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How To Handle Fierce Admissions Competition



Do you ever feel like preparing for college is like fighting for limited seats on a train? 

This can make you feel anxious, frustrated, and overwhelmed.

After all, there are only so many seats available, right?

There are only so many valedictorians, so many science olympiad winners, and only so many captains of the team. The seats on the “we’re better than everyone else at everything” train are indeed very limited. And there are countless people fighting over them.

But there is a better way. 

In fact, what if the selective colleges you feel like you need to fight others to get into aren’t that interested in passengers of that train? 

Because the train tracks were laid by someone else before you, selective colleges are generally going to look for a few passengers of the “better than everyone at everything” train, and choose most of their class among the students they discover paving their own path. 

How do you pave your own path? 


Ready for the Ivy League Challenge? 

Take the Challenge today!


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've been having lots of conversations with the parents of teenagers and the teenagers themselves. And I hear a lot of consistent things. Many people are talking about how it's very stressful, how competition is fierce, and the overall process feels overwhelming. I understand how that must feel just to feel so stressed out that the competition is so intense. Because if you think about it, there are only so many internships for the perfect job you want on the internet, or there are only so many research positions.

We can take this further at every single step. There are only so many regional science or math olympiad winners. There are only so many national winners and so many international winners. There are only so many captains on the baseball team or the other team you're a part of. There are only so many leaders and presidents and whatever else of the different groups, the organizations, the choirs, the bands, the orchestras, everything you're involved in. Because there are only so many spots available, it feels like everyone is trying to get onto a train bound for their dream college. But you can't figure out how to get a seat. All the seats are taken. There is a line, not just a line, but a fierce battle over who can get onto the train to take those last remaining seats or see if they can somehow sneak in some other way.

But ironically, most highly selective schools are not interested in most of the passengers on this train. If this train is full of everyone trying to be the best at everything, remind yourself of something we've discussed on this podcast. If you haven't heard it before, let me tell you now. If you have, I hope this message is starting to settle because I've already talked about this on this podcast several times. The dean of admissions at Harvard articulated this. She was the dean up until, I believe, 2018. But Drew Faust was the dean of admissions. And she famously said we could not take all of the Valedictorians in our applications. We get enough applications to fill more than two classes just with valedictorians. If the belief were true that these admissions officers at the most selective schools were looking for the most impressive students, right? Trying to figure out who the most remarkable students are and then taking them, then how they may make those decisions. I imagine they might look at your application and see all the activities you did.

And maybe one category would be who did more activities than everyone else, who had more ps, who had more clubs, did more sports, did more of everything, and did more research. Let's put them on one side of the scale. And then the other side of the continuum is the sluggish people. And only people will have this cutoff. And we'll take the most ambitious, most hardworking students. I know that for many of you listening in, that's how you see the job or the role of the admissions officer to interpret who is the hardest worker and who's the most impressive through their sheer effort and work ethic. That is not how admissions officers choose the class.


The next possibility also is not true. This big myth is that they're looking for the smartest students possible. How could you decide if you're the admissions officer? How do you decide which valedictorian is better qualified? How do you decide which one is smarter? Keep in mind some context here that admissions officers at all of these schools have talked about. They try to make apples to apple comparisons. They aren't going to penalize you if your school doesn't have opportunities for more AP classes.

We already know they can't say it's whoever takes the most AP classes or gets the most fives on their AP tests. Or ib is better than ap is better than a level, is better than let's just take the most brilliant person based on some mathematical formula. That's also not what's happening. And, how could you decide which of these valedictorians is smarter if you're the admissions officer? Kay a, it's a fool's errand. And that's not what they do, and they haven't been pretending to do that for a long time.

Most people are elbowing and fighting to get onto the train that someone else is established in; this train is the best at everything, right? In our metaphor, trying to be better than everyone at everything. Meanwhile, that train may often stop at your dream college, but it's only going to let a couple of people off. They are interested in a very different type of student. I know this because I've spoken with the admissions officers and talked to my classmates and my peers at Harvard; many of them were outstanding, better than everyone at everything, people.

And those people are on campus. They're all over campus. But even more of my friends at Harvard were people who were regular human beings. They had a mission; they had something they were dedicated to and committed to. They almost took it too far. These were people who began caring about something early on. And they were probably fortunate because somehow they discovered something that lit a fire in their soul. It aligned completely with their core values, even if they didn't have the language to express it that way. They didn't know that the activity they cared about aligned so closely with their core values; they knew that it mattered to them deeply that they had to do something about it. They couldn't just look and observe and see what was happening in the world. They had to take action and make their community a better place. And it was the mission that made them great. There was something they cared about, and they took action as a result.

Now, this is the question that I want everyone to consider right now. If there is a better way, a way that does not require that you elbow people out of the way so that you can get in line and try to force your way, fight your way onto the train, and get a seat on the train that someone else laid the tracks for, that someone else decided how many seats there were.

And if there was a better way, if it was possible, this train might pass right by the destination you want to go to. This isn't your best chance at getting into your dream college. Wouldn't you want to consider the better way just because it will be more enjoyable and more aligned with who you are?

It would be best if you considered paving your trail. And here's where the metaphor breaks down: laying train tracks takes a ton of work, infrastructure takes a long time, and lots and lots of people can benefit. The truth is going to a highly selective school is not something that masses and masses of people can do.

And you are finding your way to the campus, finding your path, not trying to board a train where the tracks have been laid by someone else. But you are exploring what matters most to you and making your community a better place. That is the strategic, practical, fun, amazingly empowering, and confidence-building way to prepare for college. I hope this message lands for you because registration for the ivy league challenge is now open, as I told you at the beginning.

I've been having conversations every single day. These conversations are with ambitious teenagers and parents who care deeply for their teens. I care about you as well. And that's why I love the Ivy League Challenge.

Here is the Ivy League explained and how it works; 

In 12 weeks, we go through three phases of transformation.

Phase one: 

We help you discover, in phase one, what your core values are so that you can make daily decisions aligned with those core values.

And you can enjoy the benefits of being more confident and being more full of life, full of zest, full of energy, and focused more on everything because you're making choices that are better aligned.

Your core values give you the energy left over to do well in your classes since you're not exhausting yourself by doing activities.

So that you can fight your way under the train because you think that will help you stand out. Instead, figure out your core values.

Phase two: 

Then in phase two, we help you decide on the impact project.

How do you convert those core values into a real-life impact that authentically improves your community? That's what we call the impact project.

And that is your mission that becomes the mission that you stand up for.

That aligns with your core values. And that allows you to make your community a better place because you exist. What is that going to do?

When do you start solving real problems in the real world, in your real community?

Even if these problems are relatively small, you show admissions officers that you have problem-solving skills and don't just talk about your core values.

You live them that you have the fortitude, grit, and emotional intelligence to manage people, lead people, communicate effectively, and work through the problems that are going to arise and resolve them so that you can solve problems and make a real impact.

Now, part of this success is going to come because of phase three: 

We teach you how to reach out to experts, professors who are also trying to solve the same problems that you're solving, and other experts who are doing what you're doing, but on a larger scale, and we'll teach you how to use professional communication to reach out to these people, to recruit them onto your team, or to offer your services to help them as they solve their problem in their field.

We also teach you how to integrate phase one, your core values, and phase two in phase three. Your impact project into a compelling application where you demonstrate thoughtfulness and self-awareness that is unusual for a teenager.

And that's the stuff that jumps out of the paper. When we're talking about college applications, as you might understand, this support is critical, even if you're a junior and don't have time to redo all this stuff.

That is something that even if you have very little time remaining before you apply, it will be a good use of your time. But as you can imagine, the students who benefit the most from the ideal age for the ivy league challenge are much younger. The ideal age is between grades 8,9 and 10. Some students are ready to even earlier.

And then, if you find out about this in grade 10 or 11 and wish you had known sooner.

Still, there is no time like the present to take advantage, discover your core values, find a way to impact your community in a meaningful way, and maximize those two things in your application in a strategic way so that you can stand out and get into the college of your dreams.

That is the Ivy league challenge, rather than fighting over spots someone else created on a train. That's not that impressive for the colleges that you're looking to go to blaze your trail, grounded in your core values, and create the evidence for those values in the form of a real-life impact in your community.

Join the Ivy League Challenge today.