Back to Podcast Index →

The Ivy League Admit's Mindset

Listen in to discover six of the most common limiting beliefs I hear from middle school and high school students and what to do about them.


“The key to standing out is not so much to be impressive or even better qualified. The key is to be interesting. You’ll appear to be very uninteresting in your application if you do the same things everyone else is doing.”

I find that many high school students put Harvard students on a pedestal. But what I wish you understood, is that most of these students are not different from you and your friends. My peers at Harvard, for the most part, were 'normal' students, just like you.


  • The biggest difference between top and average students
  • 2 things that make great students–at Harvard or other top schools–great
  • The 6 the most common limiting beliefs that most students have
  • What to say to yourself to quickly shift your mindset… guaranteed
  • Practical advice for creating transformational life-changing results

Ready for the Ivy League Challenge?

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 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. As I work with students in the ivy league challenge, one of my favorite things to tell them is stories about how ordinary many of my classmates and peers at Harvard actually work. It's fun to tell these stories because oftentimes, I find that high school students today put Harvard students on a pedestal, and with good reason, right? Obviously, it's extremely competitive. It's difficult to get admitted into Harvard. These students are very impressive.

But what I think is really important for everyone to understand is that these students are really impressive, just like you and just like everyone else can be; it's not that they have some kind of innate advantage like they were born brilliant. Or they were born on another planet, and they came here as superman, or they got bitten by a radioactive spider and became spiderman. These are real people. In fact, the real teenagers, they're probably a lot like you, my listeners. I think it's really exciting because what actually makes them great are just two things. They have healthy mindsets around who they are and what they deserve, and how they can make a difference. And they have clarified their mission. Really, it's just two things. They have healthy mindsets around who they are and what they deserve. Because of those mindsets, they approach challenges differently than others. When they face a problem, they don't see it as stressful. They see it as an opportunity or a challenge to overcome. And they have a mission. They have something that ties their energy together that, focuses their attention, that allows them to lead other people, and encourages them to pursue things that they're curious about so that they can solve real problems in the real world.

And just the idea of a teenager being a problem solver, someone who doesn't just learn about solving problems in school but actually begins solving problems in their community. That's a mindset. And so it's not an exaggeration to say the difference between average students and struggling students, or the difference between struggling students and top students, the absolute top tier valedictorian, best of the best students. The biggest difference, most of the time, is the mindset. I want you to consider this idea that in your mind, you have a number that number represents your value or your worth, and let's pretend that number is 75 out of hundred.

So you believe that your self worth your self-value is 75 out of a hundred, and that belief that you are worth 75 points out of a hundred that that's what your self-worth is. That's what your value is. That belief is going to influence your behavior so that when life appears to be giving you more than 75 when it appears, that things are going so well, and life above 75, your belief system and your mindset will trigger your behavior to change so that you can bring down that value.

It's kind of like a thermostat in a home, right? If you set your thermostat at a certain temperature, when the temperature goes up, the thermostat kicks on and cools down the home. But when the home gets too cold, then the thermostat kicks on again, and it heats up the home. The job of that thermostat in the home is to keep the temperature constant. Your mindset, your beliefs about yourself, is to function like your own personal thermostat. So what this means is that when you're getting great grades, let's say you believe you're a 75, but then suddenly you focus yourself a little bit better than before. You make a new friend, things are going really, really well, and you start seeing better grades, and you start seeing improvements in all areas of your life, that thermostat, that mindset, that your self-value is actually a 75 and not higher than 75 is going to kick in.

You're going to find ways to sabotage that success.

Alternatively, if your grades are really low for a few weeks, or other issues are occurring in your life that makes you feel more depressed or more frustrated than normal, that internal thermostat is going to kick in and say, hold on, we're lower than we should be. Let's change our behavior, we'll focus more, or we'll do whatever behavior we know can kind of bring that value, bring that self-worth back up to 75.

And here is the kicker. When you set your thermostat in your home, you decide that temperature based on what's most comfortable. But your beliefs about who you are and what you deserve are often established without your conscious awareness. You're not trying to say that I'm most comfortable at a 75 out of hundred. Other people are more comfortable at 50 or at 90. That number for your own self-worth is often set without you even realizing it. And you're not setting that number based on what you want to accomplish in life or what your ambitions are. And because of that, some people have these lower self-worth numbers, and your behaviors are going to reflect that.

Here's the key. You did not come this far only to get this far. You've done a lot in your life, you've overcome a lot of challenges, you've been amazing, and here you are as a teenager, listening to this podcast, my content, the things that I talk about on this podcast, and the Ivy League challenge. This isn't junk food, and this isn't candy; this is real health food, right? So if you're listening as a teenager, you're exceptional. You didn't come this far only to get this far. So there's some good news. Your self. The worth number is not set. You can raise it. So here are just a few beliefs that a lot of average students have that top teenager and top students have learned to change.

The first one, I just don't have enough time. You've probably heard yourself say that before; you think about it all the time. In fact, I'm not aware of anyone, at least anyone who's ambitious, who always believes that they have more than enough time for everything they want to do. The reality is everyone has the same amount of time, all the teenagers in your school, the teenagers around the world. Adults, too. We all have the exact same amount of time each day. And would you be willing to admit that there's a huge difference between fake studying and distracting yourself with conversations or television or youtube or whatever else you're pretending to study versus actually focusing and shutting down all distractions so that you can really focus for a short period of time and get a lot done? I would tell you that I can get more done in 20 minutes of focused studying than I can in 3 or 4 hours of fake distracted studying.

Also, we've talked about the average joe audit, and we can talk more about strategies to be productive with the time you have and to plan your energy as well as your time so that you're getting the things that you choose to get done. But the point is, the belief I just don't have enough time is a belief that can keep you stuck at a lower self-worth value at a lower performance value. Instead, consider the belief. I have all the time I need as long as I am wise with my time. Number two, I'm just not that disciplined. A lot of students who consider themselves to be average feel like they're just not disciplined enough to be excellent. Well, how much of your time is spent doing drudgery work? How much of your time and how many of your activities are really boring or frustrating for you? Because the only time you really need to use self-discipline is when you're performing tasks that you don't really want to be doing. Right? So how much of your life is spent that way? What I encourage my students to do is to eliminate those extra activities through the average Joe audit and then use that time to follow their genuine curiosity, pursue their curiosity with vigor and with enthusiasm and become amazing.

What you'll find is that as you design your day so that you begin with gratitude, you follow your curiosity, and you make an impact in your community. You'll end up with more than enough willpower to get the boring work done quickly. You can be focused and not distracted when you have to accomplish those tasks that aren't exciting for you. Because as soon as you get through those tasks, you can move back to the things that you're interested in and that engage you. That's a completely different way to live. So I'm just not that disciplined. Shift your perspective to me, and I choose to create my day and my success in a way that is exciting for me. Number three, I'm not in control of my time. Now I get it right as a teenager, as a high school or a middle school student, you clock into school early in the morning, and almost your entire day is scheduled for you. You're not in control of your activities and the way you spend your time. But I want to remind you again of what we talked about earlier; there's a huge difference between distracted and fake studying versus really focused work.

And again, I want you to shift your belief away from me; I'm not in control of my time. I'm not in control of my day. I can accomplish my goals and get the work that I need to do during the time that I am in control of. Number four, highly productive students are just born that way.

Okay? Obviously, I began this podcast talking about how average and normal elite students actually are. The difference is almost never some innate difference between them and someone else. Almost always, the things that make a student great are things that are within your control. Is your mindset promoting your personal growth? And do you have a mission that you're pursuing? Because it is your mission that makes you great, and it is your mindset that allows you to engage that mission and make that difference. If you think that productivity is what's holding you back, change the belief from I wasn't born as a productive person to productivity is a skill, just like anything else. And I can develop it. Number five, I tried before, and it just didn't work. All right. Top students never give up just because one solution didn't work. Instead, they think I can get better results by trying a different approach. I encourage you to adopt that belief as well.

Now we could keep going for a really long time because there are dozens, maybe hundreds of beliefs that top students have, that average or below average students don't have, and vice versa. But I want to conclude with just one last belief that I think is so common among that group of students who wish they were better. But they just don't believe their self-worth is high enough. That is right.

Now. I'm busy. I can't do this, but I agree with everything you're saying. So I'll change it later when I have more time, when I finish this exam, or when I fill in the blank. Delaying mindset, work seems optimistic. It almost feels positive because you're saying, I agree, I will get to that, I promise. But it is a lie. In fact, it might be the most dangerous lie on this list. The belief that's holding you back the most is probably this optimistic one that says the timing is not right now to become my best self. The timing is not right now to shift my beliefs and raise my worth. But I'll get to that as soon as I finish; whatever to those who continually buy into this myth, to buy into this belief, shift your belief too; if I'm going to change, I need to change.

Now. If I can find an excuse to push my growth off until later, then, later on, I will be able to find another excuse to push my growth even further back. If you want to shift that number that represents the value you believe you hold, you can begin. Now, begin your mindset work. Now, because you didn't come this far to only get this far, you can raise that number, that self-value or that self-worth number by changing your behavior and changing your mindset, some of the behaviors that you can begin right.

Now, you can start seeking out new friends with higher standards. This is one of the greatest benefits of the ivy league challenge. One of the reasons why I put it together and foster a community so that people from anywhere in the world can collaborate with other like-minded peers, with teenagers just like them, who are ambitious, who are on a mission, or who are trying to figure out what their mission could. B new friends can make a huge impact on your value, your self-worth number. You can raise your standards; you can begin the day correctly. I teach in the ivy league challenge how to begin your day with gratitude, breathing, and design, so you can end the day correctly.

At night. You can look back and rate how you did, rate your own performance, and rate your beliefs, your effort, your focus, etc. You can keep commitments to yourself. You can fill your soul with gratitude. You can put your hand on your heart and be grateful. That heart is beating right now, that this moment is a miracle right now. You can decide to believe that you are better than you thought you were, that you can be better than you are now, and that you're committed to doing now, just like we could go on and on about the different beliefs that are probably holding you back. We could go on and on about the tactics, about the little behaviors that you can change about your life and about your day so that you can reinforce a more positive mindset.

The key is to make the decision. Decide that you want to raise that self-worth value inside; raise that number that you hold for yourself so that your standards go up and your behavior changes to reflect that. If you like help with that along the way, please do consider the Ivy League Challenge. I love working with ambitious teenagers. And we can help you. And the thing I probably love more than anything else is when a teenager comes into the program, feeling scared that they're not good enough, but they're choosing to be brave and just try, just do their best. Only to discover that they are good enough that everyone is average until they make above-average choices until begin taking actions that are above-average actions.

All of that is grounded in that belief that you have about yourself. What do you believe? Your number? Because that number is not real. It's only whatever you decide it is, but you can't pretend to change the number. You have to actually change the number. You have to actually believe that you deserve more, that you are better, that you deserve better, and you can be better. And that's what I want to help you do.

So thank you for listening to this podcast. Thank you for taking yourself and your future seriously. And thank you to those of you who follow me on Instagram and who have joined the Facebook group, and to those of you who have already been through the Ivy League Challenge or are looking forward to participating yourselves. This is the most amazing community in the world. I'm so proud of these middle school and high school students who are changing the world. And I'm so proud of you.