This level of experience and reflection helps you unlock your passions and generate plenty of talking points for college essays. That’s what colleges look for in a successful applicant.
Myth 2: Colleges define “leadership” as Student Council President, School Paper Editor, etc.
True, leadership is a key characteristic of the strongest applicants to top universities. But it’s not just about accumulating a laundry list of titles. It’s also about your level of maturity, the types of challenges you’ve faced, and a sustained commitment to helping others. GLA believes leaders are made, not born. Through group discussion, meaningful service, workshops, exposure to experts, and excursions, GLA students cultivate their leadership potential. They tackle tough questions, learn to welcome differing opinions, and begin affecting change within themselves their communities, and the world. That’s how colleges define leadership.
Myth 3: A so-so GPA or less-than-stellar SAT score will prevent you from getting into a good university.
Got some bad grades freshman year? Your GPA not quite where you want it to be? Don’t worry, all hope is not lost! There’s still time to turn things around. Colleges absolutely do look at academic achievement. However, they also want to see passion and a common thread that weaves throughout your application. My college roommate at Yale had a so-so GPA, but was admitted for his non-academic achievements.
Do you like biology and animals? Pursue that passion during the summer, whether it’s volunteering abroad to protect endangered species, starting an animal rights organization at school, or taking an advanced biology class at a local college. That’s a concrete step towards turning it around.
I hope you found these insights useful and I welcome your feedback, anytime!
Sincerely, Mike Shangkuan
Managing Director – Global Leadership Adventures
About the author: Mike Shangkuan graduated from Yale with a BA in Economics and received his MBA from the Harvard Business School. He is currently Managing Director of Global Leadership Adventures.