William Deresiewicz was an Ivy League professor, and served on the admissions committee for Yale. In his book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, he describes the “elite” product of the US K-12 education system. Many of them have worked hard to achieve superior grades, excel at extra-curricular activities, spend hundreds (or thousands) of hours volunteering, and garnering fabulous letters of recommendation.
These are the students that Mr. Deresiewicz describes as excellent sheep. They have followed all the rules, and have excelled within the system. But all they know is how to follow rules and work within the system. He tells us that the admissions committee refers to these students as “well-rounded”.
In contrast, are the “pointy” candidates. These are students who have opted out of the traditional race for the Ivies. Instead, they have tended to follow their passion, whether it be music, computer programming, or even starting their own business, etc. They have demonstrated outstanding abilities outside the box. (This doesn’t mean that they have ignored other subjects, such as English, Math, languages, etc. – just a different focus).
Increasingly, top schools are recruiting more of these “pointy” candidates, because the universities realize that they bring an academic diversity not found in the traditional “well-rounded” candidates.
Also interesting, is that the “pointy” students are increasingly turning away from the Ivies because (ironically) this is not necessarily the optimal place to get the best (undergraduate) education.