Should colleges recruit FIRST students

OK, CD, there is something I need to get off my chest. Sorry, in advance for the long winded diatribe.

Having been involved with FIRST for 4 years now as a parent and mentor, I have been amazed by what high school students in this program are able to do. The innovative designs that the students come up with each season consistently blow my mind. The fact that the students develop these designs with such intense schedule pressure makes it even more amazing. The engineering tools that are being used from hand calculations, to advanced spreadsheets and other simulations, to CAD and FEA, to programming are way beyond anything I was exposed to in high school. You guys all know this.

My gripe is this; why do the college admissions offices seem to care so little about robotics programs like FIRST? As I sat through the info sessions with my kids during the college campus tours over the past couple of years, several admissions officers at top engineering universities (Michigan, Georgia Tech and others) actually said that they don’t want to hear about the robotics team in the application essays. One admissions officer, during her presentation asked for a show of hands of students that were on a robotics team. About half the hands went up. She then said “When you are writing your essays, I don’t want to hear about how the robot broke and you needed to fix it.” She made it sound like she was bored by all the essays she has read about robotics. OK, I get it that the admissions staff may not be the best people to judge the technical capabilities of these students and essays are probably not the best vehicle to showcase these skills.

The head of the computer science department from one of the top state schools was a judge at one of the competitions this year. He happened to be an alumnus of my alma mater, so I had an opportunity to talk to him a few weeks after the event. It had been his first time at an FRC event and he talked about how impressed he was with the students and their creations. He indicated that he would definitely continue as a judge. At one point the conversation turned to the college admissions process. I pointed out to him that the college admissions officers were discouraging the students from putting too much about their robotics experiences and I suggested to him that the experiences and skills that these students were gaining in FIRST would give them a huge head start in their engineering degrees. In addition, they have already demonstrated the interest and aptitude needed to succeed which is probably a pretty good measure of whether they would stick with engineering rather than changing majors. While he admitted that these were the kids of students they wanted at his university, he stated that the engineering departments have no say in who gets admitted. I suggested that the engineering programs at his university might want to consider recruiting at the robotics tournaments.

Dean likes to compare FIRST to sports and entertainment. I think this is a good analogy to use here. College sports teams recruit from high school sports teams. College performing arts programs have auditions for prospective students. Can you imagine a college football coach at an FBS school stating that he had no say in who gets admitted? Can you the faculty of the performing arts department not being a part of the auditions for prospective students? That would be unheard of! So, why do the engineering departments accept being left out of the process of selecting engineering students? And when you have such an interesting program that gives these prospective students an opportunity to develop skills and demonstrate their aptitude, why would you not want to use that as a significant factor in your recruiting.

Most of our district events here in North Carolina are at universities. Typically, someone from the engineering department at the host university will give a short speech at the opening ceremony to talk about what their school has to offer. But after that, the only real interest that the schools seem to show in the students is to set up an info booth in the mezzanine where someone from the admissions office hands out information packets and talks up the school. I have rarely seen anyone from the school walking around in the pits or asking students about their robots. And while it is great that some members of the faculty typically get involved as judges at the events, there is never any “recruiting” activity from these faculty members. And there is certainly not any feedback to the admissions staff from these faculty members about the students that would factor in to their admissions decisions.

Now, I recognize that robotics is not football. You are never going to have robotics competitions generating the kind of TV revenue for the university that college football does. But universities do get research funding from industry and government agencies. It seems to me that if you are recruiting the best engineering prospects that are interested in working on research projects, that, over time, you would be able to build the reputation of the school and attract more research funding from industry and government. Certainly, we see that industry is interested in FIRST. Boeing is sponsoring next year’s game. Many companies support the FIRST program at various levels. Why isn’t this interest from industry translating into interest from universities?

Each year Dean presents us with opportunities to “make it loud”. I think this presents a great opportunity to “make it loud”. If college engineering programs recruited from programs like FIRST, I think a lot more students would get involved (just like they do with football or other activities). I’m not even taking about scholarships here. I’m just talking about assessment of technical aptitude from members of the engineering department. If students knew that getting involved in programs like FIRST gave them an opportunity to be directly recruited by a university for their engineering program, giving them extra consideration in the application process, then I think a lot more students would seek out teams and high schools would be more likely to start a team. Perhaps if the sponsors of FIRST made it clear to the universities that they recruit from that they want to see more students with these kinds of skills, the universities would start to scout these students and would allow (or even encourage) the engineering staff to participate in this recruiting process.

Am I crazy?

1 Like

Brief Response: Recruitment is a great idea, but costs too much, and I have no solution.

Long Response
To some extent, the admission officer who spoke to your group probably gets similar “I faced adversity, and I persevered… etc, etc” essays. I’m sure it gets boring and seems formulaic after reading hundreds. And perhaps a bit of constructive feedback from that officer would have helped.

Everything thing I’ve heard (indirectly) from university admission officers is that they want to see intellectual curiosity and a passion for learning. If an essay shows that it shouldn’t matter if the word “robot” is in there someplace. Hopefully the admission office isn’t just tallying up how many lunchtime clubs the students belonged to.

The first issue with recruiting is that it costs money. I’m pretty sure sports programs use the money earned through ticket sales and merchandising, and alumni donations, to fund promotion and recruitment. Your average CS or Engineering department has barely enough money to cover their expenses. Paying for a rep to attend local competitions or flying one out to one or both of the championship events is too expensive.

Second, unlike most sports, FIRST has very few instances of competition to view. District teams get 2 events and possibly district champs. Many regional teams attend only 1 event. Chances are that a recruiter, in their limited time at the event, would focus on the elite teams because they are impressive. The equally passionate but under-performing teams would get ignored as a result. So the most effective method of recruitment would be to set up a booth and let the students come to the recruiter… which is about all they do currently… if the event is willing to pay for the recruiter’s travel expenses.

Ideally students would be able to meet with the department they wish to be a part of, impress the department chair, and the chair would forward that kid’s name to the admission office. But with your average university having dozens of separate colleges, each with several subject area departments, that would be a chaotic system. Having one over-simplistic admission criteria for university acceptance is the most efficient for the administration and likely to change anytime soon.

I think you said it yourself - the admissions officer asked how many people were involved in robotics and half raised their hands.

For these top engineering schools, being involved on a robotics team isn’t a differentiator anymore. Write your essay about it, and it’ll get tossed into a pile of hundreds of other similar essays.

The admissions officers don’t want that. They want to know what makes the applicant unique. What makes them a better fit that the others applying. Having an essay that reads just like hundreds of others isn’t going to do that. To me, it seems like robotics is more like a check box these days. Check it, and you get into the top half of the pile, above those without that experience. But once you get that boost from it, come up with something else to help your application float to the too of the pile.

I’m not sure what admission officers you are taking to but it definitely didn’t seem like the case for my admissions process. I currently am an engineering student at Purdue. My grades were really not good enough to get in. I had an 87 weighted average, a 28 on my act and a handful of ap classes I kinda did ok in. What I did have was good extracurriculars and about half of my extracurricular activities had something to do with robotics. My essay was about robotics and how it drove me to engineering and it was very clear in my application that it was a large part of my life. Despite not having the grades, I got in and the only logical explanation was stuff like my robotics involvement. I also actually didn’t get denied from any of the schools I applied to despite not having the grades on paper for many.

Bottom line is Robotics DOES matter to college admissions. However, only if the student truly shows they have passion for it. And, from the college admissions officers I’ve talked to that goes for any extracurricular.

On the recruiting note, that’s just completely not viable. Comparing professional skills to sports is comparing apples to steaks. There’s literally nothing in common besides them being things kids develop in HS.

As a college student ambassador for Purdue, I’ve haven’t seen this same sentiment from Purdue’s College of Science (Science, Math, Computer Science, etc). One of the recruiters were actually following a local team that had moved on to worlds. However, I very much understand this isn’t the same for everyone.
From my personal opinion, I believe it comes down to the “fudge tactics” students are using today in essays. There is so much pressure to having an amazing essay, and to use what ever is available to do so. I knew a guy in high school who literally said he was the President of Recycling club on his applications. The club met once a week, and didn’t have a President, but because he was in it, he tried to supersize his role. Maybe some people don’t do things as blatantly, but it does occur. How does this pertain to robotics though?
Well, first, not all students are equal. A team President that volunteers for over 100 hours a year, stays at school 70 hours a week with his activities, designs most of the robot and inspires his fellow teammates is much different than a student that was on a team for their freshman year and never came back. Yet they still can chalk up stories of the same grandeur. So on paper, they could look very similar, making it hard to stand out. College then get bored of this, and put students in the category of normal.

How can students stand out? There is only one thing the latter student can come up with, which is the passion. If you can write the passion, the drive, the motivation. If you are doing robotics for the right reasons, and truly deserve to stand out, then it can definitely show through.

The main point: Colleges don’t want you to slap the word “robotics” in an essay to try to game the system, and that’s what has caused issues in the past.

Edit: From the post above this one, definitely feel Purdue is pro-robotics. Combine that with them even having a class where we get to volunteer, mentor, or plan events for 2 credits a semester, I definitely would say it’s not quite the same here. Boiler Up!

That was certainly the vibe that I was getting from the admissions officers; that they had read so many essays about robotics that each one read like the hundreds of others that they have reviewed. But this program gives the students a chance to not only learn and apply engineering skills, but also gives the best and brightest a chance to shine - even those that are not on an elite team.

Suppose for a moment that that same admissions officer was responsible for recruiting football players for the university’s team. First of all, no FBS school would rely solely on the admissions office to select their football team, but let’s assume for a moment that they did. Would you expect that only half the room would raise their hand when the admissions officer asked if they had played football in high school? Probably not. Would they expect her to rely solely on their essays to tell her about the football skills of the candidates? Probably not. Certainly, every football essay would sound like the script from Rudy and they would likely not give you the information you need to differentiate between the players that are going to perform well at the college level from those that are not. But if that was the only way that the candidates could describe their skills and their eagerness to play football, would you then advise them not to talk about their football program in their essays?

I guess what I am envisioning is:

  1. something other than essays to showcase engineering talent.

  2. involvement from the “customer” (the faculty from the engineering school) in the admissions process and not just the admissions office.

  3. A “pull” from industry for students who have advanced skills and experiences (not just book knowledge) that leads to a “pull” from the universities to find students with eagerness and aptitude to acquire these skills that leads high schools to want to invest in the types of programs that engage the students in complex engineering projects.

Wish I knew what this was like. I’m pretty sure I’m the only FRC alumni at my school. :frowning:

There is no data to back this up either way, but maybe those schools ran the statistics and noticed FIRST alumni don’t perform any better. That is really the only explanation I can think of.

I would be shocked if anyone actually tracked and used FIRST alumni data in any meaningful and non-anecdotal way.

I think you may have interpreted what the admissions officer was trying to say. I hear that they get too many “and then our robot broke and we only had x minutes to fix it” and not enough “As part of a FIRST Robotics team I learned the value of collaboration, how to do failure analysis, how to use CAD” ect.

Yes, colleges should recruit FIRST students. However, it is not currently practical or reasonable to do so.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m currently trying to get ahead in my college applications, and this means that I am doing the Common App personal statement. However, even though FRC is by far my #1 activity (I took 2 of my 10 activity spots on robotics, 3 if you count FTC mentoring), I am not writing about it on my personal statement. Why? Because I know that it’s more or less the status quo at the places that I’m planning to apply to. If you’re applying to competitive colleges, every part of your application should be filled out with the goal of differentiating yourself, not checking off the boxes that everyone else also checks off. Yes, I am talking about it on some of the smaller college-specific essays, but not the general Personal Statement that goes to everyone.

Here’s the thing – I think it’s great that half the people in the room raised their hand. That means FIRST is succeeding in changing the culture, or making it loud, or whatever you want to call it. Though I think it may be an unpopular opinion around here, I don’t think that we’re ready to treat FRC as a sport. And I think it’s a bit shortsighted to expect admissions to see it as such. How long has football been around? Certainly since before 1992.

The biggest issue with recruiting individuals in FRC is that actions are very hard to separate. It is, by nature, a highly team-based activity. It’s hard to quantify a person’s impact or contribution to a team, which is why we are stuck with the essay situation. It would be unreasonable to track stats like rivets popped, GitHub commits, teams scouted, or Inventor constraints (replace with your preferred software of course). It would be even more unreasonable to recruit everyone from regional winning teams. In its current state, FRC doesn’t lend itself to individual stats, and I don’t think that should change.

Compare that to football, which is the example that’s been brought up here. Even though that is a team-based activity, it’s easy to separate individuals. You look at someone’s 40yd time, or their bench press, or their sacks, passing yards, rushing yards, tackles, or whatever else is relevant to their position.

Another thing to consider is that an NCAA football team has waaaayyyyyy fewer people on it than your average engineering college within a university. Football scouts are giving out 85 scholarships per year IIRC. Engineering schools are looking for many more than that. The reason football scouts are so aggressive is that they are potentially giving out 85 full rides, and the recipients of those full rides are most likely going to attend their school. I don’t see an engineering school giving out hundreds of full rides. And as far as partial scholarships, well, There’s a reason that the vast majority require a letter of recommendation from the coach/head mentor. Otherwise, essays are very easy to game.

One more thing, regarding the separability. There is basically two ways for students to prove their contribution quantifiably. One is the Dean’s List award (Semifinalist/Finalist/Winner). The other is letters of recommendation from the head mentor/coach. If the goal is to get more individuals with quantifiable, verified contribution, and not reliant on essays, there’s got to be more than that. I have no idea what that change would be.

I believe there are other activities which produce individuals with “advanced skills and experiences (not just book knowledge)” to quote wgorgen. The main one that comes to mind for me right now is ISEF (specifically, the students that fall under the E in ISEF), and colleges ARE recruiting people there. FIRST is great, but it is, by nature, a team-based activity where it is hard to verify the contributions of an individual if you’re looking in from the outside, as an admissions officer would. Until some steps are taken to change that (which should NOT happen IMO), you’re going to be stuck in this situation, unfortunately.

EDIT: I have thought about it a bit more. In a sentence: Recruiters are looking for the best athletes, who are the best performing candidates; however, the best candidates from FRC are not necessarily the best performing ones.

I think that you misinterpreted what the college admissions officer was trying to convey. I think they were trying to say that they didn’t want to hear some generic robotics story. Like someone said before, robotics is no longer a differentiator. Just like the admissions people don’t want to hear about how your basketball team was losing in the championship and how you made a comeback, they don’t want to hear about your robot breaking and you fixing it last second. It’s just too generic.

I believe that robotics did make a difference in my application to college. Any time you can show that you have practical experience in the area you are applying for is definitely a plus. Also the fact that I was drive team for three years and captain for two, the leadership aspect was definitely a plus.

College essays need to be original and captivating, and some basic robotics story simply isn’t. The admissions officer didn’t say leave FRC off your application but rather gave some good advice about your essay.

Colleges do recruit FIRST students. That’s why they sponsor so many scholarships for FIRST. Apply, apply, apply.

I agree with another post that the essay is for more than just, “I fixed the robot.” It’s been a long time since my kids applied for colleges. But I’m sure the process is similar. The admissions officers want to see uniqueness and quality, not quantity. They know what FIRST is, as well as other programs, and know there’s a difference between being on the team and making a contribution. Between showing up and stepping up. Between passive watching and active learning. Demonstrate how your experiences in robotics (or whatever other activity) have made you into a better person and a better candidate for their school.

this is a really interesting point that i haven’t ever thought about before. Starting college this year at WPI, i’m sure the addition of robotics to my application helped, but im also sure that it wasn’t a deciding factor. Although through the application process to different colleges, i’ll admit that it was hard trying to talk about robotics in a way that made it seem different from everyone else.

College recruitment for robotics is surely an interesting idea, and something i’d love to see become a reality in the future. However, as some people above have mentioned, i’m not sure that colleges are currently ready to do it. It’d be interesting to see a college try it out, such as WPI, which is so pro robotics already. Although, i do wonder if those who have done robotics out perform their classmates, or is there no difference at all? For new and interesting ideas like this, there may never be a real ‘right time’ to start, so i’d love to see someone try it out.

I also agree that the OP may have misinterpreted what the college recruiter said. It is also possible that the recruiter made a poor choice of words.

In my time involved with FIRST, I have worked with quite a few students who stood out from the rest of the other FIRST participants. Typically, they took on leadership roles such as organizing and managing the student volunteers for an FLL tournament. I suspect that essays written by those students, focusing on their leadership skills, would catch the recruiter’s attention. It just happens that their leadership experience was in the context of robotics.

It also probably true that robotics has become “loud enough” that it has become a box that too many students tick for it to be a meaningful screening criteria on it’s own. One of the parents on a local team told me about her experience interviewing a group of college grads. One of them claimed to have been on an FRC team. Unfortunately, he could not remember the team name and could not tell her what work he did while on the team. This sort of “resume padding” is not new. I saw it being done when I was in high school 40 years ago.

You bring up some excellent points. I’d like to respond to a few:

It strikes me as a bit odd that an applicant that is interested in engineering (which I assume that you are) would feel that putting an engineering related activity front and center is considered too “status quo” to differentiate yourself. At risk of taking my football analogy too far, it would be as odd as a football player not showcasing his football.

Ironically, your approach is good and seems to be in line with what the admissions officers are looking for. I guess this is the part that bugs me.

I agree that separating individual contributions on a team is difficult to do. However, when the judges are interviewing the teams for the various FIRST awards, it becomes pretty clear which students were actively engaged in the design process. They can generally demonstrate the robot’s functions, describe the design process that got them to that design, describe the issues that came up along the way that needed to be overcome. And while those awards are given to the team and not the individual, the same process of interviewing the team about their design during a competition could be used to find the individual contributors.

The downside to this is that students might become competitive when the recruiters come around and try to hog the recruiter’s time and attention. But since one of the skills that companies are looking for is being able to work as part of a team, anyone who did hog the recruiter’s attention would be doing more harm than good to their chances of getting that recruiter’s recommendation to the school.

I agree that there are many good programs out there where students interested in STEM can find an activity that allows them go beyond what is available in the high school classroom. ISEF is great, and for some students, that is a great choice. I agree that this is another great place for recruiters to find students with the interest and aptitude to excel in STEM fields.

I don’t know much about how colleges recruit from ISEF. Do they send members of the faculty to interview the students are the fairs (at various levels), or is this just something that the students put on the resume and college application that helps them to stand out when the admissions officers read it?

The big problem with FIRST is that listing participation on your application does not separate the truly talented students from the rest. Personally, I think that most of the students I have met on FIRST teams are pretty darn talented, but there are some that really stand out. What I am asking is whether schools should find a way to scout these programs, much like college scouts go to high school football games.

I think it’s completely dependent on the school. Several of the schools you mentioned that don’t like FRC in their essays I got into - every single Georgia Tech’s essay I wrote related to FRC in some way.

I think it’s more about how you tell the story than anything. I spent months crafting word choice and how I wanted to approach my essays as opposed to just throwing up on a document. For instance, being the first female captain on my team meant a lot to me, so one of my essays was how that related to team culture. Another one of my essays looked at how during an offseason we could have played some strategic fouls to win, but kept it clean. I’d love to share some if you’re interested, since now they’re collecting dust in a folder never to be opened again.

If I had 50% of my applicants writing how they joined the team to learn more about engineering and then learned they had a passion for it, I’m sure I’d get pretty bored. But if it was written artfully and took a look at a specific piece of the experience I’d be interested!

Another amazing option a lot of colleges offer is submitting supplements. Obviously performing arts can submit solos, but you can totally submit CAD renders of what you’ve worked on on the bot, files of code explaining what it’s supposed to do, and in some cases pictures of pieces of the bot you’ve machined yourself. MIT is one of the main schools that comes to mind that accepts this. They have a “maker” category you can submit to, which is reviewed by engineering faculty. I can’t find it at the moment, but I remember reading some statistic that very few students actually take advantage of this, but it can play a serious role in admission. I feel like this is the best approach at recruiting students who do amazing work, while the student being able to claim their piece of the bot without creating competitiveness between them on the spot at an already stressful environment like a competition.

Having also competed at ISEF this year, I can see how colleges are more ready to recruit research students. The level of work many students do is astounding, and at the end of the day many schools need students to man their expansive and elaborate labs that are getting them money and recognition. That being said, I can’t recall schools actively recruiting at ISEF in the way they do in sports. There are a lot of schools that give out scholarships, but this is no different than FIRST. There are meeting halls and setups with schools, but again this is no different than FIRST. There is recruitment but it’s usually reserved for the 1 or 2 absolute geniuses with already existing cures for cancer, and it’s usually on the down-low or unheard of. Again this is a few out of maybe 1500 students selected from an even larger world pool.

I plan on going to Duke University this fall. Both of my supplements were about robotics, and my personal statement touched on FRC and my research. All accepted students get letters from their admissions officers as to why they were accepted, and mine explicitly stated that my AO was thrilled about everything I’ve done in robotics, and can’t wait to see me bring that to campus. That in combination with my research extracurriculars was most likely why I got in, seeing as most undergrads have similar academic merit.

I think it makes no sense to create such a blanketed statement saying “don’t talk about robotics” with regards to college. You don’t want to make it your only thing, but if it truly is your passion you can show them through supplements and drafting your essay in an unconventional manner.

I totally get this. Similar to pkrishna, FIRST was definitely my defining “thing” in high school which I thought was the most influential. I wanted to write about it, as I think I gained the most from it in high school and it will always stick with me. However, after asking CMU/GT admissions officers what essays they saw the most- I made sure not to write a single word about FRC outside of the extracurriculars section on the Common App. Getting into a top engineering school in 2018 is all about separating yourself. If a large portion of applicants are writing their essays about their time spent in robotics, then the first step to differentiating yourself in an admissions officer’s head is to not write about robotics.

In an admissions environment where it is not uncommon to see that 50% of accepted applicants have perfect math sections on standardized testing, you definitely want to spend the most time on your essays and differentiate yourself with them.

At this point, if you are applying to a top 30 engineering school, you don’t want to put a common engineering related activity front and center. Every competitive applicant will have an engineering story of some sort to tell. Maybe write something about an entrepreneurship experience you had and engineering, or maybe even your community and engineering. That way it is more likely you will differentiate yourself from the crowd while keeping engineering front and center. I applied to 10 schools about 7 months ago before hearing back from my ED school, and I still had 10 more to go (if I didn’t get into my ED school). It really is a probability game.

And I will respond to your response :slight_smile: along with some stuff from smitikshah’s response as well

Yeah, I am considering EE/CS at the moment, though I’ve been doing a lot of CAD these days and it’s something I like.

I believe that the activity (still a STEM activity, not ISEF though) that I am writing about in my personal statement is more impactful, but I am going to try to include robotics in it. I am mostly concerned about my whole application being about robotics, because I could easily do that. As I mentioned, 2 of my 10 activities slots are filled with FRC, and an additional 1 is about FTC mentoring. While robotics is a huge part of my life, there are also other things that are important to me. I don’t want to eclipse the other stuff, especially for colleges that don’t take additional essays beyond the personal statement.

Fair point. I like the overall idea. Though, I am concerned about smaller/less accomplished teams being overshadowed by others. Why would you recruit the CAD lead of team A who built a robot with a kit-chassis and switch mechanism, when you can recruit the CAD lead of team B who has a three-stage elevator, triple climb mechanism, and #allcustomeverything gearboxes? It’s easy to say that they should look for the ‘passion’ of students, but being realistic that isn’t happening. Powder coated or top 3 seeded robots are going to draw in the recruiters, and once they see those, they may not be interested in finding the kid who started a rookie team that does switch only. Purely speculatory of course.

I suspect that it might be due to you being a senior. By the time ISEF comes around, seniors already know where they’re going. I (junior) had four admissions officers/head of admissions at my booth during the special awards judging. University of Arizona, Arizona State, Drexel, and Florida Institute of Technology. I would consider that recruiting/scouting, especially since a lot of them are handing out full rides. I didn’t get any of their scholarships, though. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

I agree with this.

This is what I’ve heard elsewhere as well. The content of the essay isn’t nearly as important as how it’s presented. Is it entertaining and novel, or is it a cookie-cutter essay? Write about something that you can present well, but is unique in some way. I’ve heard about people writing about Costco samples for their college essays. There’s no single way to approach it. I would love to look at yours as I prepare to write mine.

I will have to look into the supplements; I can think of a few things that I’d want to submit. Congrats on Duke! I didn’t know that they told you why you were admitted, that’s pretty cool and must be very inspirational.

Right. But I think that a blanketed statement like “have more than just robotics on your application” is a perfectly valid one. Or at least one that I’ll be following. Due to the passion that a lot of FIRST students have, it could be easy to get carried away. There are edge cases, but they are, well, edge cases.


I’m going to make a lot of absolute statements in this post, based on what I’ve observed about college culture in general in the US rather than what is true at any particular institution or what I believe is important for a well-rounded human.

The recruiter is making a really important point for your tour group. They want your FIRST students at their college. But if your FIRST students are going to write about FRC experiences, they need to make sure it’s differentiated from the other 50% of applicants with FIRST experiences. Place college-oriented soft skills front and center. Lots of students don’t know how to do that. When they write about FRC, most students get distracted by the hard skills, diluting the power of the essays and sending the application straight to the “circular file”. The easiest way to get lots of FIRST students into a school is to force them to write about something else.

Colleges don’t care about technician skills. Sure, maybe you can turn a bolt really fast, but an electric drill can turn one faster, and electric drills don’t go to college.

Some illustrative examples:

College-oriented skills: leadership drive, dedication, responsibility, self-awareness, team structure, design methods, unique challenges and perspectives, “soft skills”.

Technician skills: Hand drills, precision machining, connector assembly, mechanical diagnostics, drafting software operation, tweaking PID constants, “hard skills”.

If this is confusing to you, consider that most engineering colleges are designed to produce a corporate engineer, who issues specifications to their technicians (‘leading the team’, implicitly if not explicitly), and that most engineering colleges are hopeless at actually teaching soft skills. Very sensible to “stack the deck” beforehand at the admissions level.