What does a student “leader” look like?


Alyana Acacio

University of California, Berkeley graduate class of 2017

If you’re in high school and looking to apply to college, there are countless things to consider. But a key one that worries a lot of students is the notion of “leadership”. Maybe your parents – or even your high school admissions consultants – have told you that, “Colleges want to see leaders. It’s not enough to be in a club. They want you to be president!”

student leader

You may be relieved to hear that this isn’t quite true. I’ve transcribed interviews of quite a few college admissions counsellors, working for colleges across the USA. This includes college admissions folks from various top universities, such as Northeastern or Emory College. And they universally take time to reassure applicants that “leadership” can take many forms, not just being class president!

According to Giles Eady, an admissions counsellor from Emory College, “leadership” doesn’t just mean that you’re the president of every club. “We just want to see that whatever it is that you've done, it's been meaningful to you, and you've been consistently involved with it.” He assures students that, even if they haven’t been president of anything, if they’ve shown devotion and commitment, that’s leadership in Emory College admissions team’s eyes.

One of the admissions counsellors for Pepperdine University, Kelli Garrens, agrees. She says that being involved in activities “shows us that you're taking initiative. You're showing leadership.” Leadership, again, is just a commitment to something that you care about. You don’t have to be president!

And from Boston University, admissions representative Matthew Gallery makes a point to explain that leadership is “not just the titles.” He says, “[L]leadership is also advocacy. It’s social justice. It’s being a representative within the community. These are the sorts of things that we identify as leadership, and love to see on our campus, because it means that students are not just going to take the lead, but promote people in a community.”

Katie Condon, the Northern California admissions representative for Northeastern University, takes it a step further. She says, “Sure, we love leaders, but we also like followers. You need people to actually join clubs. You can't have a student body that's only going to create clubs!” Northeastern, at least, doesn’t require you to be president of anything. They just want to see that you have interests and passions and follow them through!

So that’s “leadership” in the eyes of U.S. college admissions representatives. And yes, it can be confusing. It’s multifaceted, and it can be hard to figure out – especially if you’re not from the USA!

But if you’re from Hong Kong, never fear! There are expert college admissions consultants in Hong Kong, for studying abroad in the USA or UK, here at Helppo, Inc. We’ll give you personalised attention, and make sure that your application showcases that best that you’ve done – including “leadership” in whatever form U.S. college admissions teams will see it.

Sign up for a consultation with Helppo today!