The enduring myth of the well-rounded student

Schools preach the idea of creating a well-rounded student. One that is involved with not only sports, but an anti-drug club and also student council. One that can take any course and receive an A, regardless of if the course is even relevant to their future career path. Or a student that receives a perfect grade point average every semester while balancing Greek life and a tutoring position held by the university library.

But the truth is, being well-rounded does not create a better student. In fact, being-well rounded inhibits students to reaching their full potential in areas that are truly their strengths. According to Clifton Strengths for Students from Gallup, trying to become well-rounded breeds mediocrity. You can master the things you are naturally good at, but if you are working on something that is outside of your level of expertise, you will become, at best, O.K. at it.

Trying to be well-rounded at the expense of being great at your strengths is waste of your time and talents. In fact, of those leaders that Gallup studied, those who strive to be well-rounded and competent in the most areas become the least effective leaders overall. Instead, the best leaders are those who master their talents and dive deeper into a small handful of extracurricular activities rather than trying to be perfect at everything.

This is not to say that challenging yourself in a new trade will not benefit you; it will. In fact, in my experience, internship recruiters too often ask about my involvement on campus. But the truth of the matter is, recruiters would rather hear about how involved you were in a particular organization, not about how many “sign-up clubs” you are apart of.

Most of the motivation behind the concept of being well-rounded is the teen’s (and quite honestly, their parents and mentors) craving to succeed. From a young age, parents sign their children up to participate in sports, art endeavors and even after school activities. The idea of being “busy” is the new normal. However, the common misconception is that being busy also means being effective, when in reality students are at a disservice when they waste time attempting to be O.K. at everything.

It’s always beneficial to broaden your education—even if it is mandatory at a Liberal Arts college—because it does show you are accepting of challenges. But instead of encouraging students to be “well-rounded,” they should be encouraged to have depth in one area of study and to keep a flexible mindset to learn where their curiosity takes them. So, rather than wasting your time trying to be jack-of-all-trades, focus on your strengths.