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Most admissions officers consider “leadership” when they evaluate applicants to their colleges and universities.  We added quotes to leadership to reflect its vast amount of definitions.  It’s important for students to recognize that they can demonstrate leadership in many different ways; otherwise, the term can be daunting, especially for introverts.

Leadership is not always an innate quality. Often, introverts are afraid to lead because they’re intimidated or over-shadowed by the extroverts at their school. Sometimes, introverts do not get enough encouragement at home to pursue leadership opportunities. You don’t have to be a “leader” to be a leader.


Cornelia ten Boom, Susan B. Anthony, Mandela MLK, Mother Teresa, Gandhi

Everyone has the potential to be a leader. Here’s a simple example: the CEO of a company may lead with a lot of panache while the COO leads by getting things done. Both can be fantastic leaders, who depend on each other to succeed.  Often, the CEO and COO’s skillsets complement each other. If your teen is an introvert, encourage him or her to be a quiet leader, who leads by example.

The photo above includes famous leaders, but only MLK and Susan B. Anthony were extroverts.,

We have included excerpts below from an article we found on the U.C. Berkeley admissions website. It illustrates the many ways that one highly regarded school thinks about leadership, and illustrates how students can bolster their leadership credentials during high school.  The excerpts include our additions and highlights in bold italics.


What Leadership Looks Like

Leadership is an important aspect of the UC Berkeley culture. It’s in our DNA; after all, this is the home of the Free Speech Movement.

Berkeley students show initiative and leadership in many ways: founding clubs, contributing to the community and speaking out about political and social issues. They ask questions. They persist. They make this campus their own.

Demonstrated leadership is a characteristic Admissions looks for because they want to see leadership in college. There are many other aspects of the application that are important … but leadership is a key aspect of being a Berkeley student and an important way to contribute to the campus. Yet, leadership is not a section listed within the application, nor is there a specific way we ask for you to list or explain leadership.



So, how do you show leadership within your application?

Here is a list of some of the many ways we define and view leadership within your application. The important thing to remember is that when you list academics, activities, awards, and employment; when you include additional Comments; or when you answer your Personal Insight questions, consider how you may have demonstrated an aspect of leadership, initiative, tenacity, or persistence. Be sure to include those points in your answers.

At home

Many applicants spend time taking care of their siblings, parents, or children.  Maybe you are a high school student who watches your younger brother and sister after school before your parents get home from work. Maybe you are a transfer applicant who cares for an elderly parent or grandparent. Maybe you work outside of school to help support your family. These are all ways in which you can show persistence and leadership, depending on your circumstances. How can you make the most of these situations? What can you accomplish as a leader?

In school

Berkeley students are more than their test scores. We view grades and test scores in a holistic way; that is, we view them in the context of the applicant’s academic and personal circumstances and the overall strength of the Berkeley applicant pool.

Sometimes, applicants have circumstances that lead to a drop in grades: death or illness of a close family member; personal illness or injury; a major setback in the family’s housing or financial situation. Sometimes applicants are challenged in certain academic subjects.

It’s important for us to know about these situations, and, most critically, about how you dealt with the challenges. Hiring a tutor, dropping an activity to be able to keep up with coursework, repeating a class in the summer, seeking counseling — all of these are ways you might demonstrate maturity, initiative, and other leader-like qualities.

We realize our applicants are competitive and do not always care to share failures or less-than-stellar achievements. Some applicants may find sharing personal details, especially about illness, as needing “special help,” or perhaps even as a cultural taboo.

Keep in mind that this information remains confidential. Also, when you provide this kind of context, you give us the opportunity to evaluate your application within the merits of your particular circumstances. Remember, too, that we do not look for reasons to “take away” or “deduct” from an application; we are looking for ways to build a case for selection.

In activities

You don’t need to be the captain of the football team or class president. Think about your role in various aspects of your life: activities, hobbies, passions, employment, or volunteering. In what ways did you demonstrate that you’re a leader? How do these achievements figure into your academic and college goals?

Did you lead a study group? Were you the first person in your family, school, or community to earn a certain achievement? Did you get promoted to head cashier at your after-school job? Did you start a book club (which relates to your desire to major in English), teach yourself to cook (which gave you an interest in nutrition), or figure out how to repair the family computer (which coincides with your goal to study computer science)? Did you bring other students into your activities? How you explain your involvement can demonstrate that you’re a leader.

Be sure to show us persistence, too. This means we want to see that you participated in an activity (or activities) for a certain amount of time. List on your application that you played clarinet in the school band each year in high school, or that you led your child’s Girl Scout troop for several years. Great leaders are usually persistent.

Where in the application can you record these kinds of details?

  1. Be specific when you list your achievements. Be complete in your coursework reporting. Give short descriptions when you list activities to explain an activity and your role and/or achievements.
  2. Personal Insight Questions. Follow the instructions for the Personal Insight questions; be thoughtful about your answers. Tell us about your unique situation and how you can contribute to the UC Berkeley community.
  3. Additional Comments boxes. There are two Additional Comments boxes, one under “Academics” and one at the end of the Personal Insight questions section. Use these to answer anything that you have not already shared in other parts of the application.

Always consider how you can share your qualities of leadership, tenacity, persistence, or initiative — the hallmarks of a UC Berkeley student.

What Matters To Other Popular Universities?

Just to prove that I am not completely in the tank for Cal, I am adding a few links below so you can see what admissions officers think at a few other universities:

What We Look For | USC Undergraduate Admission