For the last 20+ years, I’ve had the privilege of working with hundreds of high-achieving college bound students applying to universities in North America. With very few exceptions, my clients meet all of the obvious, objective criteria for admission to the most competitive schools. Rigorous academic courses, high performance in these classes, combined with top percentile test scores (SAT 1500/ACT 34) are the baseline ingredients. While parents and students are often shocked by admission decisions, in most cases I can predict with a high degree of accuracy those that will be accepted to the most elite programs based purely on my gut instincts: they possess the it that colleges want.
So what is it that the top colleges are looking for in applicants? At a minimum, it’s being more than a high-achieving student, as illustrated in these enlightening statistics:
- 91% of Princeton applicants with a 4.0 GPA were rejected in 2018 (source)
- 94% of Brown University’s applicants are in the top 10% of their high school class (source)
- Annually, Harvard has more valedictorians apply than incoming seats available (source)
Rather than take the traditional approach and personally offer tips and techniques to help you standout from such a crowded and competitive application pool, I’ve contacted many of my past clients to have them share their journey through the process with you. Over hours of interviews, I’ve tried to capture the true essence of who they are and listened to how they expressed it and linked it to academics, hobbies, competitions, internships and research. In this post, you’ll read courageous stories highlighting how these individuals made choices, reflected on their experiences, impacted their communities and grew as students and human beings.
Being socially aware and creating networks of people who shared their passions and interests propelled them higher than they could have individually. Satisfying their passions, curiosities and interests were the driving force behind their efforts, not building a resume or impressing colleges. Within their applications, especially in essays, they didn’t tell admission counselors about their extrinsic qualities, instead they showed their intrinsic character through a cohesive narrative.
These stories of successful candidates are not meant to intimidate or impress, but rather to stimulate you to create your own map. While each student had their own unique passion for an activity, hobby or area of interest, the traits, values, strengths and grit in their successes were universally similar. As you’ll see, it was their soft skills that made these candidates special and prized.
Upfront I want to thank these students and their parents for sharing their stories with you. They appreciate the advice they received during their high school experiences and want their stories to be their own “pay it forward moment.”