Today’s Winning College Applicant

“This year’s applicant pool was remarkable by any standard in its academic and extracurricular excellence.”
-William R. Fitzsimmons, 2012, Harvard College Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid

Every year, the college applicant pool gets increasingly talented by traditional standards. At Harvard, applicants for the class of 2016 had the following characteristics:

– 14,000+ scored 700 or higher on the SAT critical reading test;
– 17,000+ scored 700 or higher on the SAT math test;
– 15,000+ scored 700 or higher on the SAT writing test; and
– 3,800+ were ranked first in their respective high school class

Only 2,032 of these traditionally exceptional applicants were offered admission.

For parents, there once was a time when hiring tutors to help their children score higher on standardized tests, and to perform better in individual classes so as to maintain a high GPA, was sufficient. “Excellent Test Scores + Excellent Grades = Elite University” was the tried and true formula. However, things have changed. More parents and students are subscribing to this formula, more students are obtaining perfect or near perfect test scores and grades, and, you guessed it, more “can’t miss” students are being rejected by their top choices. This is the new norm.

In order to avoid having your child lost in the crowd of the tens of thousands of formulaically excellent applicants, you must take steps to separate them from the pack. This begs the question: What does it take to distinguish your child’s application from the applications of other, comparably talented students?

One effective approach, I have discovered, is the creation of a special project that reveals something deeply personal about the student while simultaneously demonstrating an applicant’s best qualities. Special projects encourage children to dig deep within themselves and to identify issues or topics they are passionate about. Once tapped, developed, and implemented, these projects provide a host of benefits to your child, in addition to helping them mature along the way. The key is that your child initiated and led a volunteer effort of deep significance to them, as opposed to simply showing up somewhere charitable and logging volunteer hours.

Some college admissions agencies have recommended that students volunteer regularly in order to gain an edge. This solution, to be blunt, is fairly useless. Put simply, many top academic performers also participate in numerous extracurricular activities, and are nonetheless turned away. Given the glut of formulaically excellent candidates, including those that volunteer regularly, many of our nation’s top universities are admitting a record low percentage of very qualified applicants (see below).

Admitted Class for Fall, 2012 Admissions Statistics (% of Applicants Admitted)

Harvard: 5.9 % (record low)
Stanford: 6.6 % (record low)
Yale: 6.8 %
Columbia: 7.4 %
Princeton: 7.9 %
M.I.T.: 8.9 % (record low)
Dartmouth: 9.4 % (record low)
Brown: 9.6 %
U Penn: 12.3 %
Cornell: 16.2 % (record low)
UCLA: 22.8% (2011 stat)
USC: 23% (2011 stat)
UC Berkeley: 25.8% (2011 stat)

These numbers demonstrate that the competition for entry into top-tier schools is getting fiercer every year. Moreover, they reveal that even the highest-performing, “well-rounded,” student is regularly rejected. In short, subscribing to the old formula is no longer enough.

Rather, the new ideal college applicant is well-rounded academically and has contributed something unique and special in an area they are passionate about. As renowned college admissions consultant, David Montesano, was recently quoted as saying:
“Your grades and your test scores open the door for you, but if there’s nothing behind the door, you’re in BIG trouble. Students without a specialty of some sort or another are at a massive disadvantage when it comes to college admissions. Students need to pick an area of expertise AS SOON AS THEY POSSIBLY CAN, and they need to form their applications to reflect that expertise. If they don’t, they’re NEVER going to stand out to admissions officers.” (Read more:

This brings me back to special projects. A special project serves as the unifying thread that ties a candidate’s application together, making it easier for a student to stand out in an increasingly crowded top-applicant pool. It gives the student a distict personality and allows for further exploration in the college essays. Often, this element is the most crucial for success. With time and guidance, a good applicant can become a stellar applicant by developing, implementing, and maintaining a special project over time. This is why students must begin projects as early as possible.

At Academic Achievers, our goal is to help your child meet the elite university threshold by preparing them to earn excellent grades and test scores, and also by helping them to stand out in an increasingly crowded “top applicant” pool. Through personalized, one-on-one sessions, Academic Achievers will provide your child with much-needed guidance and support in the creation of special projects. These sessions will ensure that your child gains the competitive edge now needed to enter the best universities in the world. Our mission is your child’s success.

Contact us today for a Community Service Project Consultation.

Daniel Payan is a rising third year law student at UCLA. He is enrolled in the Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy (PILP), and is the co-founder of the Los Angeles Wilson High School Alumni and Faculty Scholarship Foundation. Daniel is interested all aspects of community service, and is a graduate of Harvard College (A.B. 2008) and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (M.P.P. 2010). Daniel is a tutor at Academic Achievers.

About Janis Adams

CEO/Founder, Academic Achievers Inc.
This entry was posted in College Planning, community service and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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