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I was reading through an article on college admissions over at Campus Grotto:

The Future of College Admissions

It brought up an interesting point I haven’t discussed in a while. Around now there are plenty of high school juniors probably starting to think about college admissions. I figured I’d pencil up (metaphorically speaking, do people still use those?) a quick bit of advice on how to approach the college admissions process.

The article brings up an important change that’s been happening for a while now in college admissions. Hard admissions facts like test scores and grades are losing value in comparison to experiences in the real world. Things like community service are growing in value. It’s not quite that simple (who doesn’t know that change by now) but I don’t want to steal the articles thunder.

The point I wanted to make based on that though.

As much as no one likes to admit this, it’s a whole lot easier to manipulate soft judgements on students like community service than it is to manipulate grades.

Anyone can say they care about their community. Anyone can volunteer all the way through high school in a field they say (or do) care about. They can say they volunteered through high school even if they volunteered an hour a month or some other ridiculously small amount. Even if they directly lied and said they volunteered more than they actually did, they would virtually never get caught for it. (Schools usually won’t check and when they do, if it’s a small charity, the person answering their questions would probably lie for the student.)

I’m saying this not because I think that’s what you should be doing. I’m saying this to make you think hard about how you plan on competing with these people (or if it’s even worth trying to.)

Anyone can give a rousing speech about how much they care. It’s a dramatically different thing to actually care. It’s not going to come down to who actually cares. It’s going to come down to who can sound and look like they do.

Competing with grades and test scores can almost be thought of as a game with clearly defined rules. Competing with unobjective standards is a whole lot more complicated.

Quite frankly, there will still be schools aiming to only accept the top of the objective standard talent. Those schools are probably worth competing for. If a school requires you jump through hoops and compete with bulls****ers in the application process then I really struggle to appreciate any reason you’d want to go there.

Of course, that’s just my silly opinion. There are definitely quality arguments for fighting for Ivy League colleges with silly admissions standards.

If you are going to compete then I suggest this:

Go big. Don’t volunteer for just anything. Put your time into something huge by getting involved in something that doesn’t accept just anyone. It’s easy to volunteer at a soup kitchen. Anyone can get accepted. Instead, try finding opportunities to volunteer in something like state or national government. Find someplace to volunteer that actually can turn you down. The more people your volunteer opportunity turns away the better off you’ll be.

Or… if you can’t find big notable volunteer opportunities then make them.

Cal Newport has a great way of describing what I’m talking about:

Want To Get Into Harvard: Spend More Time Staring At The Clouds

When your volunteering opportunities or experiences in general are objectively difficult to get into, you pull yourself apart from the thousands of jerks that think putting 40 hours in over the course of 4 years is the equivalent of volunteering all 4 years of high school. It’s taking unobjective factors and making them clearly and obviously objective.

What can someone not fake? Or at the very least, what does it look like no one can fake?

These opportunities usually look significantly more difficult to get into than they are. Take a few chance and you’ll be able to find your spot.

And, hell, I ran into this article that seemed to hit the college admissions nail right on the noggin:

Behind The Ivy Curtain

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How College Admissions Are Changing And How You Should Too

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One thought on “How College Admissions Are Changing And How You Should Too

  • December 9, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    This was great insight! It’s funny to see how much of the system has been the same, and what’s different since the past 5 years. I definitely agree with volunteering at some place unique, and have that experience relate to your characteristics/ hobbies. I’m sure it gets very old for the admissions office to see the same volunteer events on every kid’s resume, in the community.


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