By Dana Ponsky, Founder of Dana Ponsky Consulting Service LLC
“The game of chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it… Life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with.” – Benjamin Franklin
I have been a college counselor for more than 10 years and I help high school and college students with the college and graduate school admissions process. I was recently asked how could chess help with the college admissions process and the first thing I did was seek out this quote by Mr. Franklin. I believe his words perfectly summarize the outcomes that one can gain from playing and/or mastering the game of chess.
When I meet with students and families for the first time, I often present the analogy of looking at the college application as a blank canvas where you are being asked to paint your self-portrait. This portrait can be made up of any number of factors that an individual student finds important and best highlights the person they are. For some, a large portion of the portrait might be grades and standardized test scores. For others, it might be extracurricular activities and the essay they write to tell the story of who they really are. Whatever a student chooses to include on their application, it is important simply because it is one of many things that make up the whole person. Colleges are looking for interesting, engaged, and committed individuals to join their community and the application is the best way to convey this to those who are reading it.
When thinking about chess and its role in an individual’s application, it is important to remember that chess is a dynamic game/sport of intellect, strategy, patience, delayed gratification, competition, and community. It is one of the few games that I can think of where gender, race, socio-economic status, and language do not need to interfere with accomplishing the same goal. The life skills gained from chess are not just obvious to those who play, but easily transcend to how a player interacts with the world around them.
College admissions officers know that the dedication to the game of chess along with the social, emotional, behavioral, and competitive skills gained from the game, imply a higher level of capability and readiness to tackle the challenges that college can present. Chess is a game/sport that utilizes countless life skills that are easily transferable to the academic, professional, and social environments often found on the college campus. In the college admissions process, chess is seen as a positive addition to any list of activities. Participation in chess clubs, organizations, or tournaments encompasses so much more than a competition. The experiences gained from playing chess can also be shared in the college essay, in letters of recommendation from teachers and mentors, in the interview process (when there is one), and also in the decision-making process. If chess is important to you, then it should be an important part of your college application.
If a student has been actively involved for many years or just started with the game in the last year, it is important to add this to the college application. In addition to just simply stating your participation, decide how much of the game should be included in other parts of the application. Some great questions to consider about whether chess should be highlighted in essays, interviews, etc. including: Do you play chess because of the challenge? The camaraderie with other players? The opportunity to build rapport in a non-threatening way? Is it the skills gained that help you with other aspects of your life in and out of school? What are those skills and how will they help you along your personal and professional journey?
Chess is a game for life and there is no reason to stop playing once you get to college. Take the time to identify colleges that are not only going to help you achieve your academic and professional goals, but ones that will allow you to continue staying engaged and active within the chess community. It will likely make your transition to college much easier and provide a sense of grounding and support as you embark on this new chapter in your life.
Dana Ponsky is an independent college counselor at Dana Ponsky Consulting Services LLC based in Brooklyn, NY. She works with high school and college students and their families to navigate the college admissions process with a lot of success and much less stress.