Randy Nelson is the Dean of Pixar University, the education and training division of Pixar. Pixar is the animation studio that created the Toy Story series, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, and Ratatouille. Their CEO went to the University of Utah, by the way, not an Ivy League school. But that's for another blog post.
Nelson had this to say about what they look for in a new hire.
Mastery in anything is a really good predictor of mastery in the thing you want done. If you take a young person who’s the best skateboarder, or the best glassblower, or is really good at playing spoons, you’re going to find something about that personality—if they are truly a master—that has set their mind in a way that you can use in your enterprise whether you’re an educator, a business person or both. That sense of, ‘I’m going to get to the top of that mountain’ separates them from all of the other applicants almost instantly. There’s very little chance that someone’s going to achieve mastery on the job if they didn’t get there before coming to your workplace.”
College admissions officers tend to notice the same thing about applicants.
For example, you don't necessarily have to be the lead in the school play to impress a college. You could become a master of stage lighting instead. You could take a class over the summer to learn it. You could study how the experts on Broadway do it. You could read books, websites and blogs. You could write your own blog about it. You could talk at length about the best examples of stage lighting and the pros you've come to admire. And you'd make your school's stage productions that much better.
Even if you had no interest in studying drama or doing stage lighting at the college level, any admissions officer would be impressed by your desire to learn more and your drive to become a master.
Find something that interests you, something you really enjoy. It won't feel like work when you dive in and try to master it. Whether it's being the goalie on the lacrosse team, speaking Italian, playing the violin, flipping burgers at a hamburger stand, stamp collecting, rodeo, fashion design or tap dancing, your path to mastery will teach you a lot. And it will make you more interesting to everyone, including colleges.