On intellectual humility

Some of the most desirable traits a student can demonstrate during high school aren’t measured by a grade or test score. And in fact, some might even seem confusingly at odds with boosting college admissions candidacy. Intellectual humility is a prime example.

Students receive the message early in their high school careers that intellectual strength, achievement, and even mastery are what set you apart. Get top grades. Earn academic honors or awards. Secure strong letters of recommendation. This is how you show colleges that you’ve got the intellectual rigor to handle the workload. It feels incongruous to suggest that students should also be open and honest about what they don’t know, and that their awareness of those subjects or topics they don’t have a firm (or any) grasp on actually shows strength of mind, not a shortcoming of it.

But students, remember that colleges are institutions of higher learning. You’re there to expand, challenge, and nourish your mind. And much like the person who walks up to a buffet eager to feed their appetite, the student who walks into college eager to feed their mind is a lot more likely to take advantage of the boundless intellectual spread in front of them.

So don’t be afraid to demonstrate that humility. Ask questions in class. Seek further understanding beyond just earning a grade. Demonstrate in your college applications that your intellectual abilities don’t outpace your willingness to admit what you don’t know.

You can’t possibly know everything, and colleges don’t expect that of you. But a healthy dose of humility shows that you’re eager to use all those abilities in pursuit of knowledge you don’t currently have.

Here are two past posts of mine, here and here, on intellectual humility. And if you’d like some help developing this trait, Dan Pink just shared a two-minute video that might help.