20% of millionaires with college-bound kids spend more than $50,000 to get them into college. That isn’t to say that they are part of the Operation Varsity Blues scandal, but these wealthy parents spend money on elite private school tuition, SAT/ACT tutoring, private tutors, and skill training for sports and music. What parents don’t get is that college admissions officers know that these students have many advantages that other less wealthy students don't have, and that high GPAs and SAT/ACT scores have now become the norm.
So what does it take to stand out and get into selective colleges?
Projects highlight student interests, tenacity, and success. Because these projects aren’t required by teachers, club leaders (Eagle Scout), and church groups (Habitat for Humanity), and are therefore not managed and organized by others, the student demonstrates how they’ve learned and utilized these vital life skills. Colleges love these projects because they recognize this passion as a key to success for students in their 4-year institutions.
One of my students is designing a device that will stop wildfires from spreading. He lives in Northern California and has a constant fear that his neighborhood might go up in flames like those in Paradise, CA, did last year. He is working with our chemical engineer to create a prototype that will instantly put out fires caused by PG&E power lines. Meeting with fire chiefs all over the state and researching fire retardants gives this student plenty to write about on his college application essays. He is likely the only student in the country engineering such a device – which will make him stand out. He isn’t an athlete competing among the 80,000 high school athletes or a drummer among the 100,000 band members.
Another student is writing a fictional novel that focuses on teenage angst. She’s developed excellent storytelling skills as well as improving her grammar and mechanics. By researching problems with interpersonal communication, this student has learned how mean words can also be a reflection of the perpetrator’s personal insecurities. The student’s mother told me that her daughter has handled typical teen conflicts with maturity as a direct result of her work on this project.
College admissions officers appreciate reading about students who have the initiative to do something because it is important to themselves. They learn more about how the student has gone above the norm to do a project that has personal meaning.
Besides, imagine if the 4 million students who entered 9th grade each year did a project? They could solve many of the issues we face as a community, state, nation, and civilization. All students can do projects and they can find mentors in the retirement communities to support them. Wealthy parents, instead of cheating and stacking the decks for your child, support your child as they do a project – even finance their endeavors – but let them do the projects on their own. They’ll become empowered with confidence and they’ll become interesting young adults – just the kind that selective colleges are admitting.