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The Golden Eggs of College Prep

Listen in to learn how this happens and what we should focus on instead in order to keep college prep both healthy and effective.

Every loving parent wants their children to be happy.
But happiness can be elusive-- sometimes seeking happiness seems to push the happiness away, but getting lost in another activity and forgetting about pursuing happiness can produce great joy and happiness.

Similarly, many parents and teens want to get into a great college.
And the motivation that teens feel to get into a great college can be exactly the gift they need to do the work to lead a better, more meaningful life.

Along the way, some teens and families of teens find that motivation to get into a great school turns into desperation.
Once that energy has shifted to desperation, college prep shifts from being a healthy, amazingly motivating gift-- to a toxic, overwhelming nightmare.

But it doesn't have to be this way. 


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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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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.

Every loving parent wants their children to be happy, but we quickly realize that happiness can be elusive, right? Sometimes pursuing happiness makes us less happy, and sometimes getting lost in something else. We end up finding happiness along the way. And so there's this kind of mysterious element to it.

And parents can easily shift their focus from happiness to things like we want our children to be motivated, to be responsible, to be productive, we want our children to be resourceful, and so on and so forth. At some point, we also have ideas about success and the fact that we believe that hard work can lead to success, success can lead to happiness. And so we, over time, shift or evolve that narrative to say, I want my child to be a hard worker so that they can be successful, so that they can be happy.

And it doesn't take long before you begin to think, well, in order to be successful, my child needs to go to the right university, right? And there are a number of universities that would help them. So it's not like we're stuck on one, usually. But we want to work hard so that we can get into a great university.

And then that becomes the mantra. And all the way through high school, sometimes middle school and high school, parents continue to repeat the mantra, you'd better work really, really hard because high school is coming, and then junior year is coming, and then senior year is coming, and then college is coming. And we just have this mindset that college is coming, and so we'd better work hard because that's coming.

Now, if you listen to this podcast, you know that I love hard work. I think working hard is an incredible attribute. It's a wonderful virtue to learn how to discipline yourself, to work hard and to get a lot done.

And at the same time, I don't think that working hard cancels out your ability to be meaningful, to be thoughtful, to be reflective, and to do things with that hard work that end up impacting your community in very, very positive ways. And so I believe that college prep and the motivation that children and then teens have to get into a great college, that can be an absolutely wonderful opportunity to inspire them to become better, to inspire them to be their best selves. There's an American story from Asop's Fables that maybe you've heard and maybe you haven't.

The story is about a farmer who has a goose, and one day the goose lays a golden egg and the farmer is just thrilled with that. He takes it into the market. Come to find out, it actually is pure gold.

He sells it and becomes immediately more wealthy. The next day, he's shocked that there's another golden egg. And over time, he becomes a wealthy farmer.

It's just amazing. What incredible luck. But the farmer begins to become greedy.

He feels like he's not getting wealthy fast enough, and he has things that he wants to buy that cost more than just one egg at a time. And so he has the idea, I'm going to slaughter the goose and open it up so I can have all of the eggs all at once, and then I can become as wealthy as possible, faster. And so the farmer goes in and slaughters the goose.

And of course, there are no eggs inside. It only produces one egg at a time. And now that the goose is dead, there are no more eggs.

There's no more access to this incredible wealth. For far too many teens and for far too many families. College prep can shift from being the goose that lays golden eggs every single day and enriches your life and sets you up for success for the rest of your life.

Sets you up for a better life, a more enjoyable experience. That thing that motivates you to do the little things better and do the hard things so that you can become a better person. And some families and some teens actually kill the golden goose.

They're not satisfied with one egg at a time. They lose focus of the gift that college prep can be for them. And instead, they focus on where they want to go to college at the expense of becoming the kind of person that that college would want to admit, they start trying to reverse engineer the game.

How do I impress the admissions officers? How do I create the resume that communicates to admissions officers in exactly the right way so that they believe that I belong on this campus? That mindset? Instead of creating a happy, healthy, resourceful human being, instead of developing into the best version of yourself, you focus on what I should do or what my child should do to impress the admissions officers to get into my dream college. Unfortunately, we are killing the golden goose. So for a few minutes, I want to touch on the gifts, the golden goose eggs that college prep can give us.

And this is by no means an exhaustive list. In fact, the hardest part of coming up with this particular podcast was deciding to keep it short so that we could get the message across to as many listeners as possible, which meant that I had to cut out a lot of material that I would love to share. But among the most important golden eggs that I believe college prep can give to our teens and to our parents, the first of these is not going to surprise you if you've listened to my podcast before.

College prep can give you the motivation to do the self discovery that's necessary to figure out your core values. And most teenagers don't think about core values. In fact, most adults never think about core values.

Most of our lives are spent preparing for some other day, some other time. How do I know that? Well, just think about it. Think about your own life when you were younger and people older than you said, well, you better work really, really hard because middle school is coming.

And then you better work really, really hard because high school is coming. And then you better work really, really hard because you know, because college is coming. And then when you get to college, what happens? You better work really, really hard because your first job and your first promotion and your first management position and your first this and your first that is coming.

And people live their whole lives preparing for when life is going to begin. Because we better work hard now because the real thing is about to begin. Life is about to start, so we'd better prepare now.

And that message is just broken, right? So plenty of teens are living their lives in this mindset of I'd better work really, really hard because college is coming, or because something else is coming, that mindset means my job now is to prepare for tomorrow as if life hasn't begun yet. But if we understand that admissions officers are not just looking for people who have the quote unquote perfect resume, that there's no such thing as working hard enough to impress your way into a selective college, once we understand that admissions officers are not trying to figure out who worked harder than everyone else and then admit the hardest working or even the smartest or even the most qualified. That in fact admissions officers are just trying to shape a class and create a body or an ecosystem of rich, diverse, different human beings that can work together and support each other.

When they try to shape that class, it's important for them to understand where you fit into the class. And college prep, once you understand that, can help you understand that in order to communicate where you fit into that class, you need to know. Because if you don't know what your core values are and how you might fit into a new community, then how can you expect your admissions officer to figure that out? By reading between the lines of the application that you create when you don't know what your core values are, right? So college prep can be the impetus for figuring out your core values, but it goes beyond that.

It goes way beyond that. If you're familiar with my work, you know all about the next stage beyond core values. We move into phase two, which is the Impact Project.

Now, everyone's heard about a passion project. Everyone's heard about creating a hook or whatever else. There are a lot of different ways that people think about how you attract the attention and become more memorable in the heads of the admissions officers.

Right? That's fine, but we need to take that one step deeper, right? Showing your passion is great because that might help them understand what your core values are. But if you already understand your core values and communicate those, we can communicate far more clearly how we might impact the class that we're included in and how we might graduate four years later and go impact the world at large. Because one thing that these universities are trying to figure out is who is going to graduate in four years and write a bestselling book or start a company that really improves society in some way or goes on to be a leader in government or in some other cause, right? And how do they figure out who's going to go on and make a big impact in the world? Who's going to make the world a better place after they graduate? Because those people who make the world a better place, they bring honor and prestige back to our university.

But how do we find those amazing teens when they're so young? Well, the best way to judge future success is a track record of success. And so if we want to judge someone's likelihood of going and making an impact in the world after they graduate, one of the best indicators is going to be someone who made an impact in their smaller world before they came to college. And so college prep can be that impetus.

It can tell us, look, we figured out our core values and now we recognize that there are problems in the world, there are problems in our community that violate those core values. And I don't have to sit and say, man, when I'm qualified, when I grow up, I'm going to come back and solve this problem because it really irks me. It's really not okay that this problem exists.

Right? We can stop that mindset, stop saying later when I'm qualified, then I'll go make this impact and we can say no. Life right now is not about preparing to start life some other day, some other time. Life begins when I understand my core values and now I know them.

And so I'm going to begin working now to fix this issue that violates my core values. And oftentimes, of course, that becomes difficult. And here's where we get to more beautiful benefits, more amazing golden eggs given to us, these gifts of college prep.

Because the going is going to get tough. If I start trying to solve a real problem in the real world, I might discover that I was pretty naive originally, that I actually thought that this problem was a bit simpler than it really is. And when I try to solve it in one way, it creates new problems for other people.

And when I try to solve it this way, I just fall flat on my face because I didn't get what the issue really was. And when teens experience that kind of friction, that kind of resistance, that kind of frustration, they try and then fail. And it's just a very difficult process.

It's awfully nice if the thing that they're trying to solve is aligned with their core values and if they can see how solving this problem is going to help them become a better person and become more likely to be admitted into the university where they want to go to, right? And so there becomes enough of an impetus, enough of a motivation to overcome the friction and the frustration. And as you do this, you develop resilience and resourcefulness and grit. You develop leadership skills, you develop communication skills, you learn how to communicate with adults and find experts and talk to those experts and get their help.

All of these things are critical skills gifts that college prep can give us as long as we're willing to accept those gifts as they come naturally, one golden egg at a time. If we start worrying too much about what the university admissions officers are looking for and trying to impress them, then we create desperation. And why do I say it's just like killing the goose that lays the golden eggs? Because I've seen it happen over and over and over again.

College prep gave the teen motivation to get started, gave the teen motivation to do things and try new things and take risks and try to become a better version of themselves. But along the way, they became hyper focused on what they thought the admissions officers were looking for, on what they thought the perfect resume would look like. And they try to duplicate someone else's resume because hey, they got into that dream school so let me just do exactly what they did.

I'll take the same APS, the same extracurriculars, the same activities, the same leadership, everything else. And if they got in, maybe I can get in. But we don't realize that that person was doing those things because it aligned with their core values.

They loved doing that extracurricular work. They loved making the impact that they made. They loved the research that they did or whatever it was.

And even when they didn't love it on those days that it was really, really hard, they felt like it was meaningful and it was worth pursuing because they could overcome that friction. They knew that it aligned with their core values and we ignore that and we instead use willpower and self discipline to try to compensate so that we can do these hard things. Also.

What I've seen happen over and over and over and over again is these poor preteens and then teenagers working so hard to try to impress the admissions officers, to impress their teachers, their parents and whoever else that they lose track of who they really are and why they're doing this in the first place. And when the going gets really tough. They start to doubt themselves.

They start to feel like, man, I just can't hack it. That person, my friend, they're good enough. They got in.

They were able to do all this stuff. But when I try to do exactly what they did, it's too hard for me. And I'm beginning to realize that I'm not good enough.

And so let me keep faking it. Let me try to pretend. Let me do my best to put on a facade and make the admissions officers think I might be good enough.

And all along, as this self doubt accumulates inside, but the fear also grows, because now people are going to figure me out. People are going to find out what I really am. That stress and that anxiety builds.

And the whole time they think they're putting on a facade, they think they're not good enough. They can't handle it like other people can. And so they just have to just have to fake it.

And they fake it and fake it and fake it until they can't. And they either burn out and collapse, or they disengage and they pretend that they didn't disengage, and they pretend that everything's okay. But either way, we see children who could have been motivated to become the best versions of themselves through this process could have been motivated to become very resourceful, become very active in ways that are meaningful to them.

And instead, they become totally burned out, totally overwhelmed, and completely insecure. And so my message today that I hope is getting across is not that killing the goose is inevitable in college prep. It absolutely is not.

The way that we kill that goose is when we focus too much on impressing the admissions officers at the expense of becoming a happy, healthy, resourceful person. We should be focusing on what makes us the best version of ourselves. How do we identify our core values, and then how do we align our lives with those core values? Once we've done that, then we can begin figuring out how we want to impact our community in a way that's most meaningful to us.

And then as we do that, that is the time to figure out, okay, strategically, how do I communicate my story in an application? How do I get the best letters of recommendation? How do I communicate with admissions officers? How do I do the things that I know are going to help me stand out? And all of that can be done in context, one golden egg at a time.