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How not listening to my counselor helped me get into Harvard

I know it sounds like terrible advice, but sometimes the conventional wisdom can really hurt you. Let’s jump into the way back machine to the end of my junior year of high school. I had taken the ACT in April and gotten a 35. I felt really good about it and thought I’m done with that. Then, I ran into my college counselor a few days before the June ACT testing date. She told me how surprised she was I wasn’t taking it again to try to get a 36. I told her I wasn’t going to take again, and she really encouraged me to try for the 36. I didn’t listen to her and got into Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and MIT with a 35.

I’m not alone in trying to stop this quest for perfection. Elizabeth Dankoski, a private college consultant who has been helping kids get into dream colleges for over 15 years, explains how a perfect SAT can backfire in this Prepped & Polished podcast. So why would it have hurt me to try for that 36? I had a lot of other time commitments. For one, I had other testing to complete including 3 AP tests, SAT II’s, and the SAT. Plus, the number of study hours it would’ve taken me to go up one single point would have likely been weeks and weeks of time. Hundreds of hours I spent instead on my volunteer project, on my essay, and on my application package.

If it was such a bad idea, why did my counselor suggest it? I don’t blame her. I think most people would think, “You’re so lose to perfect, don’t you want to just try for it?” She probably didn’t consider the number of hours I would’ve had to spend to get that one-point bump.

Now I’m sure you’re asking, if my son or daughter shouldn’t be focusing on getting a perfect ACT or SAT score, what should they be focusing on? First of all, your child still needs to get into their dream school’s reasonable range for testing and GPA. My favorite tool for finding this information is Cappex’s Admissions Scattergrams for each school. It’s self-reported, but it can really help you see if you’re in the running when it comes to grades and test scores. Most schools also report their 25th and 75th percentiles for test scores.

Once you’ve hit that, it’s time to focus on the aspects of you and your application that will make you stand out and be remembered. It’s about how you contribute to your community and how you will contribute to campus and eventually the world. It’s time to focus on projects that will showcase what you really care about. Mine was a resource fair for foster families that I planned and worked on for about a year. I worked on my essay for months. These things take time, and since I wasn’t studying for the ACT for hours and hours, I had the time to do them.

If you’re not sure what you should be doing to make yourself stand out, sign up for my email list. I will send you some fabulous free resources to help you figure out how to stand out and create your best application.

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