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Developing Specialized Extracurriculars: The Arrowhead Strategy

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A high percentage of the application pool to elite colleges is made up of students with a vast array of extracurricular projects, awards, and accomplishments. Computer science applicants have hackathons; pre-med applications have hospital internships; math majors have summer camps; humanities majors have award-winning essays; the list goes on and on. Colleges have seen it all, and while that doesn’t mean that it is a bad thing to have these sorts of extracurriculars, it simply isn’t enough to gain admission to a top university anymore. 

While these types of extracurriculars demonstrate ability, they do not demonstrate vision or a goal. That’s why Ivy Scholars has developed what we call the Arrowhead Strategy, a way of developing and framing your extracurriculars so that they have the specificity and clear-cut motivation that separates a high-achieving candidate from the rest of the equally high-achieving application pool. In this article we’ll explore what this strategy entails, and how to make it work for you.

 

The Arrowhead Strategy

The fundamental idea behind the strategy is to detach the arrowhead from the body of the arrow in your college apps. The arrowhead is what you aim with – it’s what allows the arrow to penetrate the target and stick there. On the other hand, the body of the arrow is the mass that gives the arrow the momentum to reach the target in the first place.

So how does this connect to your application? Let’s say you have an interest in computer science, as an example. The body of your arrow contains all your computer science awards, hackathon participation, your AP CompSci scores, etc. This is all of the stuff that proves you know how to code, thereby adding ‘momentum’ to your application, just like the body of an arrow. However, the body of an arrow alone won’t “stick” in the minds of admissions officers without the arrowhead. 

The arrowhead of your application is a highly specific niche you will develop in order to direct the arrow. This niche really depends on your interests, environment, and, to some extent, circumstantial factors. However, what matters is that it is a specific subfield, related or unrelated to your ‘arrow body’, that you can apply your passion toward. It’s easier to explain this idea with examples:

One student we worked with, who was accepted to multiple T20s and a couple of Ivy+ institutions including Harvard, decided to direct his passion for computer science toward solving urban issues in his hometown and improving infrastructure. By doing so, he developed a niche, and he fired his ‘arrow’ of computer science knowledge into developing a startup, working at internships, etc, all in the ‘arrowhead’ niche of urban development. Because he had such a specific area to focus on, his field was niche enough that it made getting an internship at his local construction agency much easier. His use of the strategy made for more memorable essays and stories compared to the average computer science major, and he even had a backup major when he was applying, urban studies, which tied into his narrative and is much less oversubscribed than computer science. 

Another student we worked with successfully used the arrowhead strategy to his advantage for his business application. Applying to Wharton, the most competitive undergraduate business program in the nation, our student knew that he had to find a way to stand out. He had the ‘momentum’ in the body of his arrow – in this case, that consisted of a profile that demonstrated a strong interest and skillset in business, such as taking part in entrepreneurship clubs and captaining his school’s debate team. However, as is often the case with Ivy+ institutions, this simply wasn’t enough. We therefore helped him channel his extensive business experience and extracurricular profile by developing an ‘arrowhead’ for him to focus his goals on. Coming from an Asian heritage, equipped with bilingual proficiency, and with experience studying different cultures and nations through his AP courses and Model UN experience, he focused his business background on cultural studies and international relations. Applying to the extremely competitive Wharton Huntsman program, which specializes in the intersection between international communication and business, our student wrote essays about real-world examples of how businesses struggled due to a lack of the cultural perspectives that his ‘arrowhead’ offered. By adding this cultural edge to his business profile, he was able to sharpen his overall application into a more tangible, specific, and memorable one. The student was ultimately accepted to the Huntsman program.

For a final example, let us say that you’re hypothetically interested in physics. For an application to have physics as both its body and arrowhead and gets admitted to T20s, the student would most likely have to be a stellar, gifted physics prodigy who’s won every physics Olympiad out there. This is very difficult and very few people can achieve this without a natural talent for physics. However, if you change your arrowhead to something like, for example, architecture, while keeping your ‘body’ of extracurriculars surrounding physics, your application instantly gains an edge over other physics applicants. For example, you might use your physics knowledge to improve the structural stability of your local housing projects, or gain an internship at a real estate engineering firm and design their projects. This instantly makes your application more focused and directed than a normal physics applicant.

Using this strategy is particularly effective for standing out if you are applying for an oversubscribed major or you’re from an overrepresented demographic. You don’t have to know which industry you want to apply your passions to for your entire career and life, but you should try to have one for the sake of developing an arrowhead in your college applications. If you have an arrow body with the right extracurriculars and stats to add momentum to your application, and a unique yet sharp arrowhead to aim with, you’ll be sure to hit the bullseye with your college applications. 

Final Thoughts

College applications are incredibly competitive, as each student strives to demonstrate their inherent value in a very limited space. The purpose of the arrowhead approach is to focus your application specifically, allowing the point to stick in the minds of admissions officers, supported by the weight of activities behind it. 

Of course, we realize this is often easier said than done. Many students come to us with great backgrounds and amazing accomplishments, but uncertainty about how best to present them to admissions officers. If you want to hear how we can help you tell your story, and make sure your application flies straight and true, schedule a free consultation with us today. We’ve helped hundreds of students get into their dream schools, and are always happy to hear from you.

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