Back to Podcast Index →

Elite College Admissions Made Easy

Discover how to end the stressful college admissions madness and get into

a top school in a more effective, empowering and fun way.


| “You become memorable when you start doing grown-up things. When you start solving problems in your sphere of influence.”

 It sure seems like everyone  says if you want to get into a top-tier college, you need to:

  1. Take the most rigorous coursework available at your school and do well
  2. Retake ACT or SAT until you can score above a 34 or above 1550. Hire a tutor if necessary
  3. Join multiple clubs. But don't just be a participant; become the president or leader of student council, MUN, or both.
  4. Develop your "spike." Become good enough to win national/international awards in science, math competitions, writing, etc.

          Sounds exhausting, doesn't it?

    Yet tens of thousands of ambitious teens sacrifice sleep, fun, friends, and more in order to accomplish this feat.

     Anyone who has had a family member go through college admissions knows what     I'm talking about.

     Teachers, college counselors, parents, and peers all support this message.

    But it is a terrible strategy.

     Think about it. When you apply to [SCHOOL], your application will be one of some 30,000 or more applicants.

     A few thousand of these applicants will be valedictorians.

     Several thousand will be valedictorians with outstanding test scores and demonstrated leadership.

    And, depending on the school, most of these students will be rejected.

    Harvard President Faust said they could fill their incoming freshman class twice over with only valedictorians each year.

    Yet only a fraction of them actually gets in.


    Because it is not the most qualified student who gets in.

    Think about it.

    If you had to read through 30,000+ applications to choose a group of less than 2k students, how would you decide who was more qualified?

     When everyone is following the same strategy-- do all four steps I listed at the top-- then how will you stand out?

    The answer for most teens (and their teachers, parents, and counselors) is "I'll stand     out by doing everything better than everyone else."

    Look at that. Your "stand out" strategy is to do the same things everyone else is doing, but you'll do them better?

    That is not standing out.

     It also happens to be exhausting.



    Just stop.

    Doing those things better than everyone else helps you stand out in your own high school. But not to an Ivy League admissions officer.

    I've spoken to the people who decide who gets into Harvard, UPenn, Stanford, Dartmouth, and more.

    They have no way of knowing which applicant is truly the most impressive or the most qualified.

    They wish they knew, but they have no way of truly knowing.

    So they choose the most interesting person.

    So sacrificing your fun, friends. sleep, and sanity is not only a terribly high price to pay, but once you've paid it, you often end up without the admittance letter you were hoping for in the first place.


    When I got my MS at Harvard, I discovered that the campus was FULL of students who did not follow that strategy.


    Instead, they spent high school and middle school pursuing their genuine interests.

    They cultivated impressive curiosity, and learned how to pursue that curiosity to an unusually high level.

     And they cared about something.

    They weren't just curious, they also wanted to make their communities better in some way.

    They made an impact.

    They didn't spend their middle school and high school years trying to 'become' the person who might be good enough to get into their dream school--they didn't care about becoming anyone else.

    They were just genuinely curious and wanted to make some aspect of the world a     little bit better because of that.


   You want to get into a top-tier college… well, you’re not alone. Many other students want to get into those colleges as well.


With such tremendous competition, how do you set yourself apart? 


     Listen to find out!



  • The outdated & ineffective approach that most students take
  • A real price you’re guaranteed to pay by following bad advice
  • 2 mind-shifting questions to help with your college prep
  • What elite students are doing to get into elite universities
  • How to make college admissions easy as well as fun
Take the Challenge

Ready to take the challenge?


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

Listen to my podcast

Listen to other podcasts 

Success Mindset

The right mindset can ensure your success. Listen to begin building your own winning mindset now. 

Start listening

Build Your Confidence 

When everyone else is trying to fit in or go with the flow, learn how you can develop the confidence you need to blaze your own successful path. 

Start listening

Reduce Stress & Anxiety 

Stories, research, real-life examples... Listen to learn how my Harvard peers and I faced stress and overwhelm. 

Start listening

How to Stand Out 

Hard work and great test scores are not enough- but what kind of admissions prep activities will help you get in? It's not what you think... 

Start listening

Admissions Strategy 

Essays, rec. letters, curriculum choices, college visits, research, test scores, and more. Don't wear yourself out with a bad strategy.  

Start listening

Succeed In High School 

The best college prep will ensure you thrive in middle school & high school. Don't settle for stressful, unhelpful college prep advice. 

Start listening

Would you like to be notified when new episodes are launched in your favorite category?

Yes, sign me up



Welcome back to season two of the Ivy League Prep Academy Podcast. Equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential, and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back.

So you want to get into a good college. Well, as you know, you are not alone. A lot of other people want to get into a good college as well.

So what do you do with such tremendous competition? How do you set yourself apart? How do you stand out from everyone else? Well, if you're like most people, you're going to take the most rigorous courses that your high school offers. Then you're going to get as good A grades as possible in each of those courses. That's step number one.

Check. Step number two. You're going to need to work with someone or work with an organization and retake the SAT or ACT enough times to make sure you get a 35 36 on the act or a 1550 or above on the SAT.

Check. And then once you've done those two things, you're probably going to look at demonstrating leadership, right? But you can't just participate in school clubs. You can't just be a member of United Nations model.

United nations or Student Council? No, you probably need to be the student body president or the Secretary General. Whatever it is. You're going to want to stand out as a leader, if not the leader of the organization, in order to demonstrate leadership.

And finally, that's step three. Check that off the list and move on to step four, which for most people is find something that you can have a quote unquote spike in, right? So win math awards at math competitions that are at the national or international level, participate in English writing competitions of some kind, or win accolades or get published or do something really, really fantastic in some academic area and check, check. Once you've done all four of those things, well, congratulations.

You have moved your application out of the automatic reject pile and into the to be considered pile. Fantastic way to go. At what expense? If you follow this approach, which, let's be honest, this is the approach that everyone is following, right? This is what you probably heard from your college counselors at your school, from your teachers, from your parents, from everyone, it seems like.

So this is what everyone is doing, right? It has to be a good strategy. But remember, what you're trying to accomplish here, what you're actually trying to accomplish, is demonstrating that you deserve a spot on this campus when everyone else who's doing the same things does not deserve a spot on this campus. And if you're following this strategy, what is the cost to you? What are you giving up in order to take the most rigorous classes and get straight as to get top top test scores with your standardized tests to become president or something similar in the biggest clubs on campus and then to develop some kind of academic spike and win awards or chess competitions or do something that is just clearly better than everyone else.

What's the cost to you? Surely you've thought about it. Surely you've even experienced it and you might say, well, it's no big deal, right? Yeah, it's a ton of work. In fact, it's a real grind.

It's brutal at times, but in the end, it will all be worth it. If I lose sleep, if I lose friends, if I lose out on fun and everything else, okay, that's okay. But I realize that my teenage years are short and the rest of my life is long and it will be worth it in the end if I can get into one of these dream universities.

Well, I have two things to say. Number one, that's a big if. All you've done is move your application out of the automatic rejection pile into the to be considered pile.

But number two, that cost that you just described, or that I just described, it's really high. Giving up sleep and friends and fun, that's actually a really high cost. And it's not the full cost that you're bearing.

When you approach life through this approach, guess what else you're doing? You're disengaging from the real you. You're looking at yourself and you're saying, well, since I'm not enough, my interests, my values, the things that I care about, since that's not good enough, I need to look outside of myself and see what other people have done that got them into universities because they are good enough. And if I can be more like them, then I can be good enough too.

Do you see how dangerous this approach is? Even if we don't factor in the lost sleep, the lost fund, the last lost friends, just the approach itself, the philosophy by itself is a very, very expensive price to pay. Now, what happens when we pay that price, when we pay the price that says, I know that I'm not good enough or I believe that I'm not good enough by myself, my core values, my interests, my strengths, I'm just not good enough. I'm just too average.

But if I can become like that person, or if I can become like what my dream university is looking for, then I can be good enough. Guess what else? We give up. We lose out on genuine curiosity.

We lose out on what's beautiful in life. We don't connect. We don't resonate with the things around us that would interest us, that would cause us to explore and to really dive in and become experts at something.

Because we're not even trying to connect to our own core values. We're not even trying to connect to our own interests. Instead, we're trying to follow a recipe that we think is going to work because it worked for someone else.

And the costs just keep compounding from there. Once you're disengaged from school. Once you're disengaged from your activities, then you become tempted to try to escape from life through one mechanism or another.

For many students, that is escaping into social media or gaming or movies or whatever entertainment of some kind. For others, it's more high risk behaviors. But the goal is the same.

The goal is to try to escape from this mundane experience day in and day out. When you disengage from your life, when you disengage from the activities of your day, originally you disengaged because you thought you found something better to pursue. But over time, you forget yourself.

You lose that connection between your values, what you care about, and your day to day activities. Pretty soon you're going to lose that spark for learning. And shortly thereafter, you begin to lose that spark for your day to day activities and for life itself.

You wake up not excited for the day, not looking forward to what you have to explore and what you have to learn. You wake up feeling overwhelmed, feeling anxious, feeling like no matter what you do, it won't be good enough. Today, yet again, the price is very, very high to pay.

And so last week I proposed a question for those of you who believe that working harder is the solution to every single problem. And I pointed out the fact that at some point, laws of economics will enter into the equation and you will begin to experience diminishing returns. So you can listen to last week's episode to kind of get up to speed on this idea if you haven't listened to it yet.

But I proposed two ideas. There. I said, once you get to the point where the hard work that got you to your current level of success is not providing those same returns, in other words, you're not seeing the success that you used to see by working harder when you work harder.

And what some people choose to do is they say, well, I'm not getting as much success as I used to. Maybe I just need to work even harder. And you double down and double down until more and more hours of effort lead to less and less returns.

So I asked you to ask two questions instead of how can I fit this all in? How can I work hard enough to get this all done, et cetera, which are the kind of go to questions for that persona. Instead, shift that question on its head and say, how can this be fun? Or how can this be easy? And I want to answer those questions in the context of college admissions because when you're in middle school and you're in high school, it feels like your job is to prepare for the next stage. And your middle school teachers are probably telling you and parents are probably saying things like, you need to work really, really hard because high school is coming.

And then when you get to high school, it's the same thing all over again. You need to work really, really hard because college is coming. Well, how long will that last? Will you continue that approach in college like almost everyone else does, work really, really hard because soon you're going to get your first job and then approach your first job the same way.

Work really, really hard so that you can get a promotion or you can get another job. At what point do you begin to question that strategy for life? At what point do you say, I care about certain things and I want to make an impact on those things that I care about? I want to spend my time and energy making the world a little bit better in these areas that I care about? So in middle school and high school, you might feel tempted to say, well, I'm not qualified yet, so let me work really, really hard now so I can get the education I need and then gain experience, and then I'll go make my impact. And I just have to tell you that my peers at Harvard and the students that are getting into these elite universities, they decided not to approach school that way.

They decided not to approach life that way. They decided not to say, well, I'll wait until I'm qualified and then I'll make my impact. And because they decided not to wait, they started making an impact.

As a teenager, as an early teenager, 13, 1415 years old, they start solving a problem inside of their community and guess what happens? They begin to learn that there are things they don't understand yet. So they develop new skills. They fail as they begin to try to solve this problem in their community, this problem that violates their core values.

And as they fail, they become reflective and they ask for support. They ask for help. And along the way, they're learning how to ask for support.

They're learning how to troubleshoot, they're learning how to solve problems and prevent the next failure. As a result, they develop experience that all the rest of the students around the world just don't develop. The rest of the students who are too busy preparing for the next level because life's not ready to begin yet.

Life only begins after you're fully educated and have all the experience you need. And then you can begin to make your impact. Then you can begin to solve these problems well again.

Not only did my peers at Harvard and students all around the top universities in the United States, those campuses are full of students who decided not to approach life that way. Not only is that true, but also I think it's important for you to know, before I was an educator, I worked as a high performance coach and a personal trainer, a personal development coach. I worked with a lot of adults, with a lot of even CEOs and business owners who came to me and said, I've lived my whole life without really identifying my values.

I don't know what they are anymore. And they paid a tremendous amount of money for help in identifying those values so that they could become more congruent, so that they could reattach to life, so that they could experience what life feels like rather than this. Detached experience that they were experiencing because they were under the wrong impression that they should be preparing for the next chapter of their life.

And they had been doing that their whole lives. So this mindset that you can prepare now and then you make your impact later is broken for both of these reasons. Number one, you're not going to get into the top schools that you think will help prepare you to make the impact you want to make.

And number two, even after you've finished college and right now, while you're 14 or 15, you think that you will be qualified at 25 or 35 or 45 when you reach 2535-4555 and beyond. If you haven't begun solving problems on your own and failing and reflecting and figuring out why it didn't work and asking for help, if you haven't begun that whole process, you will not have the skills to solve the problems. And so opportunities to solve these problems that you care about will come and go, but you cannot take advantage of them because you've never developed the skills.

You've never developed the mindset, you've never developed the skills. So let's get back to our question. This idea that sometimes working harder isn't the best solution.

Sometimes working harder doesn't lead to better results. Hard work is wonderful. Again, I don't want you to misunderstand me.

Hard work is wonderful, and it does get you to a tremendous level of success. But at some point, working harder and harder and harder has diminishing returns. It doesn't give you the results that you need once you've already developed that work ethic.

So once you get to that point where your work ethic is great, working harder is not always the solution. Instead, can we make this easy? Can we make this fun? College admissions can be both easy and fun. Because in a sea of applications that are filled with people who did exactly what I described at the first couple of minutes of this podcast got the best grades, the best test scores, the best activities, showed leadership, got awards, all of that.

All of these universities are filled with applicants that are doing that. How on earth are the admissions officers supposed to find the most impressive of all these very, very impressive applications? Well, they don't. Generally what they do is they find some that they think are the most impressive.

They're pretty much all the same on an application. But generally what they do is they choose the people who they find the most memorable, the people that fit the different spots that they're looking for on campus who are memorable in some way. You become memorable as you start to do grown up things, as you start to solve problems in your sphere of influence.

So rather than the ineffective and unsuccessful approach of doing the same thing everyone else is doing, but doing it better than everyone else, and hoping that doing it better is going to help you stand out rather than that approach, consider, can we make this easy? Can we make this fun? And in order to do that, you begin with recognizing your core values. When you know your core values, do an Average Joe Activity Audit, and I've described this activity before. An Average Joe Activity Audit means that you list all of the activities you're doing and you mark the ones that an average student with enough time and enough money could also do.

Any of those activities are not helping you stand out. They're not helping you get in, even if you have a million of them. Colleges don't admit people based on how good they are at multitasking, right? So none of those activities are helping you get in.

Eliminate them from your schedule and free up that time so you can begin to explore your interests with genuine curiosity. As you do that, you find problems, issues in your community that make you angry or that break your heart. Those are the things that violate your personal values.

So how can you step up and make a difference? How can you advocate for people who need you? Or how can you make a change or make an improvement in your school, in your community, in your sphere of influence? What you'll find is that you reengage with your core values and your curiosity spikes. With that curiosity spike, you're going to reengage in your school activities as well. Just because you're reengaged with life itself.

Your relationships flourish, the energy that you have throughout the day improves. You have more time to be curious and to explore these ideas. And so you can go deeper.

You can become truly interesting. You can even become an expert in one field or another and do things that actually make you stand out rather than just exhaust you. If you want help with this process, I've created an entire course called the Ivy League Challenge that takes you from pillar one, where you're just discovering who you are and what your beliefs about success are all the way.

To pillar five, where you become an Ivy League Challenge champion who is literally just scaling the results of your impact project and becoming more and more interesting over time and more and more impressive. I'd love to help you through this process, but the point is, if you are approaching college admissions through the strategy of doing the same things everyone else is doing but trying to stand out by doing them better, you're probably exhausting yourself. You're probably disengaging from life, and that cost is too high.

Consider instead a more fun and a more successful approach. Consider the Ivy League Challenge.