Well-Rounded vs Spike: What do Colleges Prefer?

Are you confused about whether to become a well-rounded student or to be an individual with a spike? What do colleges look for – well-rounded or spike? Let’s try to understand this in detail.

Well-Rounded vs Spike – What do College Prefer

Co-authored by Sujoy Sengupta and Maitrayan Bera

Who are Well-Rounded Students?

The students who have obtained fair scores in their subjects and are involved in many extra-curricular activities, or clubs but lack in-depth knowledge in any of the extra-curricular activities can be termed as well-rounded students. Read how colleges look at extracurricular activities.

Students with a Spike or Angular Student

The students who have secured decent grades and scores in all of their subjects and acquired skills at a world-class level in a particular extra-curricular activity or area can be called spike students.

What exactly is a Spike?

Elite Schools requires its students to have good scores in every subject but it also demands students to have one focus area in extracurriculars where they excel no matter what, or as they like to call it, a ‘spike’.

well-rounded vs spike

Ivy and elite colleges want students with “spikes,” not “spheres”. Students who poke and prod and create change and achieve greatness, not students who are merely good at most things they do.

Having a single focus is extremely crucial to getting into these kinds of schools. Ivy League Schools are certainly not very much into students who are ok in everything.

They would rather look for something that you’re especially good at. Something that makes you indispensable in a certain field. That shall be your spike.

Spike is necessary for you to even be considered for these schools or universities.

The myth around Well-Rounded vs Spike

At highly-selective colleges, the amount of qualified applicants far exceeds the number of available spots. This is where the concept of holistic review plays a vital role.

Schools that employ a holistic admissions process consider a variety of factors such as extracurricular activities, essays, interviews, and letters of recommendation in addition to your transcript and test scores.

Most students aiming for top schools make the huge mistake of trying to be “well-rounded.” However, the reality is that the majority of colleges look for well-rounded classes and not always well-rounded students.

To have a well-rounded class, they have to admit individual students who are great at 1-2 things (and also have super grades/stats).

Example of a Well-Rounded Class

For example, one class full of Harvard students could include: The Writer with a New York Times bestseller, The Musician who is in a prestigious student orchestra (or something like that), The Science whiz who has published a research paper, The Techy/CS genius who has developed popular apps, The Social Activist who has their own organization. But they are not looking for individual students who can do all of these things, because most likely they will be mediocre or just “good”.

Selective Schools

A typical student who wants to be well-rounded will try to demonstrate some competency in a variety of skills. S/he’ll learn an instrument, play a sport, aim for straight As, score high on standardized tests, volunteer for dozens of hours at a local charity or hospital, and participate in a few clubs.

But, this is wrong. Top colleges including Ivy & Elite colleges generally don’t see it this way.

In a way, a well-rounded student doesn’t do anything particularly well. S/he is not team captain of a national-ranking soccer team, head of a new statewide nonprofit, or concertmaster of a leading orchestra. This means that none of what they do is truly impressive.

Non-Selective Schools

If you want to go to a state school with a higher acceptance rate, then no. Spikes aren’t important. Having good grades and being “well-rounded” is important. But a spike can certainly help. But if you are hoping to attend any of the top 20 schools, then a spike is extremely important.

Advantages of Being a Well-Rounded Student

It will be wrong to say that a well-rounded student will not get admission to any college. They can pursue their education in less reputed or non-elite colleges or schools.

The well-rounded students remain involved in several activities and clubs which make them unable to focus on a particular subject or activity for a prolonged period of time. In fact, they participate in those activities in which they do not have any niche or passion.

Since well-rounded applicants do not show deep and sustained involvement and dedication in a particular field that the employers seek, they fail to produce any decent results if they get employed.

Advantages of Having a Spike

The number of students with good grades and test scores is huge which is far more than the seats available in top-ranking colleges. So, selective colleges or elite schools choose students who have decent scores in all their subjects and also have excelled in a particular activity in the extra-curricular field. The colleges call it a spike in that particular field.

Besides transcript and test scores these selective colleges also pay attention to extra-curricular activities, essays, interviews, and letters of recommendation of applicants for conducting admission. Ivy league schools choose students who are indispensable for a particular field.

Spike or pointy students concentrate on one particular activity whether it is a sport, social or cultural activity, or any idea. Spike or pointy students keep good grades and scores in all of their subjects and also master the skills in a particular extra-curricular activity that helps them to catch special attention while applying to a college.

How to Develop a Spike?

To develop a spike in a particular activity or area, a student first has to identify that area. After this, s/he should search and grab every opportunity to exercise his passion in the extra-curricular field. The extra-curricular activity can be participating in a competitive sport like swimming or regularly practicing visual or performing arts like painting, dancing, or acting.

For example, a swimmer will frequently participate in a competition in a team and in different swimming competitions, become the team captain and teach young students or newcomers the process of swimming and work voluntarily as a swimming coach at his swimming academy.

One can choose the work of an activist as his extracurricular activity. S/he will have to participate in different rallies, and protests to enhance his skill in the field of activism. Dedicating his time to good causes, and working voluntarily for different charities that work for the welfare of children can be another option.

Undergoing these steps in a particular activity and stating them in the college application form will enable him/her to stand out as a spike or pointy candidate.

Spike or Well Rounded
Image Source: Spikelab

How do Colleges Look at Well-Rounded vs Spike?

The top-ranking colleges or Ivy League Schools or Elite Schools have a tendency to look for students who have excellent grades and test scores in all their subjects and have perfection in one or two extra-curricular activities.

As discussed earlier, in a classroom of Harvard University, there can be students having diverse skills such as a painter who can paint like renowned painter Picasso and has participated in prestigious painting exhibitions, a writer who has written popular novels, and a swimmer who can swim like Michael Phelps. There will be a singer who has sung popular songs, a guitarist who is in a famous music band, a scientist who has published his research papers in a reputed science journal, a software engineer who has developed popular software or application, a social activist who has taken part in a prominent protest and has developed his own welfare organization.

A student who will try to do all of these things will be a well-rounded or mediocre student. Elite schools or colleges have a tendency to reject the application of such a candidate.


Spike or pointy students exercise their passion vigorously which makes them competitive applicants for college admission. This blog does not aim to say that only spike students will get admission to top colleges but having a spike or deep knowledge in a particular area or activity will place a student ahead of the rest of the applicants in terms of college admission.

The era is gone where a well-rounded student is an ideal applicant. The Spike is becoming more critical. So as you navigate through the college admissions process, you must identify your spike.

Featured Image Source: PrepWell Academy

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Translate »
%d bloggers like this: