We all strive for academic excellence, or want that for our kids. Yet, at a top college, almost EVERYONE carries excellent academic credentials. For example, Harvard University this year saw a record 42,000 applicants for roughly 1,600 freshman slots. Of the 42,000 applicants, 75% (or 31,500) are academically qualified.
So, how do you choose 1,600 from a pool of 31,500 qualified candidates?
What will set you apart when there is an “oversupply” of academic qualifications at a top college?
Focus on your “soft” skill set by doing the following:
Build Strong Relationships (and the sooner, the better!): Recommendation letters carry sizable weight when all of the applicants are academically qualified. The difference between a great letter and a merely good one can tilt the scales to your advantage. MIT has a great page on their site that offers insight into reference letters and what distinguishes a good one from bad one.
Communication (all types!): There is no doubt the ability to communicate well is a critical success factor. Too often, though, being confuse being “communicative” with being “extroverted”. Well, there are plenty of extroverts who are terrible communicators who are extroverts; and great communicators who are introverts.
The key? Know your audience. To whom are you speaking, or writing, or listening, or meeting? Can you understand their needs and “speak their language”, and then translate your points into their language quickly and effectively? The ability to “think before you communicate” is a skill that should be developed as early as possible and will continue to evolve over your entire lifetime.
Leadership: This is your ability to “get comfortable in uncomfortable situations” by stretching your talents into new areas. If you like working alone, start to work in a team environment. If you are good at math, try debate (they are more similar than you think!). Top schools are looking for students who love to learn new things and never let old skills get boring or stale. As a principal at a local magnet school recently said, “We are trying to grow leaders, not just doers.”
Passion: No single area challenges an individual like passion. Passion is genuine. It is internally generated. Quite honestly, it is either “there” or it isn’t. That’s the hard part. Sometimes, you can “fool” yourself into passion, but--if it is not true passion--it will eventually manifest itself as being “forced” from the outside (say to please teachers or parents). Top colleges want students who are passionate (about whatever they are passionate about) and who are not doing activities to fill out a resume or application.
The best news: The “software” skill set can be learned and used to build upon a very solid foundation of “hardware” (academic) skills . Like any skill development, it takes patience and hours of disciplined practice.
At Veritas Education, we pride ourselves on offering courses that “fill the gaps” in the school system curriculum for “software” that helps our students stand out from the crowd. We intensely focus on relationship building; communication (written, oral, listening, first impressions): leadership and passion to help our students truly discover themselves. On the “hardware” side, we offer advanced courses like PSAT and SAT prep classes for math, reading, and writing.