In this article, I will be covering one of my most requested topics that I receive via Instagram DM (@caityb) which is advice for college admissions.
I was admitted to Harvard in October 2012 and also received offers from Stanford, Princeton, Georgetown and Penn. In this article I am going to delve into a little bit of my process through high school and six tips that will help you in the college admissions process.
1. Accomplishments That Are Hard To Explain Are Better Than Accomplishments That Are Hard To Do.
My biggest piece of advice is to read as much material as you can possibly find on college admissions. My favorite book was How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out) by Cal Newport.
Basically what I learned from that book was that it’s not necessarily about doing a million things in high school and trying to spread yourself really thin. It’s really about finding your passion, diving deep into it, and optimizing your efforts to focus on a few things that you’re really truly passionate about.
Newport emphasizes in the book that accomplishments that are hard to explain are better than accomplishments that are hard to do. I find that a lot of times in high school people try to overload themselves with a ton of APs and extracurriculars that make them busy and that are hard to do. In reality, it’s more important to do things that are larger than life and a little bit hard to explain rather than overwhelming yourself with tons and tons of activities.
2. Specialize: Only Focus On Things You Love. Don’t Try To Do It All, Do A Few Things Really Well.
When I was in high school l was really interested in lacrosse. I eventually got a varsity letter as a freshman and I thought I would be playing all four years. Instead, I ended up realizing that my true passion was in triathlon. Triathlon was not a varsity sport at my high school, so I decided that instead of overwhelming myself by being a varsity lacrosse player and doing triathlons I should just specialize, focus and really dive deep into triathlons.
That was a tough decision at first, but I really ended up being so much happier because of it. When I was a junior in high school I founded the organization YoungTri, which connected young triathletes worldwide. We ended up having members from every state and 35 plus countries and I was featured on Fox News, MTV and a bunch of other different out news outlets.
This goes to show just how important it is to center yourself around something that you love. For example, if you are a swimmer, it’s important that you are not only a varsity swimmer but go beyond that to perhaps start an organization that connects swimmers. Going above and beyond being an athlete or member of a club is important for admissions officers
3. Don’t Get Your Hopes Set On One College
Another crucial thing to remember regarding college admissions is to not get your hopes set on one specific college and make that your only goal. My goal in high school was to go to a really good college. I wasn’t necessarily set on one specific college. It was just the idea of going to a top college that was important to me.
For example, say you want to be a nurse. You could focus on getting into a top nursing school like Villanova or Penn. Depending on your interests, this is one thing that I really try to stress to people: no matter what you do, even if you have a perfect score and you have really great activities, it’s still a bit of a wild card whether you will get into, say, specifically Penn. However, if you play your cards right, get good scores and are involved in activities that you are passionate about, you will get into at least one of your schools.
4. Don’t Underestimate The Importance of Your SAT Score And Grades, But Don’t Worry About a Perfect Score.
Even if you do some AMAZING activities in high school, there’s no getting around the importance of your SAT score and grades. You don’t necessarily have to have a 1600 on the SAT, but it is important to be within your dream schools’ score ranges. For schools like Harvard and Princeton, you do have to be above a certain threshold, but I think students often unnecessarily strive for perfection once they reach that threshold. SAT scores are important – and you definitely should spend time preparing (I used eprep.com) – but once I hit the threshold for the schools that I was applying to, I moved on and focused on other things.
When you think about it, there will be a ton of students applying to top schools that have 4.0s and ideal SAT scores – what admissions officers are looking for is someone that is differentiating themselves beyond their scores.
5. Doing Less Is The Foundation For Being More Impressive And Scheduling Free Time is Critical to Success.
This was a notion that I really took to heart in high school. I never went to bed past 11:00 P.M. on a weekday. I was really well regimented with my time and scheduled free hours on the weekends to do things that I enjoyed, and allowed my creativity to flow.
This tip does not mean to do nothing – rather, it means that you should specialize and focus on a few things you are really good at, and leave some free time to allow yourself to come up with new ideas, projects and to just relax and reset. Be deliberate and thoughtful about how you schedule your time.
For example, senior year I took almost all AP classes but didn’t take AP Science or Math. I knew that those classes would take an unnecessary amount of stress and energy for me, so I instead opted to take an extra AP History instead.
It is important to be productive, but it is more important to be happy. Trust me.
6. Only Get Involved In Something If It Passes The “Saturday Morning Test.”
The “Saturday Morning Test” is something that I still try to live my life by, even two years after graduating from Harvard. Basically, it means that unless you would be excited enough about an activity, project or job enough to do it on a free Saturday morning, then don’t add it to your schedule.
Obviously, there can be exceptions to this due to needing to earn extra income or otherwise, but following this “Saturday Morning Test” method is a huge way to make yourself more excited about the things you are doing.
I hope you liked these college admissions tips! To follow along with me or ask any questions, head to @caityb.