Five college planning tips for introverts

Natural leaders—the outgoing, charismatic kids who can seemingly win over just about anyone, from teachers to fellow students—find it easy to demonstrate their impact to colleges. But what if you’re not the outgoing type who wants to stand up and be heard? What if you’re quiet, reserved, or just plain shy? Nobody should have to fundamentally change who they are to get into college. So here are five college planning tips for introverts.

1. Channel your enthusiasm.
Just because you’re introverted doesn’t mean you aren’t passionate about your interests. So channel your enthusiasm in whatever it is that you love. Write the best programming code that you can. Take art classes to improve your skills. Learn to play the pieces of your favorite classical composer. One of our former Collegewise students wrote her essay about the 10th grade summer she spent trying to read as many classic works of literature as possible. She was admitted to nearly all of her colleges. Colleges understand that not everyone is outgoing, and they’re perfectly happy to admit interesting, engaged students who thrive in comparatively solitary pursuits.

2. Engage academically.
One potential admissions challenge for introverts is that they often don’t participate in class discussions. This can make it difficult for teachers to tell just how interested you were in the material, and that can affect your letters of recommendation. So if you can push yourself to put your hand up and offer a comment or question semi-regularly, it will help. You can also approach your teacher before or after class to ask questions or discuss the material. And whenever there’s a class project or any opportunity to do more than sit in class or take a test, bring a little extra oomph. There’s nothing wrong with being the quiet kid in class. Just make sure you don’t come off as the quiet kid in class who would  rather be doing anything else other than learning this subject.

3. Find ways to impact others.
You don’t need to be outgoing to do things that impact other people. Draw cartoons for the school newspaper. Bring your set designing skills to the school play. Build websites for clubs, fix computers for the administration, or write poems for the school literary magazine. Colleges are looking for students who will make contributions to their campus communities. And there are plenty of ways to do that, even for students who don’t necessarily feel comfortable front-and-center.

4. Show that you’ve got some social skills.
It’s one thing to be the quiet, shy type. It’s another, not-so-good thing to be a misanthrope who just can’t get along with people. It doesn’t take much to show that you’re in the first camp, but you’ll need to make the effort to do so. Be nice to your teachers, counselor, and fellow students. Be willing to pitch in and help when someone needs it. And don’t automatically rule out everything that doesn’t let you work in solitude. One of our former students wrote her essay about working the drive-through at a fast food chain where she would stand outside with a headset and take orders from the cars as they passed. She was still introverted, but she was justifiably proud of how much more outgoing she became as a result of that job.

5. Apply to the right colleges.
Maybe you’d like to attend a school where you can easily get personal attention without having to ask for it? Or maybe your introverted self would be happiest blending in at a large university? It’s important for all students to consider the type of college where they could be happy and successful. And there’s no one type of school that fits best with all introverts. Think carefully about your likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. Imagine yourself in college and consider in what kind of environment you’d be most likely to thrive. Then get to work finding those schools—and communicating why they’re a good fit when you apply.