Ivy Coach’s Brian Taylor Discusses College Admissions Strategies

Ivy Coach’s managing director Brian Taylor appeared on That Expert Show, addressing the college admissions process. Check it out below.

The below is an abbreviated transcript of the appearance:

Anna Canzano: We’re doing this interview on the heels of that big admissions scandal story — that story that broke how all those parents were trying to get their kids into Ivy League schools and top tier schools by essentially cheating and paying big dollar amounts, even creating fake student athlete profiles. The interesting thing that came out of that, I found, was that there are legitimate and totally legal college consultancies, like Ivy Coach, which have been quoted in The New York Times. We are joined today by the managing director of Ivy Coach, a graduate of Dartmouth himself, Brian Taylor, joining us live from Manhattan, New York. Brian, thank you so much for being with us.

Brian Taylor: Thank you for having me, Anna.

Anna Canzano: So, Brian, let’s start off with that. Did that admissions scandal help or hurt your business? What was your take on it now that you’ve had several months to kind of digest what happened.

Brian Taylor: I don’t know if it helped or hurt. It made people aware of the fact that college consultants exist. I didn’t like that it happened, that people were stooping to such unethical means to beat this system when this is a system that can be beat fairly and ethically if you do it the right way.

Anna Canzano: That’s an interesting point. It does speak to the competitive nature of getting into Ivy League schools and for most people, it probably is something that seems out of reach. Is that the case? And are great grades enough for your kid to consider attending an Ivy League school.

Brian Taylor: Harvard’s admissions dean has made famous a line that we reject four times as many students with perfect grades and scores. It’s not just about getting great grades and great scores. It’s about making yourself interesting. It’s about daring admissions officers not to admit someone who is going to change the world in one super specific way and it’s our task to figure out what that way will be — and it’s usually a ways that’s very different from how a student would have ordinarily positioned themselves.

Anna Canzano: What about kids who are well-rounded and don’t excel in any one thing?

Brian Taylor: If you’re not getting recruited to swim, participating in swimming only actually hurts your case for admission. It will get you into great shape and it’s a great thing to do for life. But you have to think what is the way in which you’re serving the college because that’s all they care about. The typical profile is the kid who plays three sports and a musical instrument. That’s cliche. The whole game is to make yourself not cliche.

Anna Canzano: So what are the ways in which to make a student not cliche on the flip side?

Brian Taylor: Well, I would ask that student what are they interested in? Is there an academic subject that interests them? Are they interested in anthropology? Psychology? And then I’d help that student get involved in activities related to that discipline locally. A lot of students think they need to go to a faraway place like Nicaragua to do service trips — and that will impress admissions officers. Even if they’re free, admissions officers don’t know they’re free. Admissions officers can’t afford to go to Nicaragua. Since the whole game is to get admissions officers to root for you, students should act locally.

Anna Canzano: That’s interesting. So the upper-middle-class student who travels to another city or even some other country — that can work against them? Because that person has the means to do that versus someone who grows up in the inner-city and is helping out at the Boys & Girls Club?

Brian Taylor: Another thing a lot of affluent applicants get involved in are summer enrichment programs at schools like Stanford. What it conveys to these schools is the flaunting of wealth. It also conveys a lack of initiative. And then when they apply Regular Decision, admissions officers will assume they applied Early to Stanford and didn’t get in. Now the RD school is second-fiddle.

Anna Canzano: That’s fascinating. Let’s talk about that Early admissions process. I don’t think I was hip to it when I applied to college. What are the benefits?

Brian Taylor: To not apply Early is to waste the most valuable card that you have in your back pocket. You want to apply to a reach school but not an impossible reach. So many parents want their children to apply Early Action to Harvard because they never want to wonder throughout the rest of their lives if they could have gotten in, but I’ll tell a student if they can get in so they don’t have to waste that Early card. I would much rather them hear it from me then hear it from Harvard when they don’t get in. Because then, not only will they not get into Harvard but they won’t get into Dartmouth, where they could have gotten in had they applied Early.

Anna Canzano: You’re able to look at an application. You pride yourself on telling it like it is, which is what I love. I see it in all your blog posts. So if you were to look at an application through the lens of an admissions officer — you have former admissions officers on your staff — what makes an applicant stand out?

Brian Taylor: A C student isn’t getting into Princeton. And if anyone tells you that you do have a chance to get into Princeton with C grades, run for the hills. We’ll tell a student if they have no chance. But every now and then we will make an impossible dream come true. We had a student who was kicked out of West Point for violating the then-Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy. We helped that student get into Stanford because Stanford wanted to stick it to West Point for kicking this deserving student out for being gay.

Anna Canzano: C’s eliminate you. Bs? I got into Stanford with a median 1200 SAT score. Couldn’t afford to go.

Brian Taylor: 1200 SAT score, we would say impossible now. How many years ago was this? I don’t want to age you. These days, if you’re not a recruited athlete, you have a 1200 SAT score, and your dream is Stanford, we’d say Godspeed!

Anna Canzano: So where’s the bar now on grades and test scores?

Brian Taylor: If you have a couple of B+’s, can you get into Stanford? Yeah, it can happen. We just have to make you more interesting than your competitors, taking the right courses and tests. So, for instance, Stanford is one of those sneaky schools that requires students to report all of their ACT and SAT scores. Even though students take these tests under the Score Choice policy, Stanford circumvents that policy by demanding to see all scores. In the past, other offenders have been Penn, Yale, and Princeton. It’s not right that they do that, but they do.

Anna Canzano: Can you explain the Adversity Score?

Brian Taylor: I can’t really explain it because nobody knows what makes up the Adversity Score and neither does anyone else. It was created by College Board to try to gain marketshare over their chief rival, ACT. I don’t see the Adversity Score lasting.

Anna Canzano: And College Board is a private company.

Brian Taylor: They sure are. For many years, College Board said the SAT isn’t a test that could be prepped for. Of course, we all knew that was bogus. The SAT can be prepped for.

Anna Canzano: I’m digesting all of this information because you’re coming at me with a lot of stuff. What sort of criteria are schools looking for with respect to scholarships?

Brian Taylor: I don’t know much about scholarships but Ivy League schools don’t offer scholarships.

Anna Canzano: As far as sports go, you can get recruited for a sport. Can you offer some wisdom on the sports entry path into an Ivy League school or otherwise?

Brian Taylor: So the Ivies don’t offer scholarships for sports either. But they can get recruited. Our athletes at Ivy Coach don’t rely on their sports, though, because college coaches often aren’t candid with student-athletes. Oftentimes, students will get a call days before the Early deadline that’s the kiss of death from a college coach. It goes, “I think you might be able to get in on your own.”

Anna Canzano: So banking on a sport is a big risk.

Brian Taylor: Absolutely, and sports like lacrosse and squash don’t attract underrepresented minority students. They attract boarding school applicants. I’m against these coaches having so many slots in admissions.

Anna Canzano: Who qualifies as an underrepresented minority in admissions?

Brian Taylor: Black, Latino, Native American students qualify. Not Asian American students — they’re an overrepresented minority in elite college admissions.

Anna Canzano: Are you talking about just the ethnicity or your residency? Would I face discrimination?

Brian Taylor: The misconception is that these colleges discriminate against you based on your race but rather it’s based on your profile. They discriminate against students who present the same or similar profiles. If you have an Indian American applicant who wants to be a doctor, it doesn’t mean you need to emphasize it on your application. Most of these schools don’t even have pre-med. It inspires a yawn.

Anna Canzano: When you apply as a legacy, is there more wiggle room in terms of your scores and grades?

Brian Taylor: You bet — if you apply Early. If you apply Regular, your legacy card does not help you. They’ll think to themselves you knew about us since you were a child and you didn’t apply Early?

Anna Canzano: How early should kids and parents be thinking about college?

Brian Taylor: Well, here in New York City, we have kids interested in our help getting into kindergarten. No thank you. The earlier you come to us, within reason, the more we can correct. 8th grade is a great time to come to us.

Anna Canzano: Great information. Thank you so much for divulging your wisdom to us. We’ll be creating a tip sheet. We’d love to have you back some time.

Brian Taylor: My pleasure, Anna. Thanks for having me!

Anna Canzano: My mind is reeling from all of the information that he said.

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