Are you worried that nothing about your application will stand out? Do you think that your SAT scores and GPA are going to prevent you from getting into a great college? Are you struggling with your essay topics and wondering what to write that will catch the attention of the admissions officer?
You’re not alone. Every student (and parent) in the country right now is feeling the stress that comes with the application process and worrying about the best way to approach the most important step of their academic career. Fortunately, when students use the right tools, they can create an effective application with a minimal amount of effort. We can add the "Wow" factor to your application that will dramatically increase your chances of acceptance into the school of your dreams.. Let’s get started!
I know what it’s like to be an average student struggling to standout during the admissions process. I grew up in a middle class family in Ohio. Like all middle and low-income families, my parents didn’t have the kind of money it would take to “buy” my way into an Ivy League school. My high school grades were far from perfect and I didn’t think I had any remarkable qualities that would grab the attention of any college - never mind the number one school in the country. But when I applied to Princeton, I got in.
Four years later, I applied for the most prestigious scholarships in the country – the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships. Still, my grades weren’t that great. In fact, my GPA was so low I was technically ineligible to apply. But a few months after submitting my application I was chosen to receive a Marshall Scholarship, which paid for all of my expenses at one of the most prominent graduate schools in England.
How did I do it? Well, at first I didn’t know. It wasn’t until I graduated and started working with students like you. It was then that I realized I was subconsciously applying a handful of extremely powerful strategies that enabled me to get noticed over the richest and smartest kids in the world.
Once I could articulate these strategies clearly, I began sharing them with my students. And guess what? Suddenly, they started applying to their dream schools and getting in.
That’s when I knew! I knew if I could do it…and my students could do it…you could do it too! Don't believe me? Apply my technique and see!
This seminar is broken up into three parts. First, I’ll explain the admissions process so you know how it works. Understanding the admissions process is a lot like driving a car. You wouldn’t just jump behind the wheel and take-off until you had an understanding of how the brakes, gas and steering wheel operated. The same applies with admissions. Most students don’t understand the application process before they start and they end up crashing and burning.
In the second section of the tutorial, I’ll explain “The Secret.” This secret is so powerful you can use it to get into any school you choose.
In the third part, I will reveal how to apply this secret to your applications so you can finally get into the school of your dreams. I understand the urge to skip right to the secret of this tutorial, but trust me…this program has been specifically designed so that every step builds on the one before it. For you to really appreciate and get the most out of the secret, you have to understand the entire admissions and application process as a whole. Don’t worry…it
To illustrate the importance of looking at the "big picture" of college admissions, I like to tell a little story about Disneyland. Not long ago, a friend of mine gave me a season pass as a gift. I went a couple of times before I stopped. Don't get me wrong -- I love the park -- but the lines and the crowds could be ridiculous. When I told my friend that I hadn’t been back because of the crowds, he looked at me, shook his head and said, “You’re doing it wrong.” I looked at him, puzzled. After all, how can you "do" Disneyland wrong? You go and you ride the rides, right? Wrong! He then pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to me. On it was a list of all the rides in the park. He then explained that if I showed up at a certain time and rode all of the rides in the order that they appeared on the list, I wouldn’t have to wait in line for more than five minutes.
A week later, I went back to the park with the list. I showed up at the exact time indicated and I rode all of the rides in the correct order. Guess what? I hit every ride in the park and I never waited more than five minutes in any line, even for the biggest attractions! Oh, by the way, I showed up to the park on a Saturday…in July!
Why was my experience so different than that of almost everyone else at the park that day? It was different because my friend had studied the patterns of who rode what rides and at what times. He realized that if you approach the park with a proven strategy, you could eliminate the competition for the rides and have the park virtually to yourself.
This was my approach for this tutorial. I looked for patterns in the cycles of admission and rejection and, sure enough, I discovered certain emphases, certain biases, enacted again and again when colleges were making their choices. Why do some seemingly amazing candidates get rejected while other seemingly unremarkable applicants get in? What I realized was both amazing and simple. The things most people think matter, don’t! And the thing we don’t think matter, do!
When you say that you’re applying to a college, what are you really saying? Is your application being read by an ivy-covered brick building? Of course not! When you’re applying to a college, you’re applying to an admissions officer.
Admissions officers are typically in their 20s to early 30s and during the peak of the admissions season, they’re tired and stressed.
Usually, each admissions officer is responsible for a geographic area of the country. They’re probably familiar with your high school and the socioeconomic profile of your area.
In order to put a human face on the idea that the application process is personal, we’re going to name your admissions officer, Wanda.
When the time comes, Wanda has thirty seconds to stand-up in front of the other admissions officers and the dean of admissions and explain why you should be admitted to their school.
If you view your application through the lens of keeping it personal, you’re going to spot things that most applicants will miss. First, you’re going to know that you’re not applying to some faceless institution. You’re applying to an audience. Second, that audience is made up of admissions officers. And third, one of those admissions officers is going to have to convince the rest of her coworkers that you deserve one of the coveted spots in their school.
But that’s just where keeping it personal begins. Don’t forget, you’re a person too. Like all people you have a set of dreams, expectations, motivations and things you consider important. Likewise, Wanda also has a set of dreams, expectations, motivations and things that she considers important.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we knew what Wanda’s dreams, expectations, motivations and thing she considered important were? Don’t you think that knowledge would make the application process a heck of a lot easier? Wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly what Wanda was looking for?
There are three parts to a college application. Or as I like to say, three keys to the gates of your dream school. Colleges and universities like to call these “factors of evaluation.” They can be broken down simply into grades, scores and personality. These three factors build an admissions triangle. TAP is short for the Triangle Admissions Program.
As you already know, Wanda considers all three of these sides when evaluating your application. After all, she’s trying to put together the most complete picture she can in order to best assess your abilities.
But the real question is, how reliable of an indicator is each side of the admissions triangle. Are grades more important than scores? Are scores more important than grades? Are all three given equal weight of your abilities?
Everyone puts a different emphasis on which side of the admissions triangle is the most important but in order to understand how the triangle works, we need to break the sides down even further to know exactly how Wanda uses them to make her assessment.
When thinking about how Wanda will factor in grades, most students and parents automatically assume that colleges are talking about GPA (grade point average) but over the past few decades, grades in high schools across the country have been slowly rising. Today, a once impressive 4.0 is now commonplace. Because of grade inflation, colleges are relying less on GPA and looking at other factors that measure a student's performance relative to his or her own peers.
In addition to grade point average, schools are now weighing class rank more heavily.
Class rank is how well you’ve done in school in relation to your classmates. Class rank can be calculated in terms of a percentage or a numerical relationship.
The last thing that colleges look at in terms of grades is course schedule. Colleges want to see the classes you’re taking and the grades you’re getting in them. They’re looking for an academically challenging course schedule. Ideally, a "challenging" schedule is one that progresses from more basic material in your first two years of high school to more advanced subjects, such as honors courses or AP classes, in your last two years.
One of the most common questions I get is whether or not a student should take the SAT or the ACT and the answer is simple. Find out what your dream school prefers. If your school has a preference, then you should take the test that they want. After all, it’s your job to give them what they want. However, if your school shows no preference, then I suggest you take both tests and submit the higher of the two resulting scores. Of course, there is another option. Every year more schools join the growing SAT-optional movement, creating a large pool of prestigious colleges and universities that require no standardized test score whatsoever. Now that sounds like a good thing and in most cases it is, but SAT optional schools have other requirements such as minimum GPA and class rank criteria that must be met. Make sure you find out exactly what your SAT-optional school requires before you move forward with your application. However, if you decide to take scores out of the admission triangle, realize that the two remaining sides -- grades and personality -- will "take up the slack" and undergo additional scrutiny. Therefore, since grades are fixed, students in this situation would be wise to improve the personality section. In fact, all students would be wise to beef up their application's "personality." But how? Let me tell you ...
What is personality? When it comes to college admissions, if it isn’t a grade and it isn’t a score, it’s personality.
Personality breaks down into three main elements. The first is your essay, the second is your resume and your recommendations make up the third element. Once your college looks at your grades and scores, they want to know who you are as an individual. This is where it starts to get good! This is where applications go "big" or go bust. This is where you are going to shine. This is where you’re going to leave the kids with perfect scores and perfect grades in the dust. If colleges only cared about grades and scores, why wouldn’t they just ask you to send your grades and scores? Why would they have you fill out an essay? Why would they even ask for recommendations? What would it matter what was on your resume? It costs colleges millions of dollars every year to hire admissions officers to read and analyze every application they receive. If grades and scores mattered exclusively, they could just run the numbers through a computer, pick the top scorers and fill out the freshman class without spending a dime. Think of all the time, money and energy they’d save.
So why do they require an essay, resume and recommendations? It’s simple when you really think about it. If you were to hand pick a group of 5,000 kids who were going to be living, working, studying, playing, experiencing, thriving and succeeding together -- how important would their grades be? How important would their SATs or ACTs scores be? Now think about how important personality would be? Do you think a school would ever pass over a kid with a 4.0 and no personality for a kid with a 3.2 and an amazing personality? You bet they would! It happens all the time. It happens because colleges don’t admit grades or scores. Colleges admit people. It’s personal.
That’s why I say personality isn’t the most important thing… it’s the only thing!
Even if you still don’t believe in the power of personality, the truth is there is nothing that you can do about the other two sides of the admissions triangle.
You can’t improve your grades because they’re averaged over four years. Even if you get straight A’s your senior year, your GPA will only change a tiny bit.
The same can be said for scores. The College Board estimates that juniors who retake the SAT test as seniors only improve their score by 40 points.
I’m not saying not to try to get straight A’s or improve your scores. I’m just saying that your time and energy might be better spent elsewhere… like working your personality for instance.
When I was at Princeton, I was selected to be the official candidate for the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships. I’m still not exactly sure why they chose me, but they did. These scholarships are extremely prestigious and elite colleges and universities take them very seriously. For weeks I was put through a rigorous training camp of mock interviews to prepare me for the multi-part application process.
When my handlers thought I was ready, they pulled me aside, peeked down the hallway, closed the door, shut the blinds and told me that in a certain building, there is a certain room and in that room there is a certain book. This book is in a locked drawer and could not leave the room. They wanted me to read the book and when I was done they wanted me to lock it back up, swallow the key and forget that room ever existed. Why was this book, which was locked away in the bowels of Princeton University, so important? It was important because it contained the secret to winning the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships.
So, on a certain day, I went to this certain building and went into this certain room and read this certain book. I put the book back, I locked the drawer, I swallowed the key, I went back to my room and wrote my essay. Three weeks later, I won a Marshall Scholarship.
So what was inside this mysterious book? Nothing but every single successful essay written by a Princeton alumnus who had ever won a Rhodes or Marshall Scholarship.
The first essay I read talked about a “legless tennis champion,” the second essay was about a “radioactive chemist.” The stories went on and on and each story was as amazing as the one before.
After reading about ten of the essays I stopped. I knew the simple secret. The secret? KEYWORDS. Every essay could be summed up in five or less words. Legless Tennis Champion. Radioactive Chemist. Keywords were the key to winning the scholarships.
Keywords were more important than grades or scores or awards. After all, how could the scholarship committees possibly pick the best candidate from a pool of nearly one thousand perfect applicants? They all have perfect grades. They’re all valedictorians. They all speak multiple languages. So how do they pick the best? The answer is, they don’t pick the best. They pick the one who is the most memorable. When everyone is monotonously talented, committees have trouble picking the absolute "best," so very often they pick the one they remember.
So, how do these highly competitive scholarship applications translate to your college application? Well, you’ll be applying to colleges where everyone, for the most part, has similar grades and scores. They cancel each other out, just as they did when I competed with candidates for the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarship. When everyone is similar, the admissions office has no other choice but to choose the student who is the most memorable.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “I’m not as memorable as your legless tennis champion or your radioactive chemist. I’m just a high school kid who hasn’t done much. I’m boring.”
If you’re thinking you couldn’t possibly come up with your own interesting keywords, you’re not alone. All of my students say the same thing. Don’t worry!
I have a few tricks that will help you create a memorable essay that will surely grab the attention of any admissions officer.
So how do you come up with your keywords? Well, that’s easy. I've created three thought experiments to help you determine what keywords will encapsulate your talents best. These thought experiments are little things you can do repeatedly and get different results each time. This task isn’t like writing an essay or doing a complex math problem. These thought experiments are fun and are designed so you can see yourself in a new light. You don’t need to spend much time on these at all. You just need five or ten minutes a day for a couple of days. But if you "run" these experiments consistently I can make you two promises. The first is that, like panning river mud for gold, you'll come away with something truly precious: great keywords. And, secondly, you'll never think of yourself as boring again.
* Reference the WorkBook For Additional Info:
- If you have not downloaded the workbook as of yet you can do so now:
Okay, now that you’ve done all of your thought experiments, you’re probably looking at a dozen or so little crumbled up pieces of paper filled with little words and phrases. How are these going to get you into college? Because by figuring out your keywords, you’ve figured out just who you are.
Remember we talked about Wanda? Wanda has 30 seconds to explain to her fellow admissions officers who you are. With keywords, you’ve done the work for her. You’ve made Wanda’s job easy. Admissions officers like it when you make it easy. If Wanda has to struggle to define who you are to the others in the room, you have very little chance of getting in. If you give her the right keywords, you’re as good as in!
I love every part of the admissions process, but the essay or as some like to call it, the Personal Statement, holds a special place for me. You know why? It’s because the essay is easy. You’ve already done the hard part. You came up with your keywords.
The keywords prime us, guide us, and ensure that we answer the most important question, “Who am I?”
Keywords also make you and your essay more memorable. When Wanda has more than 1,000 personal statements to read, only a handful will stand out -- yours among them!
Keywords also make it easy for Wanda to sum up who you are, explain you to her peers and fight for you in a concise way.
The resume seems like the most straightforward part of the application, but more often than not, it turns into an information dump. Kids just come in with all of their extracurricular activities, drop them in the resume and walk away.
Keywords help you orient and focus the resume and remind Wanda again of who you are. Keywords allow your resume to tell a story much like your essay.
This doesn’t mean that you have to edit out achievements and commitments that don’t necessarily reinforce your keywords. You’re a complex person and you do many different things and schools are very interested in getting a broader picture of you.
So when you’re compiling your resume, you want to orient it towards telling your story. If we keep with our Fry Cook Chemist example, it may be appropriate to put your job working at the local fast food restaurant first on your list of achievements. This will once again remind Wanda who you are.
You may want to follow that with some extracurricular activity involving chemistry or science (If you don’t have one, think about joining a club or even better, starting one). Once you feel you’ve handled your keywords in you resume, feel free to list all of your other accomplishments and interests.
I’m sure Wanda would love to know her Fry Cook Chemist is also a volunteer at a soup kitchen and an honor roll student.
Everyone wants a great recommendation, but what makes a great recommendation? Well, good recommendations tell a story. Do you see the pattern? A cookie-cutter recommendation isn’t going to get you into your dream school. Only a personal, reflective recommendation, one filled with details of your struggles and successes, will do the trick.
So how do you get this out of your teachers? If you did your thought experiments the way I suggested, the groundwork for your recommendation has already been laid.
If you’ve talked to your teachers about your keywords and explained to them what you’re trying to do, you’ve already opened up to them in a meaningful way. You’ve shown your teachers that you’re taking this seriously. You've invited them to comment on an on-going process; you have opened a meaningful dialog with them.
Most students never have an approach to their application never mind ask a teacher for their help. Once a teacher feels involved in the process, they’re going to do their best to help you in any way they can.
Inviting a teacher to participate in your search for keywords also helps your teacher get to know who you are as a person and not just as a student. Once a teacher knows you keywords, they can use them in your recommendation and reinforce the answer to the question, “Who am I?”
Isn’t it interesting that you’ve spent the last three years writing for teachers, but the most important essay may be the one your teacher writes for you?
You’ve thought, you’ve worked, you’ve asked and you’ve published – all the hard work is done. Now it’s time to type it up and send it off to Wanda.
Remember when I said that 99% of seniors make the same mistake? That they start to apply to college by applying to college? Well, you didn’t make that costly mistake. You knew that the real beginning was when you sat down to create your keywords. A strong, focused, narrow, persuasive group of keywords that you could later build into a great essay…Keywords that you could spin into a compelling resume. And keywords that laid the groundwork for persuasive and compelling letters of recommendation.
You’ve held your work up to the standards of, “Is it appropriate and is it relevant?” Does it reflect the biases of the institution?
Does it demonstrate my interest in academics? Does it show me to be committed to growth and open to diversity? Does it answer the question, “Who am I?”
You’ve already done the hard work. Now, all you have to do is dot the i’s, cross the t’s and send it off!
You know that Wanda is out there, spinning that radio dial – listening to wave-upon-wave of static. Then your application is going to come. It’s going to be finely honed and sharpened into a perfect hook. Your application is going to reach through that radio, cut through the static and grab a hold of Wanda. And Wanda is going to hear the answer to the question she asks every day, “Who are you?” And when she hears who you are, she’s going to want to spend the next four years watching who you’ll become.
Gene Ramos Founder and CEO of Internet Skills Academy, Inc a performance driven, multi-media marketing agency specializing in Digital Publishing, E-Commerce and Venture Funding for creative Inventors.
Corporate Career Jobs in Computer Technology include companies such as Apple, Verizon, Syniverse and JP Morgan Chase.