Back to Podcast Index →

Teens, Your Relationships Are Everything!

“Surround yourself with friends who strive for excellence, build relationships with your teachers, college counselors, professors, and even admissions officers. These are all relationships that you want to develop for your future success.”

In middle school, managing relationships with your peers and adults can be challenging. But it’s crucial for your success. And above all, the first relationship you need to manage very well is the relationship you have with yourself.

If you’re struggling to build quality relationships in school, then this is a podcast you don’t want to miss! Here’s what’s coming up:


  • Why it’s critical to surround yourself with the right group of peers
  • What to do if you feel limited by the students in your school
  • The one skill that you want to start building in middle-school
  • How to develop better relationships with teachers
  • The best discussion topics to have with your college counsellor
  • How to take your recommendation letters to the next level
  • The biggest reason why kids get disengaged in schools

     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.

One of the things that people ask me all the time is when a student should begin preparing for college admissions. And they're often really surprised by my answer, because I honestly believe that middle school is the best time to prepare for college. Now, when people hear that, oftentimes students and adults, parents, teachers alike, all kind of immediately oppose the idea.

Right. Many of these people feel like making students prepare for college while in middle school would rob them of their childhood and add unnecessary stress. Look, I get it.

If college admissions preparation is stressful, if it's all about pushing yourself to become someone that you're not, if it's all about trying to play a game of, what is my dream school looking for in an applicant so I can become that person, yeah, that's a stressful strategy, and I do not recommend it at all. Not just I don't recommend it for middle school. I don't recommend it for young kids.

I don't recommend that strategy at all. So, no, do not begin that strategy in middle school. In fact, just avoid that strategy completely.

So preparing for your dream college in middle school is not about stressing over grades. It's not about logging hundreds or thousands of hours of community service and worrying about whether you're the captain of the club or the basketball team or whatever else. Look, as a Harvard grad who has gained insight from Ivy League students, professors, admissions officers, I've discovered that there is a better way to prep for a top college.

What I teach my students is a growth oriented method that my middle school students find really enjoyable. It doesn't put pressure on kids to be someone that they're not, and it's not stressful at all. In fact, as an educator, I see middle school students disengage at numbers that are just tragic.

And I blame some of that disengagement for a lot of the misunderstandings about what education should be, what education is, and what preparing for university and preparing for professional life should look like. Those misunderstandings are a big part of the disengagement. If we were to flip that on its head and help students identify that real preparation for professional work, real preparation for college, is actually about identifying your core values and meaningfully living into those core values, leaning in and becoming more of who you really are, becoming the best of who you really are.

I think we would see these middle school students reengage at levels that we couldn't even dream are possible at this stage. Why do I think that? Well, because I've seen it happen over and over and over again inside of the Ivy League challenge. So today I want to talk about one of the five fatal pitfalls to Avoid in Middle School if you want to get into your dream university, I've actually written a guide.

It's free and it's available to you if you'd like to download it. With five different pitfalls, today we're going to talk about one of them, and that is the pitfall of neglecting to manage your relationships. So in middle school, managing relationships can be challenging, but it is crucial for success, right? Over and over and over again.

As a teacher in middle school and high school, I've seen students opportunities hinge on their peer group. And let me be really clear the first relationship that you need to manage really, really well as a middle schooler, even though you're young, 1213 years old, I understand that at this age, the most important thing in your life is to be liked and to have peers that like you and appreciate you. And oftentimes you're willing to do things that are not you in order to earn their acceptance and earn what you think is their friendship.

But let me be really clear those you allow into your inner circle will influence your motivations and your actions. If you surround yourself with friends who strive for excellence, you will become better together. If you surround yourself with those who are apathetic, you will be tempted to goof off and underperform.

So choose your peer group wisely now, if you feel limited by the students at your school, then join an academic group or some other club online to keep your skills sharp and to have friendship and camaraderie and community that is more healthy and more supportive of your ambitions. I really can't emphasize enough that your peer group, your friends, will influence you a lot. It's really important to choose carefully and be proactive.

But peers are not the only relationships that you need to manage, right? Middle school is a great time to learn how to navigate relationships with teachers. So as a general rule, I would like to see yourself as a student who is developing skills, right? One of those skills is for self advocacy. So unless there's a serious issue like abuse involved, you as the student, rather than your parents, should be resolving issues or frustrations with teachers.

Sure, you can ask your parents or your guardians for advice, but not for help. Resolving conflict will help you gain confidence with adults, and you'll be surprised at how much respect teachers have for you as you do this. And I've gone into greater detail into this subject.

How to manage your relationships with teachers I've gone into pretty great detail in my previous podcast, how to Get straight A's. I'll go ahead and link that podcast in the show notes as well. But I want you to remember that even in middle school, that it's important to develop relationships with teachers.

And these relationships are relationships of trust. You develop them by performing well in class, being authentic, and being trustworthy. And you also develop them by being kind and by asking teachers for support or for help.

Ask them in a way that is respectful and ask them in a way that makes them excited to help you. There are ways to do this, and I talk about it in detail in the how to Get Straight A's podcast. But in addition to what I advise in that podcast, I also want to emphasize that when you apply to university, you will require three letters of recommendation, two from your teachers and one from your college counselor.

So developing relationships with teachers is a good skill to build, because later on, somewhere around grade ten, you are going to need to follow a very specific strategy to introduce yourself to some key teachers and brainstorm with them. Your core values so that they understand your values, so that when they write their letters of recommendation for you, their letters of recommendation reinforce the rest of your application. And it feels so much more cohesive, it feels so much more authentic to the admissions officer who reads your application.

So when you're in middle school, you don't need to worry about that yet, but just know that that's coming. So in middle school, it's important to develop your skills around just communicating with adults, solve problems with those adults, advocate for yourself when you need to, and approach adults for help or support or for advice, and you'll be amazed. Teachers are often in this industry because they want to help people like you, and when they find someone who reaches out and wants their support, they're thrilled, absolutely thrilled.

So I encourage you to do this now, just a sneak peek for when you do get into high school. And I know that many of the listeners of this podcast are already in high school, so for those of you who are not there yet, just listen kind of in anticipation. Those of you who are in high school, remember, you're going to need two letters of recommendations from teachers and one from a college counselor.

Your college counselor is pretty much set. You do need to develop a relationship with that person, and you develop that relationship in exactly the same way I just described as you would do with your teachers. But oftentimes it's difficult to find a topic to go discuss with your college counselor.

Brainstorming about your personal values is a really good idea. And then those of you who are longtime listeners of this podcast or who have actually participated in the Ivy League Challenge, you know that we are all about your Impact Project in the Ivy League Challenge. So discussing your Impact Project with your college counselor is a really good idea.

One of the best things to do is just to email them or to come talk to them and say, look, I've started this project because I'm passionate about these things. I have these values, and I wanted you to know about it. Because you might be aware of other students who might benefit from the work that I'm doing.

Little messages like that open up doorways to excellent conversations with your college counselor. They need to be aware of your Impact Project and your personal values. But let's talk about the next level of recommendation letters.

What my students do in the Ivy League Challenge is they reach out to college professors. And yes, that can be scary, but I have an email template that they follow. We have a set system that teaches students exactly how to identify the college professors that would be open to this, how to reach out to them, how to communicate with them, and how to network.

Until you actually begin providing support to a college professor, you begin actually helping them conduct their research in a meaningful way. Well, that's a game changer, because if you have a letter of recommendation from a college professor who is conducting research in the exact same field that you are engaged in with your Impact Project, now suddenly your application to university is elevated to a whole nother level. Now, I teach that strategy, and I teach exactly how to do that in the Ivy League Challenge, which we'll talk about in just a second.

But I just wanted to emphasize that the development of these skills, increasing your emotional intelligence, increasing your confidence, learning to be more proactive, learning networking strategies and building a supportive community, identifying your personal values, all of these things are important to begin. Even in middle school, even when you're young, if you have disengaged from school, it is almost certainly because you see no connection between your personal values and the work that you do every day in school. And that disengagement is not going to help you perform at a level that's going to get you admitted to your dream university.

It's also not going to help you succeed after school, after you finish university. So even in middle school, even when you're young, all the more important when you're in high school. Of course, that goes without saying.

Obviously, most of my listeners are high school students. But even when you're younger, even in middle school, it's important to begin developing all of those elements the emotional intelligence, building confidence, proactivity, being proactive, building your supportive community, developing relationships with teachers and with adults, identifying your personal values. All of that is important to begin when you're younger, reengage in school, reengage in the best of who you are, begin making an impact within your sphere of influence, and then begin scaling that impact so that by the time you get to high school, your early years of high school, you can already reach out to professors.

You'll know how to do this. You'll be comfortable communicating with adults. You'll be confident because of all the work that we've done in developing your confidence.

And then you can reach out to college professors, reach out to high school teachers, reach out to your college counselor and even reach out to admissions officers at your dream university. Yes, these are all relationships that you want to develop in high school, and you begin developing those skills when you're still in middle school. So, yes, middle school is a great time to begin preparing for university.

It's not a time to be stressed out. It's not a time to worry about where you're going to go and what you need to do to get in. No, but it is an excellent time.

It is the best time to reengage based on your personal values. It's the best time to develop yourself. It is the best time to build your community, to build your peer group intentionally and proactively so that you support each other throughout these following years.

That will change everything. I encourage you if you're in middle school or if you know someone in middle school that might benefit from this, to go ahead and download the Five Fatal Pitfalls to Avoid in Middle School if you want to get into your dream university. It's a guide that I've written after graduating from Harvard and after spending hundreds of hours with Ivy League students, with Ivy League professors, with admissions officers, to identify the best ways to prep for these top colleges.

And even in middle school, there are important mistakes that you need to avoid. I'll also go ahead and link in the Show Notes. The link to the waitlist.

Currently, the Ivy League challenge is full. We are not accepting applicants, but there is a growing waitlist of interested candidates, and you can sign up at the link posted in the Show Notes. Now, I have had feedback that some platforms don't show the Show Notes very easily, or from students who didn't know how to access those Show notes.

You can sign up for the waitlist at TILC to Waitlist. That's TILC. That stands for the Ivy League Challenge.

TILC t o waitlist. Remember that relationships will either help or hinder you on your path to your dream university. Do not neglect to manage them.

This is your time. Let's do this.