By Jason Ma
I am sure you became aware of the college admissions scandal led by ringleader Rick Singer. Mr. Singer and a number of wealthy parents are now in jail. While parents do want the best for their kids, there is a fine line between preparing your kids well vs. being grossly unethical.
This year, the Ivy League schools and other elite colleges and universities have reported their lowest admit rates in history. Meanwhile, in reality, many students lucky enough to attend these highly competitive schools are stressed-out or anxiety-ridden. This is exacerbated by the pandemic, which has wreaked havoc across the entire college prep, admissions, and attendance space.
From an elite college’s perspective, booksmart high schoolers with lots of extracurricular activities are a dime a dozen. Unfortunately, the Ivies, Stanford, MIT, and other very elite schools can accept only a small fraction of their highly qualified applicants (e.g., Harvard’s latest freshmen admit rate: under 4%). I have uncomfortably seen some amazing kids—valedictorians with a perfect SAT or ACT score, a 4.0/4.0 unweighted GPA with strong curriculum rigor, lots of extracurricular activities, and many honors/awards—get flatly rejected by a top Ivy or Stanford.
So, just what does it take to get admitted? How to truly prepare well for college and beyond?
Throughout high school, young achievers must learn how to realize their authentic best self, while navigating the complex and often stressful college planning and application process. My perspective is that college should be an integral part of a much longer journey. I encourage my own private client families to wisely think THROUGH college (with long-term gains), and NOT just AT college (short-sightedness). It is vital to help kids understand both themselves and the world, express their individuality and passions both in writing and in speech, and develop their mindsets and soft skills—early on.
With over 20,000 hours of elite college, leadership, career, and life success coaching, mentoring, writing, speaking, and applied research under my belt, I would say that, besides academic and standardized testing performance, the success ingredients include:
1. Building good habits. Part of my pattern recognition is that truly successful, high-achieving students have built sound habits. They developed not only time management skills and an ability to focus (despite online distractions), but also a few sustained, genuine interests (“passions”) pursued through the bulk of their high school years. They built strong character traits or a skill set that would add value to and help inspire the community of peers and faculty in college and beyond.
2. Finding your inner voice. My successful students were coachable and committed, and learned to express themselves effectively. This includes writing cogent college app essays, building good relationships with key people, and garnering outstanding third-party recommendation letters. Of utmost importance, essays and rec letters are key opportunities to communicate a student’s values, attitudes, and goals. They give the applicant a personality and facilitate the admissions staff to choose the students they want.
3. Starting early and executing well. These days, applying to ten or more colleges is common. Students end up writing dozens of essays, as well as short takes and detailed college app forms, and engaging in some private school interviews during the college app season. “So stressful” are words I hear often from under-prepared college applicants (especially those who start building their stories and skills late)—while they also attack a heavy senior year course load, AP exams, purposeful activities, and if still not done, the SAT or ACT. To produce authentic, high-quality writings that stand out from the crowd, a student must have life experiences upon which he/she has done deep reflection, emotional maturity, and lots of practice communicating orally and in writing with a helpful support cast.
4. Honing a growth and contribution mindset. The humility to continuously learn and improve is key to a growth mindset. I value integrity, contribution, growth, connection, and a passion for excellence, and help instill these values in my students. I believe in guiding students holistically, strategically, and pragmatically—including the enhancement of their belief system and skills in critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, and leadership—while helping them reflect on their experiences and find their own voice.
I have hacked the secrets to mentoring and coaching achievers for notable success and well-being. Honing students’ pragmatic emotional, social, and leadership intelligence (“3EQ”) is embedded in my own 1:1 mentoring process. I’ve counseled 1-on-1 hundreds of students who were admitted to the 8 Ivy League institutions, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, UChicago, Duke, UC Berkeley, Georgetown, and ALL other top universities and liberal arts colleges. It is heartening to see many are rising in career and in life with joy and compassion as next-gen leaders.
Building a strong character and story takes years. It can’t be conjured up “just in time” during the high school senior year. Learning to think, speak, and write effectively is a slow-cooking process, not popcorn-quick microwaving.
Wisely support your kids to start early, reduce stress, achieve greater success—and learn, work, and live more happily!
Jason Ma is Founder CEO and Chief Mentor of ThreeEQ, a family-owned, premier education and business advisory firm. He is author of the acclaimed book, Young Leaders 3.0: Stories, Insights, and Tips for Next-Generation Achievers, and is former Forbes contributor on Mentoring Young Leaders for elite college admissions, higher education, leadership, and entrepreneurship success. Jason was a delegate to the Forbes Global CEO Conference for 8 years before Forbes Media was acquired. He is a leading member of the B20, the official G20 dialogue with the global business community, serving on the Employment (Future of Work) and Education Task Force. Known as Chief Mentor of Next-Gen Leaders in Family Office and high-level circles, Jason is also a sought-after speaker. To learn about Jason’s work, visit www.ThreeEQ.com.