Back to Podcast Index →

Should you be a "Team Player"?

| “This mindset is going to change everything. It’s going to encourage you to get involved, support others, and become a better version of yourself. Which is exactly what you want to be doing if you want to stand out and get admitted into one of the top schools.”

It turns out that nearly all of the students who get admitted to elite universities share a lot of common traits. So what are the traits that these successful students have in common? 

It begins with a mindset that you are ALWAYS on a team, and your job is to give more than you take. 


  • What I learned after studying countless graduates, professors, admission officers and parents
  • The surprisingly common traits of successful Ivy League students
  • How to identify if you have the mindset of an elite student
  • Fun way to boost your skills as a team player

     And so much more.


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

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.

Believe it or not, successful students really do see themselves differently than their peers, certainly differently than average students. And because they see themselves differently, they act differently. Those different actions become patterns and habits which create different outcomes.

When I was studying at Harvard, I noticed a very real difference in those students. As part of my due diligence for this podcast and for the Ivy League challenge I've studied, I've continued to interview countless graduates and professors, admissions officers and parents of these admits to identify successful strategies, common strategies of Ivy League students. And what has really surprised me over time is how many common attributes or common traits I discovered along the way.

They will surprise you too. I've discovered that no talent, skill, or strategy can compensate for poor character, even if it gets you a quick win. Today, failing to develop these critical character traits will at best mean you win some battles but lose the war.

So what are the characteristics necessary to get into your dream school and create a fulfilling life beyond college? How are successful students different from average ones? What is it that a top student believes that an average student does not? For the next few weeks on this podcast, I'm going to go over some of the common character traits that I've observed. And these aren't the same traits you probably are thinking about, like diligence or hard work. Those things matter, but the things I'm going to share with you matter more.

For example, every single one of the Ivy League plus students or teachers that I've worked with or spoken with, interviewed for this podcast, for example, every single one of them believed that they were responsible to be a very valuable member of the teams, that they were a part of that mindset, that they are a part of a team and that they have a responsibility to that team to generate value and produce more value than they take from the team. That's something that I've observed that is consistent across the board. So today we're going to start there with the first mindset that I've observed that Ivy League students have, that most average students just do not.

And we'll call this mindset the responsibility to add value to your team. What does it mean to be part of a team? What team are we talking about? Of course, if you play a sport like basketball, you know what contributing to a team could mean. Maybe it means you score lots of points, or maybe you push your teammates during practice.

Maybe you are on the bench. And your role, the way you add value to your team is by cheering them on and supporting them. Maybe you're a role player, maybe you're a star, maybe you sit on the bench.

But whatever your role is, if you have the mindset of the students that I've seen that are successful at getting into Ivy League plus schools, then wherever you are on that team, you feel a responsibility to give more to the team than the team gives to you. And the same holds true if the team is not a sports team. Maybe it's a music element like orchestra.

And of course, you have a responsibility to contribute more than you take from your team. So for example, maybe in an orchestra, your role is to be prepared or over prepared for each practice or rehearsal. Your role might be to be very detail oriented and follow the director very, very carefully.

Maybe your role is the same as on a basketball team. Maybe it's to encourage others or to push your peers to perform even better. And of course, the same holds true beyond just basketball and music and other sports.

The same can hold true for debate, for Model, United Nations or any organization that you're a part of. If you see yourself as a member of a team and you believe that your role on this team, that you have a responsibility to contribute more value to the team than you get back from the team, then you have an Ivy League plus mindset. Now, of course, Ivy League and top tier students have more than just their sports and clubs and music teams that they're a part of.

Every classroom that you join is a new team. Every social organization that you're a part of, your family, all of these are different teams. And you'll find that these successful students, more so than average students, are seeing their involvement in the various organizations that they're a part of as involvement on a team where they have a responsibility to provide more value than they get back.

So in the classroom, that might mean that you participate in class discussions. You engage in the discussions in a way that stimulates better conversations. Maybe it means that you're better prepared, or maybe it means that you know how to prioritize when things get overwhelming.

You know, perhaps that you can't get it all done. But even during those times when it's overwhelming, you have the skill set to prioritize the right things to focus on. And of course, in that classroom, if you're doing these things and you've built up trust with your teacher, with your classmates, so that when you do need to drop a ball because you need to prioritize another one, you've built the trust, you've built the relationship through your previous behavior.

Now I will let you fill in the gaps with family, with social circles, classroom and other teams that you can find yourself as a part of. What's important is that you understand this mindset. I love the way that one Harvard student explained it to me.

She told me that she sees life like a video game. And above her head is a number that represents the value she contributes to each team that she's a part of. So you imagine this massive video game, and above everyone's head, you see a number as they're walking around.

That number just floating above their heads represents the value that they are contributing in that given moment to the team that they are a part of. And as you play this video game, you switch from team to team. And when you move classrooms or you go to your social circles or go home to your family, or go to practice to compete on the soccer team or whatever else, that number floating above your head changes based on the value that you contribute to the team.

And what this particular Harvard student shared with me is that she envisions in her mind that value hovering above her head and hovering above the heads of her teammates and her classmates. And her job is to find ways to increase as much value as possible. If she can help to encourage others so that they contribute more, then that's really, really valuable.

And her number is going to grow even more than the numbers that are growing around her. If she can contribute value in other ways, it's the same thing. But the point is that she is actively focused on this idea that she's a member of a team.

Wherever she goes, she's contributing to a society small or large. She is a contributor. And because she sees herself as a contributor, she constantly sees that number floating above her head.

Her responsibility in her mind is to find ways to add more value to the group than she gets out of the group. What a tremendous mindset that is. A mindset of someone who is going places.

That's the mindset of a student who is going to be recruited by the time they get to college, because their letters of recommendation are going to be outstanding. They will have developed impressive skills just by focusing on how they can contribute more than they take. They will have built up relationships and emotional intelligence that will serve them extremely well over time.

And at that point, once you've developed those skills to that level, it doesn't really matter whether you go to an Ivy League or an Ivy Plus school or not, you're going to do amazing things in life. But of course, like we've talked about before, once you are that kind of person that's going to succeed, whether or not you get into an Ivy League school, that's exactly when the Ivy League schools want you on their campus. So this is the first of several mindsets, several character traits that Ivy League and Ivy League plus students, just elite students, hold that most of their average peers do not.

What I'd like you to do, starting now, is begin playing that game in your head. Start seeing the number that's floating above your head. How much are you contributing to the team that you're engaged in right now? The team that you're a part of right now? How are you contributing? How are you making things better? How are you adding value to that community? And is the value that you're adding to the community greater than what you are getting back? Of course, if you are a high performing student, you're a high performing individual, you're not participating in activities or in communities, in teams that are not giving you value back because that's a waste of your time.

So you're only participating in organizations and in teams that are high value, high output. Now, can you make sure that you are contributing even more than you are getting back? I'll tell you what, if you haven't seen life in this mindset before, it's going to change everything. It's going to encourage you to get involved.

It's going to encourage you to help and support others around you, and it's going to help you become a better version of yourself, which is exactly what you want to be doing if you want to stand out and get admitted to one of these top schools. So how high is that number floating above your head right now? What can you do to add even more value to your communities?