‘Parents’ Top Concern After US College Admissions: What Did These Students Do Right to Impress Elite Schools?”
Yes, I used “do right” to describe the question because too many people believe in the so-called “Ivy League formula”: SAT1550+ straight A’s + Olympiad medals + top-tier summer programs + published papers = Ivy League admission.
However, this formula not only turns international education into another “arms race,” but also becomes less effective. There are many cases of students with perfect resumes being rejected by American universities.
All the hard work and sacrifices may have been for nothing!
If Ivy League Had a Formula, the Only One Would Be “Sharp Edges of a Person”
“What is the Underlying Logic of US College Admissions?”
From the perspective of universities, they want to form a new class of students, much like the 108 heroes of Liangshan. Each person has their own unique characteristics. Diverse student body is the underlying logic of US college admissions, as they seek athletes, musicians, academic achievers, first-generation college students, and more.
From the perspective of applicants, the key is to be “strong and different.” They have overcome challenges that most people can’t overcome, and experienced things that are different from others. For a genius, these sharp edges can be international awards, or being the first author of an academic journal paper. For an average student, exploring their potential and excelling in what they are good at can still lead to being “strong and different.”
For example, I had a student this year who was accepted by both MIT and Princeton. He had no competitions or papers, no top-tier summer programs, and only had artistic talent that wasn’t at a professional level. However, his character was noticed – he was well-liked, had a great personality, and was always invited to spend holidays with his classmates.
Using this strength, he became a dormitory manager in high school and later became the captain of the ski team, during which he completed renovations of the school’s ski equipment room. He has truly maximized his impact and contribution to the community.
It is well-known that the top 10 universities in the US are not lacking in outstanding academic achievements. If you only have academic excellence but not “difference,” you may only be “considered” but not necessarily accepted. Excellent grades are important, but a person’s “sharp edges” are the key to standing out.
Endless Competition for US Undergraduate
Education: Breaking the Mold by Defining Your Own Rules
In traditional college admissions, consultants would determine a student’s top and safety schools based on their academic performance and the schools’ rankings. For example, a student’s dream school might be Harvard, with several safety schools ranked around 40th place.
However, in this age of extreme competition, no school can truly be considered a safety school anymore. Many students who are accepted to Ivy League schools are also rejected by schools like UCLA or Northeastern University.
Under the influence of the “theatre effect,” some parents are pushing their children to get perfect scores on the TOEFL and SAT, and participate in every possible competition. But even with a near-perfect resume, students may not be able to get into the schools they want to attend.
Media is filled with stories of “Harvard syndrome,” where students who aren’t even in the top 1% of their class are striving for admission to the most prestigious schools. These stories offer little guidance and only add to the stress of the college application process.
Typically, we say that 1% of students aim for Ivy League schools, 10% target the top 30 schools, and the remaining 90% make up the mainstream applicants for undergraduate programs. Therefore, instead of focusing on the top 1% of schools, it’s better to maximize our own value as international students.
In short, we should not participate in the competition based on “school rankings make heroes.” In other words, we need to break the serious bias that Ivy League schools are better than other schools.
Many parents may initially find this difficult to accept, so here is an example. This year, I met a female student from a bilingual school in Beijing. She had above-average grades, but her true passions were figure skating, community service, and working with children. Her dream was to live around the world and work with children from different cultures.
Imagine this student living in Geneva, Switzerland, attending an international school with children from 100+ countries. Who would care if she had graduated from an Ivy League school or not?
Furthermore, her dream is not impossible. Instead of applying to Ivy League schools, it would be more suitable for her to attend a liberal arts college and then apply to Harvard’s or Columbia’s education school for a master’s degree after working in the US for two years.
Therefore, parents should ask themselves: do we want our children to have a fulfilling life, or do we just want them to wear the badge of a prestigious university?
For example, if a child is interested in wine, they can study viticulture at UC Davis in California, one of the world’s six major wine regions. By studying the major and being in the location, employment after graduation is virtually guaranteed.
As 90% of students are not among the 1% of top achievers, we should break away from the Ivy League craze and support those who are while refusing to accompany them. We should focus on our own path and strive to achieve what truly matters to us.
Matching Two Key Factors to Find the Right Fit for American High Schools
Another question that many parents are concerned about is whether or not to attend a U.S. high school, and how to choose the right one.
Everyone knows that finding the right match is the best way, but what exactly does that mean? To put it simply, you can start with some process of elimination. Regardless of which school you choose, you must ensure that your child can rank in the top 10%, or even 5%, at that school.
As we mentioned earlier, “strong but different” schools must first ensure that they are “strong”. If you can’t achieve this, then how can you be different? Based on this, I don’t recommend that parents aim for the top-tier American high schools, such as Andover and the like. Once you enter this type of school, expectations from both the outside world and within the student body will be different, and the pressure will be even greater.
As for how to judge your child’s grades, it’s actually quite simple. Each high school has its own school records, which are public information that includes the average scores of the ACT and SAT exams, as well as the percentage of students who receive an A grade. This is for college admissions officers to see. Of course, you can also ask current students during your visit to the school to determine whether your child can rank among the top.
The second aspect of matching is whether the school is friendly to international students and how international students are treated at the school. The key years of a child’s adolescence are critical, and the process is important. Is the school life smooth? Are there true friends? Can they feel their self-worth?
How can you judge this? You can observe during your school visit whether international students participate in the student management team, serve as the captain of the football team, participate in dormitory management, or have a place in the orchestra, and so on.
Matching a US high school is both a science (such as researching the school’s Ivy League admission rate, SAT average score, AP course quantity, etc.) and an art (such as the temperament of current students, the degree of friendliness towards international students, and human care). Students can participate in summer schools, visit schools, and attend open days to gain a more intuitive understanding.
Utilitarianism vs. Non-Utilitarianism, Choosing the Right Path for Your Needs
In recent years, planning for early study abroad has become increasingly popular, and many families are exploring how to prepare their children for admission to top US universities in the long term. One practical route to consider is through sports and arts special admissions.
For young students who show talent in areas such as ice hockey, golf, water polo, tennis, racquetball, fencing, or rowing, sports special admissions could be a viable option. Although there are also special admissions for sports such as basketball and American football, these are not suitable for 99% of Chinese families.
Similarly, if a young student has achieved near-professional levels in music through years of rigorous training, they could consider applying through the arts special admissions route. For example, if they have joined a professional music group or have performed at the level of the Shanghai or Beijing orchestras, this could increase their chances of success.
From a practical perspective, cultivating talents in sports or the arts, while maintaining a good academic record, greatly increases the likelihood of admission to top universities. The acceptance rate for sports special admissions at Ivy League schools, for instance, may be ten times higher than that for other groups, and the results are usually finalized by the second half of the eleventh grade.
From a utilitarian perspective, if you want your child to enter a top university, cultivating sports or artistic talents and maintaining good academic performance, the probability of success will be very high. The admission rate of Ivy League schools for sports admission candidates may be 10 times that of other groups, and the results are usually confirmed by the second half of the 11th grade.
From a non-utilitarian perspective, to enter a top university, you must first abandon your obsession with top universities. Just like pursuing a person, you have to let go of your obsession with her. If you knock on her door every day, she will not fall in love with you; you have to become strong enough, confident enough, have your own life connotation, and then love will naturally come.
To take a step back, even if the girl you like doesn’t come to you, when you become outstanding, there will still be other girls who will find you. The same is true for academic advancement. When you become very outstanding, even if Ivy League schools don’t like you, other top universities will favor you.
Do what you should do and don’t think every day about what Harvard or Princeton wants, trying to create your child based on their preferences. What if the school’s tastes change in 10 years?
Therefore, it is important to cultivate a child’s basic abilities, such as reading, socializing, having a sunny personality, being helpful, and having empathy. If a child has these qualities, he or she will surely become an outstanding person. If you love Harvard so much, even if you can’t get in at 18 years old, as long as you continue to do your best and do it to the extreme, I believe that Harvard will open its doors to invite you to become a professor when you are 38 or 48 years old.
I have always believed that the process is more important than the result, and the process drives the result. Because there are too many uncontrollable factors, the result cannot be guaranteed, but we can do our best to make the process better. Early planning is not about spending time packaging to improve admission probability, but allowing children to have time to explore, make mistakes, digest, absorb, and transform.
Like the boy who was admitted to both MIT and Princeton this year, whom I have accompanied for many years, even if he had not been admitted to a top university, his various experiences during high school transformed him from a naive boy into a young man with abilities and thoughts. Isn’t this the original intention of our child-rearing?