There are lots and lots of confident parents out there across America and around the world. We love confidence. Parents often lead off free consults with us by discussing their children, their accomplishments in musical theatre, their rare genius, their good looks, kindness, athletic prowess — you name it. It’s why we make a point of articulating on our website and in our email exchanges that free consults are just to ask questions about our service offerings. Because as much as we love to hear about Johnny’s swim times, we’d probably rather bake an apple pie. Sorry, Johnny. Rotate those hips on your backstroke, keep your head steady, and don’t flip too far away from the wall so you can create some speed going in and out of your turns.
When parents brag to us about their children, we sometimes just want to blurt out: “But did your son harness the wind?” You’re probably like, “Ivy Coach, what are you talking about? We know you love your tangents but this one is a bit ridiculous. Who harnesses the wind?” You see, the “Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is, in our view, the greatest college applicant ever. His name is William Kamkwamba. He is now a graduate of Dartmouth College and what a college applicant this young man was!
William Kamkwamba harnessed the wind. And then he applied to college. Spoiler Alert: He got in!
Prior to enrolling at Dartmouth, William had co-authored a book entitled “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind” that was a “New York Times” bestseller. The book told his life’s story. A native of Malawi, William built a windmill out of old bicycle parts and other discarded junk to power his village and, in so doing, change the lives of those around him. William Kamkwamba harnessed the wind to power his village in Malawi, thereby changing the world.
So as much as we love to hear stories about Johnny’s efforts in the 200 backstroke and Lily’s stories about playing just about every musical instrument, until your child has harnessed the wind, save your wind. We’ll give Johnny and Lily the best shot possible of getting into the best school possible. It’s just not necessary to listen to a half hour of brags to do so. Mic drop?
Students and parents sometimes ask us to share with them the best through line we can think of from a college admissions standpoint. We’ve written before about the young man who, with spare bike parts and other odds and ends, harnessed the power of the wind to power his Malawi village and change the lives of his fellow villagers. This young man, who was not our student, changed the world even before applying to college. A central question college admissions officers keep in the back of their minds when reviewing applications is: “Will this person change the world and, if so, how?” This young man, William Kamkwamba, had already changed the world before applying. Heck, he’d even co-authored a #1 “New York Times” bestselling book chronicling his inspirational story. William Kamkwamba is, in our opinion, the greatest college applicant. Ever.
But we’ve already shared with you William’s story and he’s since graduated from Dartmouth College. So let’s share with you another story of a remarkable college applicant, Jack Andraka. From the young man’s own website (hey, he’s good at getting his story out there!), “Jack Andraka was just a fifteen year old Maryland high school sophomore when he invented an inexpensive early detection test for pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancers. Now, at seventeen, Jack’s groundbreaking results have earned him international recognition, most notably a 2014 Jefferson Award, the nation’s most prestigious public service award, 1st place winner in the 2014 Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, the 2012 Intel ISEF Gordon Moore Award, the 2012 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Youth Award, a spot on Advocate Magazine’s 2014 40 under 40 list, a fellowship as a National Geographic Explorer, and he’s also the 2014 State of Maryland winner of the Stockholm Water Prize. In addition, Jack was First Lady Michelle Obama’s personal guest at the 2013 State of the Union Address. He speaks to audiences of youths and adults all across the globe about his personal story, research, and his ideas for STEM education reform. He has been featured in several documentaries including Morgan Spurlock’s Sundance Film Festival entry, “You Don’t Know Jack,” Linda Peters’ award winning film, “Just Jack,” as well as ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, CNN, BBC, Fox, and radio, newspaper, and magazine articles around the world. His young adult memoir, Breakthrough: How One Teen Innovator is Changing the World is available in bookstores.”
Pretty absurd, wouldn’t you say? He invented an inexpensive early detection test for pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer! We haven’t seen Jack’s college essays and hopefully he doesn’t make the mistake of bragging about his accomplishments. But it’d be pretty difficult to mess up what has the makings for one of the best college applications ever submitted. Stanford University seemed to concur. Jack Andraka, the openly gay cancer researcher who has inspired so many, will be a member of their incoming Class of 2019.
Know the story of another remarkable student like William Kamkwamba or Jack Andraka? We’re eager to hear these stories so tip us off by postig a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you.
Someone once asked us who we believe is the strongest college applicant ever. The answer is: Who knows. There are many ridiculously strong applicants. There are Olympians and Broadway performers, established Hollywood stars and war heroes…the list goes on. But if we had to pick one college applicant whose life story is a dream for a highly selective college, we’ll pick a young man who will be graduating this coming Sunday from Dartmouth College. And that young man is William Kamkwamba. Our pick for the greatest college applicant. Ever.
William Kamkwamba wasn’t the president of his high school key club (eye roll!). William didn’t play three varsity sports either (double eye roll!). Nor did he volunteer with six different clubs for a total of 20 hours a week (our eyes are getting tired of rolling!). William, a native of Malawi, quite literally harnessed the wind. Growing up in a village without electricity, William built a windmill out of spare bicycle parts and other junk. This windmill would power his village, thereby changing the lives of those around him.
William’s story is chronicled in his “New York Times” bestseller “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.” So let’s just point out a few quick facts. William, a native of Malawi, powered his village, changed lives for the better, co-authored a “New York Times” bestseller, and — shockingly — got into Dartmouth. We are shocked! It must have been a tough decision. It’s not like Dartmouth could market his story in alumni magazines, during presidential speeches around the country, in William’s many TED Talks, etc.
Anyhow, congratulations to William Kamkwamba on your graduation from Dartmouth this Sunday. Your graduation speaker, Shonda Rhimes (Dartmouth Class of 1991), will likely tell graduates in a very creative way (as only she can) to go out and change the world. William, you already have.
If you’ve been traveling lately by air, you may have noticed Ivy Coach featured in “Alaska Airlines Magazine” in a piece by Lora Shinn entitled “College Bound.” In the article, our Founder, Bev Taylor, is quoted as saying that applicants to highly selective colleges must tell a story. What we at Ivy Coach do is help that student craft a more compelling story. And the story isn’t just reflected in the admissions essays. It’s in the letters of recommendation, the activities, the grades, the test scores…you name it! It tracks throughout the application. Bev is also quoted as saying that applicants have to be likable. Too many students are arrogant and brag throughout their admissions essays. Too many students are grade-grubbers and letters of recommendation reflect this. Colleges want students who love learning for learning’s sake. They don’t want grade grubbers. Nobody likes a grade grubber.
In admissions essays, as Bev is quoted as saying, it’s important to write about a small moment in time. “Too many students turn the essay into an activity sheet and end up talking about everything they’ve been involved in, or spending time patting themselves on the back, or writing a cliche topic.” Don’t do that! The best essays are closer to being about nothing than they are about something. Remember the show “Seinfeld”? “Seinfeld” was one of the most successful television series in history. It was a pillar of NBC’s “Must See TV.” And it was about absolutely, positively nothing. College essays should take inspiration from “Seinfeld.”
Bev is also quoted as saying that students should help shape their letters of recommendation from guidance counselors and teachers. Don’t just let them send in a letter on your behalf. Too often, these letters are utterly generic. Sometimes, they don’t even bother “find and replacing” the names so the name Tali might end up in a recommendation for Sam. At Ivy Coach, we help our students help their teachers and guidance counselor craft powerful letters that stand out from the pack.
Check out the piece in “Alaska Airlines Magazine” (linked above) for more helpful tips!