America’s highly selective colleges have not sought to admit well-rounded students — students who excel in areas like sports, music, community service, and leadership — in decades. In fact, an article that our founder published many years ago on the topic of the singularly talented students that America’s highly selective colleges do covet is what what launched our business. In all these years since, from atop our soapbox in college admissions, we have repeated one mantra above all other mantras. It goes like this: Elite colleges don’t seek well-rounded students. Rather, they seek singularly talented students who together form a well-rounded class. It was true in 1990. It was true in 2000. It was true in 2010. It’s true today.
And yet all these years later, the single biggest mistake most applicants to America’s elite colleges still make is they present, invariably, as well-rounded. A recent piece in The New Yorker entitled “The College-Admissions Crucible” features a line penned by Matt Feeney that says it best: “The best explanation for why colleges started disdaining the well-rounded generalist strivers whom they used to reward is that, in trying to outdo one another in their crude quantities of extracurricular activities, applicants began to look too much alike. The administrative problem that the redundant joining of clubs and indiscreet bragging over accomplishments once solved has only become worse. The cycle continues, on ever-tighter timescales.”
Just because one knows a rule doesn’t mean one can execute a strategy to succeed. The Los Angeles Lakers wouldn’t find themselves in the bind they find themselves this playoffs if they had better outside shooting. But knowing that three-point specialists would space the floor for LeBron James and Anthony Davis is different than knocking down three-point buckets. All too often, students who are inquiring about working with Ivy Coach boast that they’re in this club and that club, that they do this activity and that activity. Yet what they think is going to help them — the very stuff they’re bragging about — we know is often precisely what will hurt them in admissions. Our task, should they become our clients, is to correct their course and help them dare admissions officers not to admit young people who are going to change the world in one super specific, always unusual way.
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