After another year of increasingly difficult college admissions seasons, I have been contemplating what it will take in the future to achieve admission to top colleges. Almost every top college recently reported record low admissions rates for the class of 2022. Harvard is down to a 4.59% overall and only 2.43% for regular decision. Stanford: 4.29%, Yale: 6.31%, Princeton: 5.5%, MIT: 6.7%, Columbia: 5.8%, Brown: 7.2%, Dartmouth: 8.7%, Cornell: 10.3%, UPenn: 8.39%.
Admissions to these schools seems like a daunting, almost insurmountable task. This was percolating in the back of my mind as I read one of the most inspiring stories I have found in a while: “The White Darkness, A Solitary Journey Across Antarctica” by David Grann (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/12/the-white-darkness). The article profiles Henry Worsley, a British, ex-army officer, who set out on a solo journey to cross the entire continent of Antarctica. The story resonated with me as many of the characteristics he displayed are the same as those shown by successful applicants to top colleges. Worsley’s clear athletic abilities were only the very base layer of what he needed. From a very early age, he idolized Ernest Shackleton, the famous Arctic explorer, who tried several times to reach the South Pole. Worsley admired Shackleton’s perseverance and leadership skills. “What would Shacks do?” ran through Worsley’s head in challenging, dangerous, and physically and mentally draining situations. On this solo trip, Worsley’s diary entries read, “a brutal day”; “awful day – floundering around in a complete whiteout”; “another awful day – worse than yesterday”; “totally spent and demoralized”; “more of white darkness.” And yet, day after day, he went on in temperatures sometimes as cold as 40 degrees below zero. I highly recommend reading the entire article – it is as enjoyable as it is inspirational.
While Worsley’s accomplishments certainly exceed what I am personally capable, we can all adapt something of his mindset. For top college candidates, intellectual ability is only the very base layer of what is necessary to gain admission. From an early age, you need a drive and source of inspiration that will push you when times are difficult. You need to seek out challenges and opportunities that will set you apart from other applicants. Worsley’s son once said, “Everyone dreams, but Dad’s the guy who goes out and achieves them.” Worsley’s journal reads, “I still seem to have the will that says, to my heart and nerves and sinews, Hold on. Keep your eyes on the prize.”
So, what does this mean in practice? The application process really starts the very first day of freshman year of high school (if not before). This is when you start to build your resume. Think about what inspires you. What are your passions? Then become as involved as possible, as early as possible. Colleges like to see dedicated, long-term commitments. This could be a club, sport, volunteer activity, or even a research opportunity. Think outside the box. And most of all, challenge yourself! Then make sure you are including other activities to round out your resume – one, time-intensive activity is simply not enough. It is also not enough to seek out the most challenging classes, you must also excel at them. This will not (and should not) be easy, so seek inspiration and support.
The article quotes Winston Churchill (one of my personal favorites when I need inspiration), “We are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us.”
Contact me to set up a complementary, 15 minute phone call to discuss how periodic strategy sessions throughout your (or your child’s) high school career can better prepare you for college admissions.