What REALLY Gets Kids Into Top Colleges (Hint: Not Millions of Dollars)

With all of the shocking news and chatter around the college admissions scandal, I wish the news would stop focusing on how the rich and famous buy their way into colleges, and instead, focus on what everyone can do to stand out in the college admissions process. Because GPAs vary between schools – some schools give A’s when students participate in class and turn in homework, while others only give A’s to a few well-deserving students, colleges know that grades mean different things at different schools. Many colleges have dropped the SAT or ACT requirements and only the Ivies and Stanford are requiring the SAT II exams.

So what makes college admissions officers notice an applicant?

A PROJECT. When a student starts a business, writes a book, creates an app, engineers a device, or organizes a non-profit, they stand out. It’s not rocket science, but it does take some thought and perseverance. These projects aren’t part of a school assignment or a club responsibility.  They’re something that fascinates the student and something they can do on their own. 

Projects can be started in 9th grade or any time while they’re in high school.  They can work with mentors to help them develop their projects and advisors to guide them through the process.  While doing their projects, they’ll learn how to set up a budget, lay out a timeline, promote their ideas, send press releases, and recruit volunteers.  Check out these projects!  These valuable skills can help them in high school, college, and career. I find that students who do projects become self-confident, innovative, and proactive. 

While some parents are willing to pay millions of dollars to get their kids into top colleges, smart parents give their children opportunities to develop professional skills that get into college on their own merits!


Projects, Not Scandals

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.



Working Together to Reduce the Impact of the Coming Climate Crisis

As California Mother of the Year, I’m creating easy and doable things that everyone can do to mitigate the acceleration of the impending climate crisis. 

My clients are doing incredible projects that will reduce CO2, increase oxygen, clean water, reduce plastic waste, and more. I am also pulling together brilliant people who want to work with us to guide my students and layout step-by-step solutions to change the trajectory of this crisis.

Want to join us? It’s exhilarating and rewarding – I find it’s the best way to personally deal with the onslaught of corruption, deception, and lies that have caused this hot mess we’re in.  Please get in touch with me and let’s do this!


Homeschooling? Try Merit Academy Curriculum

Fed up with school options for your children? If you’re considering homeschooling, check out Merit Academy’s curriculum.

We offer our curriculum framework to homeschoolers who want a high-caliber education that builds a strong academic foundation and prepares them for success in college/career. In addition to our academic classes, students also start businesses, do weekly internships, and do projects using the Project Merit model.  

Imagine giving your child a Merit Academy education at a fraction of the cost!

Check it out: