Too many parents feel overwhelmed regarding college prep. 

Too many top students give up or burn out because they don’t believe they have what it takes to get into a top-tier university. 

College prep can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

Let’s simplify the process. 

Apply this more effective approach to give yourself an advantage in the competitive college admissions journey.


3 Steps to Healthy & Effective College Prep 

Table of contents: 

Step one:
Explore your core values

Step two:
Execute your impact project

Step three:
Effective admissions strategy 

Step one: Explore your core values

Many teens feel insecure, even if they try to hide it. Throughout the day they will look around at their peers to see how to behave in different situations. 

Self-awareness overcomes that insecurity, so that instead of looking around at what others can do, those who know their own core values can look internally to decide how to act. 

This leads to unusually high confidence, greater achievement, and more satisfaction in life and is the first (and most important) step in truly effective college prep. 

If you have a child, now is probably a great time to begin this healthy approach to college prep.

While it is never too early to support your child in healthy ways,  preparation is different at different stages of the process:  

  1. Preparation before high school

  2. Preparation during high school

Watch this video and find out why finding core values is the key to healthy and effective college prep.

1. Preparation before high school

Elementary school is a unique time to reinforce a healthy growth mindset, empower children to make age-appropriate decisions for themselves, and cultivate a love of learning. 

This podcast goes into more detail about when and how to start college prep. 

Ensuring your child fills any academic gaps, especially in reading, writing, and mathematics, will keep learning fun and engaging for them.

Even if it seems early for a child, if they show unusual interest for an instrument, language, or another activity, understanding how purposeful practice leads to skill development can influence how you support them in that activity. 

Of course, this is relevant throughout life, not just in childhood. In this podcast, you will find practical and effective steps you can apply to purposeful practice.

Are you a parent of a preteen? 

Starting early with a plan to empower your child will simplify everything later on. This resource is all about how to support your child before they begin college prep

Many college application timelines and checklists begin in high school and focus on specific tasks or tests which need to be completed before applying to college. 

But healthy and effective college prep does not separate the child's core values and personality from the process. I created this grade-by-grade guide to help parents and students see what needs to be done from elementary school onwards in order to gain an edge in future college admissions. 

Download the free grade-by-grade timeline here and make sure you are on track.

2. Preparation in high school

Learn how to: 

  • Succeed in high school
  • Build your confidence
  • Establish a successful mindset
  • Handle stress & anxiety in a healthy way

Succeed in high school

Many of my students in the Ivy League Challenge are surprised when I share stories about how ‘normal’ and ‘real’ many of my peers at Harvard were.

I wish everyone understood that these students were not born differently than you and your friends. They weren’t bitten by radioactive spiders or had other superhuman advantages.

They are exceptional people. But only because they did the “little things” really well. They understood how important it is to act according to your core values consistently.

They learned to manage their time, energy, and relationships well in order to get straight A’s, which you can discover in this podcast. 

And here, you can find the planner I created that helped me manage my time and energy in order to get through Harvard successfully. 

Build your confidence 

Self-doubt and insecurity are far too common in middle school and high school. Perhaps that is part of the reason that so many students report feeling disengaged and overwhelmed with school. 

Identifying our core values is perhaps some of the most important work we can do in our lives, and the key to success often begins with learning to align our daily choices with those core values.  

This work is so important that I dedicate the entire first month of the Ivy League Challenge to helping teens discover those values.

While identifying core values requires time and introspection, gaining confidence can begin now.

Listen to learn how to gain stand-out confidence today.

Establish a successful mindset 

With enough self-awareness to begin making choices based on what aligns best with your core values, middle school and high school students will naturally begin to see increased confidence. 

But when we couple that self-awareness with a success-oriented mindset, teens excel.

Many teens believe that life is happening to us, and we just respond to our circumstances. But the truth is that we have a lot of power as long as we focus our energy on things we can control.

For example, do you believe that the key to success is to do it all, do it now, and do it big?

Usually, thinking this way paralyzes the teen who just doesn’t ever feel fully prepared to execute. The most effective students avoid this common pitfall by instead thinking small and constantly building momentum. Listen to this podcast to find out how.

Of course, this was just one example. There are many other common beliefs that lead to average results. Generally, excellence is no harder than mediocrity, but it requires the right mindset. 

Handle stress & anxiety in a healthy way 

Ambitious teens will face challenges along the way. Some struggles will be bigger than others. 

So what's the best way to handle stress and anxiety?

Based on recent science by outstanding Stanford psychologists Alia Crum and Kelly McGonigal, I teach my students to understand when and how stress can help you perform better. It doesn’t have to be something you fear. This is a stress-defeating hack for high-school students that can help.

Step two: Execute your impact project

One of the most important priorities for most colleges is to find and admit high school students who will go on to bring fame or prestige back to the college. In other words, they want to somehow find those students who will one day make the world a better place.

After you have clarified your core values, step two is to execute your impact project, because the surest sign of future success is past success.

Watch this video to understand why the impact project must be grounded in core values, and how it can be the secret to getting into a great college.

I have seen many students drive themselves to exhaustion trying to be the best at everything because they thought being outstanding in a well-rounded way is what the admissions officers wanted to see.

Not only is this approach unhealthy and really unpleasant, it is also very ineffective, if your goal is to stand out in your college application. Listen to this for more clarity on this concept. 

 Even if you specialize rather than balance out your activities, a well-done impact project pulls together your entire application by providing proof of your core values (you don't just say you value these things, you have evidence) and creating a high degree of novelty and interest in your high school experience.

When other high school students are attending or forming high school clubs, you can really stand out by thinking beyond. Listen to this to learn how critical this is to standing out.  

One strategy many are using to make an impact in an area they care about, and also show they are ready to contribute to a rigorous academic community is to begin performing original research.

This is a complicated strategy, because there are plenty of “research opportunities” that are simply a waste of time and money. But if research is done correctly, it can be a game-changer. Learn the difference here.

An effective impact project works because nothing in this world is as compelling as a hero on a mission. Choose to take on the challenge to become a hero on a mission. Watch your confidence, and your admissions prospects sore as you do this.  

Step three: Effective admissions strategy

First we clarify your core values, then you decide how to execute a meaningful impact in your community. Steps 1 & 2 build valuable experience and skills that you will use throughout your entire life. And they are also the key to standing out when applying to selective colleges.

In step three, we learn how to integrate unusual thoughtfulness and self-awareness (around our core values) as well as unusual community impact into our applications. 


Watch this to learn how to integrate your core values and impact project into your college application.


As you just learned from the video, effectively communicating your unusual thoughtfulness and unusual community impact is much easier than most people realize.

Here are 2 of the most common places people get off track: 

1: Essays

Essays should not attempt to convince admissions officers you are impressive. Unusually thoughtful (and self-aware) essays are better.

Most teens try hard to impress admissions officers in their personal statement and supplementary essays. 

Actually, most of the tens of thousands of essays are nearly identical, because everyone writes about their most impressive accomplishment, or overcoming a challenge (and using a metaphor like climbing a mountain), or finding their voice, or one of a few other really common themes.

Inside of these common essays, most students also try to slip in really impressive details in order to ‘humble brag’. Actually, this is the wrong approach.

Find out more about the common mistakes everyone makes, and why you should work to impress admissions readers with your thoughtfulness instead of your impressiveness.

2: Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters should showcase how impressive you are, because they should share how you live your values through your community impact.

In each of the high schools where I taught, I was one of the teachers who was asked by a lot of students to write recommendation letters. I have written too many to keep track of. 

If you don’t give your teacher the things to write, then the letters will likely be boring, even if your teacher REALLY likes you and wishes they knew what to write.

Most teachers are not college admissions experts, and have no idea how to write a compelling letter.

Follow this advice carefully to ensure you get the best letters possible. It can make or break your application.

Other issues might feel like a big deal but often are not. However, college visits can be important in order to ensure you choose a college that is really right for you. This guide will help you understand how to make the most of those visits.

The strongest way to identify core values, execute an impact project, and integrated them both into your future college application is to join the Ivy League Challenge. The Ivy League Challenge is a 12-week online course that I teach in real time to small groups of students. Watch this video to learn more about how the Ivy League Challenge helps you get into a great college.

You might also be interested in exploring some of our students, listening to their amazing stories, and discovering their powerful impact projects.

What's next?

Discover our Library for more College Prep advice from amazing Ivy League Champs.

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