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An Updated Map to Admissions

| “We need to clarify and demystify that old, outdated-college admissions process. It’s time to start using a new map.”

Imagine entering a city you never visited before… holding a map in your hands that’s 50-years old. How helpful would it be for you to get to your desired destination?

Over the past years, I have worked with many teenagers, college counselors, and admissions officers. What I discovered was that most students today are still using a map that’s two decades old. It’s an ineffective and outdated strategy.

In this week’s episode, you’re going to learn:


  • Activities that will NOT help you get admitted into an elite college today
  • Why old college admissions strategies are no longer effective
  • What elite universities are really looking for in new students
  • One thing you need to focus on to increase your chances of success
  • How the Ivy League Challenge can help you get admitted into a college of your dream

     And so much more.


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"Too many people are overwhelmed, stressed out, and frustrated about college admissions prep. I created this podcast to help you build a standout college profile and boost your confidence. Enjoy!"

– Steve Gardner, Founder

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Transcript of the podcast

I'm discovering that a source of much of the frustration is a misunderstanding of some of the changes that have happened in college admissions over the past.

A couple of decades. Imagine you have the opportunity to travel to parts, let's say, and visit this amazing city of culture and history and everything else.

You're so excited, right? 

You can go visit the Louvre, and you can see the Eiffel tower and eat amazing food.

What if you wanted to arrive at a specific restaurant? In Paris? You wanted to arrive at some specific location, a small restaurant that you'd heard about. 

A map on your phone of the city would be of great help in allowing you to reach that destination.

But suppose through some crazy, weird flaw, that when you open your map on google maps, or whatever map application you use when you open the map, the map is antiquated.

It's 50 years old. 

It's still a map of Paris, but the map is completely outdated streets now run in even in new directions, and there are different side streets.

Almost everything has changed. There might be some things that seem similar. So much has changed now.

Can you imagine the frustration?

The ineffectiveness of trying to reach your destination?

Now you might work harder. You might work on your behavior, try harder, be more diligent double your speed.

But your efforts would only succeed in getting you to the wrong place faster. 

You also might work on your attitude. You could think more positively.

You still wouldn't get to the right place, but perhaps you wouldn't care. 

Your attitude would be so positive. You'd be happy wherever you were.

But the point is you would still be lost.

The fundamental problem has nothing to do with your behavior or your attitude. It has everything to do with having a really, really old map.

Now, if you have the right map of Paris, then diligence becomes important.

Then when you encounter frustrating obstacles along the way, attitude can make a real difference.

But the first and most important requirement is the accuracy of the map.

Here's the deal as a decade ago. 

Certainly, two decades ago, there was a very clear map, a very clear strategy that people could use to get accepted to top universities. 

You needed to show extreme leadership, have top grades, and act or sat scores that were as high as possible. 

And major bonus points, if you volunteered, if you did part-time work if your part-time work was impressive, if you added a musical instrument or two, and if you did varsity sports, in addition to that, and why not throw in speech and debate and key club and whatever else? 

Be a member of ten different organizations and volunteers at your local homeless shelter.

And that was the map that was the way to get into these top universities—and understanding this.

Now realizing that is the perspective that so many parents and even so many college counselors in high schools around the world have.

If that's the perspective, and that's what it's being told to students today.

No wonder why there's so much frustration. 

If we don't even question the accuracy of this map, we just assume that the path that existed for our parents it's the same path that's going to work for students today. 

If we're not even aware that we should be questioning that perspective or those strategies, we simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are. 

Then no wonder. There's gonna be tremendous frustration and our attitudes.

Our behavior is going to grow out of these assumptions.

Now, many of the things that were important 10 years ago and 20 years ago are still important today.

It's just that.

The calculation has changed, and the map has changed. 

My friend, if you are stressed out over college admissions, I do not blame you.

The college admissions process with all of its ambiguity, with all of its nuance, with all of its change over the past. 

A couple of decades have created a tremendous amount of confusion and a tremendous amount of stress.

You know what that stress that is. 

That is just thrown under the shoulders of our youth today is just not right. 

We need to clarify and demystify this entire process, which that's why I've spent so many hours speaking with the people on the front lines, the admissions officers themselves with my classmates and peers to discover what really set them apart and allowing them to be accepted to these top to your schools.

The wonderful news is that there is an answer; there is a map that works.

It is more complicated than a quick 10-minute summary and anything I can do in one podcast episode. 

But if you've listened to my previous podcast where I've interviewed admissions officers or alumni interviewers, or if you've listened to the podcast where I interview students that were accepted at top schools like Dartmouth and Stanford and others. 

You'll start to see patterns. And I want to explain just a little bit about this podcast as well. 

So that you can be on the right track, our grades important grades are still critical. 

They might be the most important variable. 

And certainly, because if you're looking at one of the most competitive schools, then you're looking at emission rates of 5 % to 10 %, maybe up to 12 %, depending on which school you're looking at. 

And these schools receive thousands of applications, sometimes tens of thousands of applications, for just one couple of thousand spots.

After you realize that there are all these other issues that admissions officers have to consider between recruited athletes and meeting the demands of each class, creating a well-balanced class.

There are a couple of things that stick out that every student needs to know that just can help to demystify some of this process and take away some of that stress.

It's just not right to be building our youth with that kind of stress, and their poor parents, those of you who are listening in, you know what?

I feel you, and I'm here for you.

The first thing is one of the big myths that so many people still buy into is that being well-rounded is the key to getting into these top schools. 

Guess what? 

Colleges don't want well-rounded students well; they want a few. 

But what elite universities are looking for is not well-rounded students. 

They're looking for a well-rounded class.

They want to find extremes that go across the continuum so that they have diversity. 

They have interesting personalities, and they have this diversity within the class that allows synergy because you've got a because you have people from all walks of life and all kinds of strengths and values, and interests, then you can collaborate in unique ways and benefit in ways that could not happen in a more homogenous class, more homogenous system.

So no, they are not looking for 2,000 well-rounded individuals.

If you're an extremely well-rounded individual, you'd better be one of the best in the world at being well-rounded because only a few of those spots are going to be for these extremely well-rounded people. 

And by far, because of the map that so many parents and college counselors share with the students because of this old pathway that is no longer relevant, a large proportion of the students strive to be well-rounded and strive to do all the things that worked 20 years ago to get into these schools.

The first thing doesn't try to be well-rounded.

Know that the class the schools are not looking for 100 individuals; they're looking for a well-rounded class.

So what does that mean? 

That means you need to be unique in some amazing way. Does that mean you need to be the best in the world? 

That would be great if you're 12 or 13 and you have a passion for something; go for it and become one of the best in the world; you have time to develop your talents and develop your skills. 

If not, then it's going to require some nuance. It's going to require some strategy to find the intersection of your values, your strengths, of your interests right, and to find a way to make an impact in your sphere of influence and make a difference.

And yes, of course, I'm referring to one of the things that we do really, really well in the ivy league challenge, which is set students apart in amazing ways by creating an impact in their community, creating an impact that is personally meaningful to the student that shows what their values are that shows off their strengths.

And if you begin early enough, one of the other things that I'd like to emphasize is that you shouldn't wait until grade 11 or grade 12 to begin making your impact or to begin looking at which universities to apply to start early grade eight nine.

I know that sounds unbalanced. I know that sounds crazy. 

It would be crazy if the only reason why you want to consider college admissions when you're in 8th grade or 7th grade, or 9th grade if the only reason you want to consider them is that you have your heart set on the ivy leagues or one or two particular schools, or you think that yourself value or your future success is going to come from the university that you attend. 

None of those things are true, and none of those things are healthy.

On the other hand, if you begin to explore different universities and the admissions process when you're in 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade, or 9th grade, you do that because you recognize that becoming the best version of yourself is the best way to set yourself apart and become desirable to these top schools.

Then why not start when you're younger, even when you're 11 or 12, or 13 years old? 


Why not begin identifying your values, your strengths, and your interests? 

Why not begin finding small issues in your sphere of influence so that you can begin to solve small problems that are meaningful to you? 

And why not begin those projects as you get older? 

And as you gain competence and gain confidence, as you begin solving problems and more and more meaningful ways and your sphere of influence begins to expand. 

Why not? 

Continue to be your best self in addressing these issues and making the world a better place.

Why buy into the myth that you're too young?

That, again, is a map from decades ago.

It no longer applies in today's world.

If you continue to use the wrong mindset to try to achieve the best version of yourself, thinking that this wrong mindset, this incorrect map, this map from 20 years ago, will get you to your destination today. 

You're going to have so much frustration, and your parents, who might be listening, or college counselors might be listening to this podcast.

They might recognize the metaphor that I've described in this podcast.

It comes straight from Stephen Covey, the seven habits of highly effective people.

And also in that book, in the same chapter, actually, there's this story that I want to leave you with just.

If you're tempted to kind of, stay stubborn with your old perspective on how to get what you want and how to get into the top universities. 

This is an experience, as told in the magazine of the naval institute, called proceedings.

It says two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days.

I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell.

The visibility was poor, with patchy fog. So the captain remained on the bridge, keeping an eye on all activities.

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported a light bearing on the starboard bow. Is it steady or moving stern?

The captain called out. Look out, replied the steady captain, which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship. 

The captain then called to the signalman to signal that ship was.

We are on a collision course. I advise you to change the course to 20 °. Back came a signal advisable for you to change course 20 °. The captain said, send, I'm a captain change course, 20 °. I'm a seaman in second class, can the reply? You had better change course 20 °.

By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out send. I'm a battleship. Change course, 20 °. Back came the flashing light. I'm a lighthouse.

We changed course. Like I said before, the stress of this college admissions process and what it does to youth today is just not right.

The great news is we do not have to try and use 20-year-old maps to get where we want to go.

Now the process is so much more healthy than it was 20 years ago.

Because the best way that you can prepare yourself to get accepted to the Top universities in the world is to become your most authentic self and the best version of yourself to truly live out your own values, your strengths, and your interests, and find ways to make the world a better place through what I call your superpower.

That zone is where your values, strengths, and interests intersect. So pick your head up, my friends. Smile.

The path to your dream university is far more healthy than it ever was before.

It involves you deciding to become the best version of yourself that you can be. You got this.