Ep 149: Does Your Teen Look Good On Paper?

Aviva Legatt, author of Get Real and Get In, joins us for a behind-the-scenes look at the college admissions process and what your teen can do to stand out from the crowd. Plus, how being on student council might actually hurt their chances! 

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Full show notes

We’ve always been told that the secret to getting a teen into college is for them to look perfect on paper. We nag them to join the honors society, sign them up for a hundred SAT tests, or even convince them to quit guitar lessons to make time for academic decathlon. But what if simply checking all the right boxes of what colleges are “looking for” isn’t the right approach anymore? Could it be that admissions officers are getting a little bored of reading essay after essay about the challenges of AP biology?

We might just be so focused on helping teens fit the mold we aren’t encouraging them to think outside of the box! More than just routine extracurriculars or high test scores, admissions officers want to see that kids have unique talents and passions. Instead of pushing kids to drop dance for the debate team, maybe it’s time we talked to them about how their natural interests can propel them towards a brighter future.

To get a behind-the-scenes peek at what college admissions officers are really looking for, we’re talking to Aviva Legatt, author of Get Real and Get In: How to Get Into the College of Your Dreams by Being Your Authentic Self. She’s also the founder of Ivy Insight, the gold standard in college admissions consulting! Her advice for your teen? Forget what they’ve been taught about being the “perfect” college applicant, and be themselves instead!

Aviva and I are talking about what she calls the “impressiveness paradox”, or why fancy shmancy credentials alone might not help your teen get into the school of their dreams. We’re also covering how teens can tap into their passions to find their potential, and the value of making connections with people on campus before even submitting their application.

Getting in by Being Authentic

Students and parents are constantly told the same things about getting into college: they’ll need perfect grades, perfect test scores, and academic extracurriculars to round it all out. And sure, that might have been the golden formula for getting in a decade or so ago...but times are changing! More and more students apply every year, with thousands of students submitting the same “ideal” college app. Aviva explains that for admissions officers, this rigid approach is no longer the key to getting that acceptance letter.

Instead of trying to seem perfect, kids should be aiming to be themselves, says Aviva. Those reading applications are much more interested in a student who seems authentic, someone who shows they have a spark of excitement and passion. If kids are enrolling in a coding club but just sitting in the back of the meetings texting, college admissions officers are going to see through that facade! Just going through the motions of being a model applicant won’t thrill anyone.

So how can students show off their real interests in their application? In the episode, Aviva drops some tips for students to exhibit their genuine love for orchestra or student government. This includes not only writing killer essays, but also finding the right letters of rec to highlight their spirited involvement in whatever it is they love to do. The goal is for the student’s joy and passion to come off the page while an admissions officer is reading it!

Not sure what your teen’s passion is or how they can write about it? Aviva and I tackle that too!

Turning Passion into Purpose

For teens who love gaming or jamming out on the drums, it can be hard to turn their interest and a winning college app. Aviva suggests inquiring what it is about music or Fortnite that excites your teen. Consider evaluating what skills and benefits their chosen pastime brings to their lives and the lives of others!

For example, if your teen is a film buff, there might not be a clear life skill involved. But your teen probably has a rich knowledge of history and the arts. Maybe they’re wise about the business side of the industry! They might even consider setting up and running community movie nights, to benefit a charity. Then, when they go to work on that application, they’ll be able to describe how they marketed the event, overcame the technical challenges of the projector, collaborated with others to put the event on, and so on and so forth!

As adults who’ve seen a little more of life’s challenges, we know that not every one of our teens' passions is going to bring financial stability. It’s easy to assert ourselves in their decisions and tell them what to spend their time doing. But Aviva suggests taking a backseat and letting kids find their interests on their own. Then, when they’ve found something, she recommends encouraging them to run with it! By providing opportunities and allowing them to spread their wings, you’ll help them become confident and capable adults.

Now, even an application that’s buzzing with originality could benefit from some good ol’ fashioned networking. Aviva and I discuss how your teen can make some connections on campus before applying to make their application pop.

Networking to Get Noticed

We all know that a job application can benefit from knowing some folks at the company. A cover letter addressed to a specific person is always more powerful! So why shouldn’t a college application be the same? In the episode, Aviva gives the lowdown on how teens can get to know some folks at their dream school to give their application an extra bit of oomph.

The trick is getting to know some people on campus! Aviva has a three part checklist for teens who are trying to make connections with the administration at any school. The first step is for your teen to define their intentions. What programs or extracurriculars will they be involved in once they start attending? Have they picked a major yet? These choices can guide teens to reach out to staff members of certain departments or specific program coordinators. It also helps teens know what questions to ask when they do get in contact!

The next step is to ask for a bit of that person’s time. Although it might be intimidating, these folks are educators! Their goal is to guide students on a learning journey. Most likely, if teens tell them they’re a student, they’ll be happy to have a chat, says Aviva. The last step is a follow up. She suggests teens send a note or an email thanking them for taking the time to talk. This will help them remember who your teen is and will leave a good impression, so when their name comes up in the application process, they’ll have a leg up.

In the Episode….

This week’s interview is chock full of valuable advice for college applicants and their parents! On top of the topics mentioned above, we cover:
  • How the application process can help teens self reflect
  • Why the apps have changed over the years
  • What teens can learn from their weaknesses
  • How to help a teen who’s a little too worked up about their applications
I loved Aviva’s message about applying to college: no matter where you get in, getting real is invaluable. 

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Ep 149: Does Your Teen Look Good On Paper?
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