Next year my final child will be applying to college. Having two older siblings, she is well coached in the application process and the necessity to include leadership positions. However, as her high school years have passed, she has come to the realization that there are 500+ students seeking leadership roles, and this might not be as easy to achieve as she anticipated. She has also observed that some students in leadership roles resemble nothing of the sort! What is fueling this frenzy for leadership experience? As soon as students enter high school, their parents, guidance counselors, and teachers start preaching about being sure they become leaders of a club, organization, or team in order to put it on their college applications. They impress upon students that colleges do not just want to see students as active members in clubs, but they are looking for them to have taken on some sort of leadership role. In fact, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton list leadership as being a top desirable quality of all candidates. However, in his work Rethinking Followership, Kelley makes a good point that “being a strong #2 often allowed for greater contributions than being in the #1 spot and that making the assist was just as important as making the score.” (Kelley, 6) After all, “conversations about leadership need to include followership because leaders neither exist nor act in a vacuum without followers.” (Kelley, 5) So do college applications ask for examples of star followership? According to Kelley, “College applications ask for examples of leadership, but not of followership. It would be an unusual kid who would take the risk to extol followership qualities and the even more unusual admissions officer who would reward it.” (Kelley, 12) Tara Burton seems to hit the nail on the head when she wonders if by asking for “natural leaders” colleges are disregarding students that are “natural followers,” “natural team players,” or “natural lone wolves.” (Burton) Are these other types of applicants less desirable students because of their lack of leadership qualities? Burton closes with two very thought provoking questions. She asks, “Do we need a graduating class full of leaders? Or should schools actively seek out diversity in interpersonal approaches- as they do in everything else?” (Burton) While admissions are starting to question the validity of the SAT score as a predictor for success in college, maybe they should also be reevaluating the concept of “Leaders Only”. It might be time for an overhaul.
Burton, T. (2014, January 22). Why Are American Colleges Obsessed With ‘Leadership’? Retrieved October 4, 2015.
Kelley, Robert E. (2008) Rethinking Followership (The Art of Followership). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.