What Were You Least Prepared For When You Entered An Ivy League School
Answered by Wes Lai, retired teacher of 34 years
“I did not attend an Ivy League school. My son did, and he graduated #1 in his class of 480 at a public high school. The one thing he said that blew him away was how students from private prep and boarding schools were so well prepared for college. The other thing was how everybody was just as smart as he was, or smarter. Culture shock.”
This answer explains why admission to Tier One colleges is competitive. The outstanding student in any high school is just average in the pool of applicants to selective colleges. All of the candidates have stellar grades in a rigorous curriculum. Most will have nearly perfect scores. Admission depends on the interests, passions and accomplishments outside of school. Overcoming challenges, solving real world problems, and having done something that benefits others gain traction in the admissions office.
Lai’s response highlights the epidemic of depression and anxiety experienced on college campuses. Discovering that you aren’t the smartest person in the room when your parents, teachers and accomplishments have told you just that, is difficult for many students to accept. They believe that less than perfect grades or not having the answer to a difficult question shows them to be weak and failing.
As parents, we need to emphasize that the quest is more important than the badge of achievement. A goal should be to grow, become better at the tasks we undertake, to focus our education on how to use knowledge and experience to help others. Most of all we need to treat failure as a part of moving forward: it teaches persistence, humility and spurs determination. Sometimes it opens doors to new thinking.
As I’ve told countless students, when you get to college you will meet people who have had different experiences than you have, learned bits of information that diverge from what you are familiar with, connect the dots in a different pattern. That doesn’t make one of you smarter or a better student: its another opportunity to apply critical thinking.
When you’re ready to talk about a college list, or ways in which college might surprise you, I’ll be waiting to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-212-6679.