A freshman English professor makes an unexpected observation in this American Spectator article: none of the students in a remedial writing class knew who Charles Lindbergh was, whereas almost all the honors students did. Of course, being able to identify the man who made the first solo transatlantic flight is not essential to good writing, but it does show intellectual curiosity. These honors students are the kind of people who ask questions about the world around them – and seek out answers. I remember very well a meeting with my thesis advisor at St. Andrews University in which he brought up a tangential issue, to which I responded, “Oh yes, I was wondering about that.” I will not forget his response: “Next time, wonder actively!”
Knowledge can come from anywhere. A favorite movie inspires an interest in its setting, which could lead to a trip, and perhaps even a new language. A passion for cookies can become a science project, and perhaps even a small business. Personally, my love of Ricky Martin in high school taught me more Spanish than I probably would have learned in a first-year course!
Colleges are looking for intellectual curiosity in future students. Yale’s admissions department ask themselves, “Who is likely to make the most of Yale’s resources?” They want students who will follow their curiosity and engage actively with the world around them. The President of Stanford University urged incoming freshman to emulate Charles Darwin by following their intellectual curiosity wherever it might lead them – despite setbacks.
The greatest setback on a path forged by curiosity is probably the lack of a clear goal. Students and parents want to know that the work they do will improve grades, SAT scores, and college applications. Don’t worry! Following your interests leads to success in these areas because it employs critical thinking, research skills, creativity and communication. Most importantly, it will lead to a life filled with learning! After all, what good is a 4.0 grade-point average if you find yourself on the elevator with the president of your dream college, and you don’t know who Charles Lindbergh is?