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Dubious College Admissions Advice

2 min read
Dubious College Admissions Advice
Photo by Tim Alex / Unsplash

Table of contents

Everyone’s college advice ultimately comes down to the same few lessons. Everything else is hard work and a bit of luck. Here’s what I’ve learned:

(1) Be the Top 1%

Grades, GPA/class rank, and standardized test scores don’t really matter. They only serve as an entry ticket to the admission committee's scrutiny. No one cares if you get a five on [random AP class].

And stop worrying about your damn SAT score. Sure there’s better than a 1520, but no school will reject you because you didn’t test 30 points higher.

As long as you’re in the top 1% (or close) of your graduating class, you’re fine.

(2) Find Your Niche

Extracurriculars distinguish your application.

If you find something you love doing, don’t stop. Become the expert. Jump roping, chess, english, math, lacrosse—it really doesn’t matter as long as you get distinguished awards (ideally national).

If you don’t have one passion, that’s fine. Plenty of people have gotten into selective schools with multiple interests. You don’t have to be the best in your grade. You just have to be good. In many fields. (Not that easy.)

(3) Quit Not Quitting

It’s okay to quit a club or activity. A lot of high school is about learning what you like and how to prioritize your interests. If you’d be happier without that extracurricular, consider quitting.

In the same vein, don’t be afraid to start. If you discover a new passion, pursue it. It’s never too late. (With an asterisk because you shouldn’t start a completely new activity the month before submitting your application. Use your brain.)

Examples: I was in debate from freshman to junior year. I joined my school’s environmental club (first activity on my application) junior year.

My Columbia friend ran cross country and track freshman and sophomore year. She joined her main club junior year.

(4) Stop Hating Your Classmates

Your friends are still your friends. Just because they’re applying to the same college doesn’t mean they’re competition now. Thousands of students apply to the same schools every year. Bobby won’t make or break your chances.

Don’t be toxic. Be happy for your friends.

(5) Write Good Essays

Barring unusual circumstances, junior year marks the end of your application. The last boost comes from your writing. Reflect on who you are and who you want to be. Then, write the best essays you can. Do yourself and your twelve years of school justice.

And that’s it. Try your best, but remember that college isn't a panacea. Mental health and whatnot are important.

Congratulations and good luck!

Michel Liao

Michel Liao

Boise, Idaho, United States
Hello! I'm a sophomore studying computer science at Princeton. I like reading, rock climbing, and running.