Three Keys to Getting Your Kids into the Ivy League
The article first appeared on Fox News on July 1, 2015.
At 7:00 am, bleary-eyed and with a granola bar in hand, you race your 17-year-old Lacey to her crew practice. Once you’ve dropped her off, you swing by Whole Foods to grab something to cook for dinner, before speeding back to the river by 9:00 am to pick Lacey up and get her to her flute lesson.
After meeting with her music teacher for an hour, Lacey complains the entire care ride home about how she hates playing the flute, and she can’t wait to quit once she gets into Princeton.
In fact, she claims she will quit the debate team, the literary magazine, the feminist club (she never went anyway), her work at the local soup kitchen, and French club. She was only doing these activities to look good to colleges.
Once home, you stand over Lacey to make sure she gets a few hours of homework in, before her math tutor arrives at 3:30pm. Then at 6:00 pm, you shuttle Lacey to her Best Buddies dinner, anxiously wondering when the college acceptances will start rolling in.
On March 31, they arrive. Despite her 4.0 GPA and 2100 SAT scores, Lacey didn’t get into Princeton. Nor into Brown. Nor into Cornell. What happened? You helped her do everything right. Right?
This may come as a surprise, but your overscheduled kids are not preparing well to get into the Ivy League.
The common parental drive towards raising super-achieving jacks-of-all-trades actually hurts your kids in the college admissions process. You may ask, “How is that so? How can I not push Lacey to join several clubs and teams, when the competition is so stiff?”
The truth is, beyond a 4.0 GPA and stellar SAT scores, your child needs to be “interesting.” Of course, you see just how special and amazing your child is, but to help the Ivies see that, as well, you need to follow the 3 P’s of college admissions: Philomathy, Perseverance, and Passion.
This is probably not a term you will throw into conversation at Lacey’s next crew regatta, but it is what was essential for her to stand out in her college applications.
Your entire family understands that doing well in school is important, but it is nowhere near as important as developing a sincere love for learning. This highly unquantifiable objective often gets lost in the competition for the highest GPA in the most AP classes. After all, for some students or parents, a B is tantamount to failure. The truth of the matter is that Lacey needed to enjoy ideas and develop personal intellectual interests to become a competitive candidate for Princeton.
So how can you help your younger kids avoid Lacey’s mistakes? If they show interest in Environmental Science, for example, encourage them to get involved with the local nature center, celebrate Earth Day, or start a recycling program. The deeper they can go with they intellectual interests, the better off they’ll be when applying to college.
With all the comforts afforded by modern-day living, you may have inadvertently created too much of a safety net for your kids. With your desire to support Lacey as much as possible throughout her high school career, she never figured out how to advocate for herself, keep her own schedule, or solve personal conflicts. This has actually created a serious impediment for her. When it came time to apply to Cornell, she remained passive in her interactions with admissions officers and failed to show independence and maturity in her essays, because she’s never had to figure anything out on her own before.
While I certainly don’t suggest that you should have let Lacey suffer, just so that she could have written a heart-wrenching personal statement, it would have been OK if you let her mess up or even fail at something.
Facing conflict, challenges, and blunders builds children’s character, transforms them into problem-solvers, and guides important decisions they make in adulthood. It will also allow them to develop “grit,” and consequently become much more interesting to schools.
One of the sad truths about Lacey’s overscheduling is that she never had the time to figure out what she actually enjoyed doing. Instead, she wasted time taking flute lessons that she never practiced for and signed up for a bunch of school clubs that she barely participated in, because she thought that that’s what she had to do to get into the school of her dreams.
This mindset not only proved detrimental to her personal development, but it also kept her out of Princeton.
Kids need the freedom to think, explore, and imagine to become “interesting.” Lacey’s lack of focus and desire to contribute any of her skills to the university community made her a less appealing applicant.
To help your other kids with this issue, you should expose them to as many opportunities as possible while they’re young and support them when they find the paths they wish to follow. You should also ensure that they have down time to evaluate what they’re doing. With a little free time and space, you will all be amazed by what they will achieve, not to mention, by which colleges they get into.
There is, of course, no magic formula guaranteeing that your child will one day be a Brown graduate. With the holistic admissions process adopted by so many elite schools, nobody — except for the gatekeepers sitting around the admissions tables – knows why a brilliant and talented student from one school gets in and a similarly brilliant and talented student from another gets denied.
So, if you want to play the admissions game intelligently as parent, remember your 3 P’s – Philomathy, Perseverance, and Passion – and your children will have a leg up on the competition.