With tens of thousands of students applying to top unis and standardised testing requirements dropping, how do you differentiate yourself from the crowd?
As the product manager at Crimson Education and a Harvard graduate, Gabe has in-depth knowledge of the US college application process. In this episode, he gives some fantastic examples of how students have created unique extracurriculars and some tips on how you can get started today.
Podcast Host 00:17
Hello, and welcome to College Chats. I'm your host Alex Cork. And today I chat with Crimson Education strategist and Harvard graduate, Gabe Gladstein. We discuss how students can stand out from the crowd, especially as standardized testing requirements continue to be dropped, gave shares some fantastic examples of what past students have done, as well as giving his own suggestions on how you can start something today. Let's chat with Gabe bloodstain. Hey, Gabe, welcome to College Chats. It's awesome to have you on. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?
Yeah, so my name is Gabe gladstein. I'm from Santa Rosa, California. So that's Northern California, near San Francisco. I went to Harvard, I got my BA in government. And then I got a master's degree from the nearby New England Conservatory of Music, and music. And I'm a violinist, a singer and a songwriter. I live in Los Angeles, I've worked at Crimson for nearly six years now, I created our US admissions program. And I'm now the head of product development, which is super exciting. So I continue to work with students, but I also get to like design our new educational services and make sure that, you know, all of our services are on like, you know, the absolute forefront of kind of, you know, the industry broadly.
Podcast Host 01:33
Fantastic. And what are we going to focus on today.
So today, I'd love to discuss what differentiates students in this day and age, and, you know, kind of what can create a great applicant, I think that with, especially this, you know, the COVID, and the most recent application season, which was really, really competitive, there's some confusion out there, for students about what they can do to really stand out the application process. And I think those things have changed over time. So what I want to talk about today is like, how do you develop a deep interest, which I think is the key to standing out? And then how do you build on that, you know, with your activities list, and, you know, your academic intellectual interests, to really illustrate to colleges that you are something special?
Podcast Host 02:15
So what kind of qualities do you think top universities are looking for in applicants?
One of the things we're seeing more of an, like, expectations from admissions officers at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, but they're a big part of what they're looking for, is that flexibility. But it's not just like, you know, because I think some kids could interpret flexibility as being like, Oh, well, so I need to be well rounded, like I need to have, you know, a lot of like different things, you know, a lot of different activities or represent a lot of different skill sets. And it's not so simple as that, I think, what they want to see is deep intellectual engagement, and intellectual engagement is like, in a way, it's a form of like creative engagement. So it's, you know, investing time and energy into, you know, learning about one or, you know, maybe a couple things, but then it's developing your own takes on those things, it's developing your own insights and perspectives, you know, seeking out experiences in, you know, in those subjects or relating to those subjects or skill sets. And I think that's really like, that's what they're looking for, you know, they're not, I think the days of like, Oh, I started an app, and therefore, like, Harvard's gonna let me in, like, yeah, those days are sort of actually kind of waning, in my view. I think that, you know, so many kids now have tried to do that, and, and pursued that path that, you know, it's just, it's like anything, right? We in admissions are, there are cycles and things that are, like exciting when they're new. And then you know, that too many people do them, and they're no longer new, they're no longer the exciting thing. Like, this year, we've seen some amazing applicants come through Crimson who basically, like, saw that or understood that trend, and that change, and, like, anticipated it and adjusted and they, you know, they just this year, they this last year, but you know, big pattern that we're seeing is like kids training, especially Gen Z, I think is like really focused on, you know, General AI Community Services, not a broad enough term, it's really, it's more this notion of like, thinking about the well being of humanity. It's never like really broad. But it's true. It's like, the way that that kids are, are conceiving of their potential impact these days is like, so different. I mean, when I was in high school is like, you know, if you start a charity and like, raise $10,000, that's incredibly significant. And that's what is it like 12 years ago or something? It's completely different now, like the thinking around, like, what kind of impact can I have? And obviously, you know, this comes on the back of like, some really inspiring people like Malala and you know, Greta tunberg. And there are many sorts of kids who just like, you know, step into a huge international spotlight, but you don't have to be like them in order to have that kind of impact. And I think that that's, I'm sure that's part of what what you You observed. And part of what we've seen also on our end is like kids really embracing this notion of like, I'm going to do what I can, you know what I'm capable of, and give as much of myself as I can to doing some good. And you know, I'm going to find something that really sticks out to me, or that I can really understand around my head around, and I'm gonna explain to other people, it's movement building, but it doesn't always have to be on a big scale. And that's what's been, I think, really exciting for me to see recently, and it's hard, it's hard to make that change. But, you know, just in terms of like, what admissions officers expect, and how to do that in a way that feels personal, you know, to per each kid, rather than, you know, kind of contrived, and but yeah, I've been really impressed.
Podcast Host 05:41
It feels so mature, though, right? Like that whole, that understanding that you are thinking bigger than yourself. It's not just thinking about the college admissions process and what you're going to put in your application. It's like, Who am I as a person? And what am I going to give back to the world, it's, it's, as you said, like, it's not about just creating one thing and saying, that's my ticket to college. It's creating like a holistic story that really portrays what you want to do not just at college, but possibly after college, that takes a whole lot of maturity, and I guess, long term thinking, is that something that you think students are usually good at? Or not so good at?
I think that your average student is probably not that great, that type of thinking. And I think it's, yeah, it's interesting, because there are some students we see who do this well, as a result of being really just plugged in to what is happening right now in the world or in society. And that's, I mean, you know, more and more, it's happening through things like Tick tock, you know, those types of mediums where, I mean, you'd be surprised, but Tick Tock is not all dance trends, you know, yeah, it's a, it's a lot of like, videos of very young people talking about extremely serious issues and their community and, you know, their community could be local, state, national, whatever it is, but, you know, often explaining them in a, you know, I mean, you know, the longest Tiktok video you can make is a minute. So, at most, it's going to take them a minute to explain a really complicated issue. There, there are a ton of great tech talks, where they like present evidence, kind of show that evidence for, like, how they came to this conclusion. And, and you know, where this problem that they're pointing out, often it has to do with the way you know, fundamentally, it comes down to the way a certain group of people is treated. And there's a real thread that runs through this generation of kids Gen Z, that I've just been, like, so impressed by like this thread of empathy and the desire to connect and understand in a way that I've always like, think I've always wanted millennials, like my generation to experience more of, and I just feel like it didn't hit us in the same way. But Gen Z grew up in this, like, really complicated world where they were exposed to these problems and what's going on in the world right away, like right off the bat, you know, I mean, from basically, as long as they can remember, right? They've had YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, you know, they've had all these, these different ways of connecting with what's going on in the world for us for my generation, like that happened a little later. And that difference, I think, is enormous. Because, you know, for us, it was like, we started with YouTube. And at the beginning, and Facebook at the beginning was all about us. It was all about like, Well, how do you feel? And you know, what, what, like video, what do you want to say in your like, you know, personal YouTube channel. And so I think that created a mindset for millennials have a little bit more sort of self centeredness. But Gen Z is like, I think often treats this very differently, there's a lot more concern for, you know, what is happening, what other people's experiences are. So that's like, to me, like, that's kind of the best, most natural way that kids can come up upon this perspective, is just by being tuned in to global events, what's going on in the world, it could mean reading the New York Times. And that's great. Like, that's a great way to learn to figure out but it doesn't have to me that it can really like it could be through the social media that they're all already using, but it's about how they use it. And look, do dance trends, like that's fun, like engage with these things in a fun way. I think any every student I work with, like, I always encourage them to, like, seek out the parts of these things that bring them joy. But but also think constructively. You know, think like, okay, where are the pockets on this platform of information that like, I want to seek out I want to find I want to find out what's going on in my community? How do I who's making the content? That's, that's like breaking some news or, you know, revealing some inequities in the world? And what can I do, the great thing about these tech talks is oftentimes, like, they'll end with some kind of call to action. You know, these kids like they're brilliant, the way they're thinking up, like how to make an impact even from just where they're sitting, you know, in their whatever their their family's house and whatever country and I think it's a type of engagement and it's seeking out, you know, that content and those opportunities to do something to have an impact.
Podcast Host 09:54
What do you think about the academically brilliant student, right, because obviously, the satays The subject test etc have taken a significant backward step over the last year or so during COVID. And is there still a place for a student who just puts their nose in the books? I mean, obviously, not to the extent where they have basically no extracurriculars, or they would have some extracurriculars. But their primary reason for going to college or their primary card that they're going to play in the admissions process is academics. Is that still a card that students could potentially play? Or is that now No, no longer enough?
It's not enough. But to be clear, like, I don't think that academics alone have been enough for a good little while. Because I think even when I was applying to college, it wasn't enough to just be the best, you know, academically or in terms of your grades, you needed more than that. And I think that it's interesting to see as having the Subject Tests, I'm glad you brought that up. because historically, there have been these things like the Subject Tests, which are, I would what I would call like, low hanging fruit. So like very easy opportunities to show that you have some academic skill in a certain area, and those getting taken away, I think, is not necessarily a bad thing, actually, because in the end, I think what colleges really want to see is deeper engagement. And just, you know, taking the like biology subject test to prove that you did well, in your biology class, is not that interesting, right? It doesn't really tell them that much about you, but volunteering at your, you know, local, like marine biology, you know, Conservation Center over the summer, and meeting a scientist there, who you then work with during the next school year, and you end up like, you know, assisting some of their research. And that introduces you to somebody who ends up being a mentor and writes a letter of recommendation for you saying this person is like, brilliant, you know, next hope for marine biology. Like, those are the sorts of things that colleges are interested in. And then the thing is, like, what that really requires, it's not some kind of like, innate academic brilliance, that's the thing is like, that is less important than just sheer initiative like spunk, that's what they want to see. They want to, like, is this kid sitting, you know, in their room, hoping or waiting for an opportunity to come to them? Or are they going out and, and finding one, I think, when it comes to academically brilliant students, like, Look, I want to be clear, you don't have to start a charity, like you don't have to do some, some incredible, like, you know, community service project, or, you know, you don't have to be a genius artist, you have to be a genius at all, really, all you need to do is pursue something with depth, that's really what they're looking for is the development of a deep interest. And this is like a huge part of crimsons, non appier curriculum. So this is like how we work with students who provide strategy for them during the three years before they apply to college. It's thinking about, okay, how do we help each and every one of our students, it doesn't matter if they're aiming for Harvard, or they're aiming for a much lower rank school, we want every one of our students to develop a deep interest. A deep interest is basically something that you can talk, it could be literally anything, but it's something that you can talk about, like off the cuff, and you're so fluent in the subject, that you can make someone who has, like, no idea about this subject interested in it. So it's like, you know, it would be like if I started talking to you about like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in the 1920s, in the United States, and I told you all the reasons why, like that actually led to the, you know, labor movement, and you know, for that reason, like, we have unions today. And you know, it's like, like just diving into one like particular element of something very deeply, very passionately, and then pursuing it. So it's like, you build that knowledge, and then you got to do something with that knowledge. And so I gave the example earlier, right? If you're like, interested in biology, you go and find a lab or you find, you know, somebody locally, somebody close to you who is doing something related to the field you're interested in. But you know, it can be anything like, I there's this great example that I love, that I think about a lot where so this girl was, we can call it, Rachel, she had a deep interest in teaching. And so she was looking for opportunities to get involved in ways that other students aren't. And that's the key initiative, right? So it's like, what is everyone doing? And if everyone's doing that thing, try to find something different. Like, that's really, you know, you want to differentiate yourself. And so she was looking around, okay, I'm really interested in being a teacher. What can I do now? I'm just in high school, what can I do now to engage with that interest. She discovered that teachers at her local elementary school so that, you know, school for younger grades, they had tons of tasks and chores that they were doing, you know, these teachers are staying hours after school, to complete those tasks on behalf of their students without any assistance. And of course, you know, school budgets being what they are, they didn't have any money to hire anyone. So there's no one to help them. And there was no structure for a volunteer program or anything like that. But she went to the school regardless, she went She talked to a teacher there. And of course, as you can imagine, right, that teacher was more than happy to have her help out. Because you know, the teachers totally overwhelmed. So every day after her own school is is over, Rachel would go over to the elementary school and help for an hour. And so that's like, that's the beginning, right? That's the beginning of something. Not everyone is doing that that's something a little different. And it's engaging with her interest. But how do you how do you go deeper than that? Even? How do you build on that? And of course, Rachel did that. So one day, Rachel was, was talking with with one of the main teachers that she helped teacher wanted to start, like an after school reading program for her kids. But of course, as you can imagine, she doesn't have time right now. She's a teacher, it's no time to start it. So Rachel decided to do the research herself and figure out okay, what are some like other after school reading programs that have worked at other schools, she read about it. And with the teacher support, she went presented to the principal of the school, here's the program, I want to start, you know, here's how I'd run it. Here's the curriculum, here's how kids will get involved, I'll do the logistics, you know, and the principal proved it. So the end result was she ended up running this amazing program, and an elementary school that was like, completely unique, that you know, didn't exist in her community and benefited these kids enormously. So look, that's not gretta tunberg. Right. Like, that's not some kind of international huge thing. And yet, that's incredibly unique and incredibly special. And, you know, I mean, that level of engaged, that's years of work, and that level of engagement and serious commitment to her interest. I mean, that's like she, you know, she's going to Harvard like, that's the, in the end, she she got into all of this school, she applied she's super, super successful applicant. So what I'm talking about developing a deep interest, that's really the kind of thing I'm talking about is like that level of focused pursuit. You don't have to be a genius. You don't have to be wealthy. It really like the I think, in general, the the requirements and prerequisites for that are pretty low, you just have to be interested, you have to be engaged, and you have to take some initiative, it's not just going to come to you. Does that make sense?
Podcast Host 16:59
Yeah, no, it does. Absolutely. And I think it was a fantastic example, one thing that I'm interested in is that if students are looking around saying, okay, I want to differentiate myself, I want to do something unique. But realistically, I only know of students in my school and what they're doing, right, and there's not many other students, like say, for instance, here in Australia or elsewhere around the world, where there's not a huge amount of students kind of aiming for no yo IV leads, etc, right? It can be a bit difficult to kind of figure out well, what is everyone else doing? And how can I differentiate myself? Because you might say, Oh, look, I'm going to develop my own app, because no one else in my school is developing an app. But when you go to the Harvard application office, or have admissions office, there's a haich D students who have created an app, so you don't really stand out. So how would you go about as a student figuring out what is unique? What can differentiate yourself from the rest of the cohort? Or the applicant cohort? Is it like talking to a teacher who's been there for a number of years and may have more experience? Obviously, like, at crimson, we have a good overview of students from all around the world who are applying and kind of give students a bit of a leg up there for sure. But is there any tip that you would have for students to kind of figure out what exactly could be their niche? And how could they find that?
Yeah, I think it's a great question. So there compliances that, I think, first of all, you know, there's the first question of like, you know, and I've come across a lot of kids who are like this, who are like, I don't have a passion, like, I'm, I don't know, I want to do in life. I don't know, like, you know, some kids love music, some get, you know, but some kids just don't have that, you know, they they get to high school, and they're like, I haven't found my thing yet. And I think there's, you know, there's a thing that I call the passion myth, which is this notion that like, if you don't feel this somehow, like innate connection or innate love, for one thing, then you just like, don't have passion, you never will. It's just not true. That's not how anybody works. You know, I was fortunate, because my parents introduced me, like, I started playing music. When I was two years old, started playing drums. I started playing violin when I was five. So my parents basically helped music to become my passion, I had that advantage. A lot of kids don't have that type of advantage. So get to high school, and they just don't know what they love yet. And that's fine. It's not a big deal. When I'm talking about a deep interest, I'm not talking about something that you necessarily innately love or innately, you know, feel this connection to, it's just something that you have decided consciously, to learn more about to dive into, it doesn't need to be your career, like, you know, this Rachel example that I gave before, she doesn't have to pursue a career in teaching. After that. It could just be that she's interested in education during high school, you know, she can do whatever she wants, once she gets into college, and that's the advantage of going through us college. It's like, you can really do whatever you like. But the point being that like, developing a deep interest is really just about making a decision that you are going to like, basically follow, you know, kind of a winding path wherever it leads, but you have to be willing to take that risk, right. It costs a lot in time. cost a lot in energy to really pursue a deep interest. So I think that's where it starts is being willing to take that leap. And you know, again, a kid, you know, will say, Well, okay, but how do I even know what to take a leap with? And honestly, it's like, tell me one one thing that you learned from class during the last week, what's one thing that you learned? That was like interesting to you, and some kids will pull out a fact from math class, some kids will pull out a fact from science, some will say, Oh, I read this great thing in English, actually, that I really liked. And to me, it's like, all right, there is a starting point, which thing Do they choose? That really interested them? Oh, that interested you? Why? Why did that interest you? Like, what about that was engaging to you, and let's start diving in, like, let's see if that's a thing is that something that you know, has legs that you could really pursue. And again, like, it comes down to the student's own willingness to say, like, this doesn't have to be the end all be all of my life's passion, what I need now is something to build in some, some interest, some area that I'm going to build during these next, whatever it is, you know, high school years, three, four years, and you know, once I get to college, I can make any choice I want. But now I need to find the thing. Now, once you find the thing, then there's a question that you asked, which is like, how do you differentiate yourself from other people who are in that thing? I think Crimson plays a great role here. Because obviously, you know, like, I work with students who are all around the world. So even though my students in Australia may have no idea what my students in Vietnam, you know, are doing or like, what kind of stuff they're doing, I have an idea. So I can help like, you know, provide some guidance there. And, you know, research local opportunities. So that's where Crimson comes in. But if you don't have Crimson, or even with Crimson, like, I don't think that you need that type of perspective, in order to figure out my theory about a deep interest is that if you pursue whatever you are really interested in, like with intention, and via, like taking initiative, you will just end up in unique opportunities. Like I think if you were a student who you know, so let's we can take another example, right? Say your student is just like super academic, and you're interested in math, and you don't, you know, you're not super social. And so you know, you're not going to like necessarily go and volunteer, but you're really passionate about mathematics. Obviously, they're your standard extracurriculars, like the Olympiad, and those sorts of things which are international. And those are great opportunities. And I would highly recommend, like any student who's interested to get involved and that sort of stuff. But there are lots of other ways to and if you choose one area of mathematics as your deep interest, like, when it comes to math, or specific areas of math, there are a few experts in the world on most mathematical concepts. And so if I'm a student in high school, I'm, you know, I'm super passionate about what, and unfortunately, I don't know enough about math to even come up with an example here. It's not my field. But if I'm super passionate about one area, what I would do is I would go and look up like PhD students at a US college that I like, you know, okay, I'd love to go to you pen. So I go and look up like you Penn's PhD program in math, because I'm looking for, in particular, I'm looking for students, PhD students who are interested in like, some kind of, you know, high level algebra. Okay, so I go through the PhD list, and I guarantee you, there's going to be like one kid, you know, one, one student, one PhD student who's interested, I write him an email, that's the beginning of something, right? So it's, again, it's just about taking initiative, when I write that email, right, that's something that my classmates are not going to do guarantee. Like, that's just that they're not going to do that. Because, you know, they're not going to choose the same person at the same school. It's all about like, how much initiative Can you take? How much can you dig in, and kids need to be creative, you know, they need to think creatively. Like, that's part of what makes it a competitive application. And what I was saying before, is, like, admissions officers want to see that you really went above and beyond in your deep interest, they want to see that you pushed yourself intellectually, you know, you don't have to compare yourself to other students. It's really just like, you know, did you keep your heads at your head in your textbook? And you know, just like, do well on the LSAT, or did you do something more, you know, did you try to expand and build?
Podcast Host 24:09
Yeah, absolutely. Is there any particular activity or place where students can put their time that you think is generally not worth their time? Because I've spoken to students who have like a marsay, violin and piano, and that's the card that they're going to try and play when they go to college. And my general feeling on that is like, Okay, great. You've sunk a heap of time, I'm sure a heap of time into music, but there's probably not necessarily a shortage of great violinists and great pianists who are applying already. So is there any other example doesn't have to be music, but any particular kind of activities that you think students generally sink too much time in? That's not overly productive in gaining admission?
The the broad answer is, I see students all the time, who will Like, basically join a club, and then just participate in the club at the, like baseline membership level, or even, you know, they'll take on some like, kind of lower level, you know, they'll become like the secretary treasurer of some club that when where they don't really do much, you know, there's like not not much responsibility, and they'll sort of hope that like that just the title of that position will like, give them some big advantage or whatever, or just being a member of such and such club will give them No, no, that just doesn't, it doesn't help that much. And the same thing goes for, like, the music thing of like, you know, while I, you know, pass the exam, and I got this certification or whatever, it's like, there are so many 1000s of kids who have done that. And, you know, if you're, if you're trying to apply to Conservatory, you know, okay, sure, you should check that box, right. It's just like the sap like, you know, you need to get a good enough score on the SAP, but no, college is going to look at your SAP score and be like, wow, we have to let that kid that's just not how this works, you know. So it's not a differentiator. And the reason it's not a differentiator is because so many hundreds of 1000s of students do this, they'll join a club at the base level, and just kind of be a member. And it's like, there's no, there's nothing there, you know, there's no substance there, unless it's really meaningful to them. And they've really contributed something big. So I still see this all the time where, you know, students will sort of be like, oh, in order to apply to be a successful applicant, I need to have a bunch of things on my extracurricular list. So I'm just going to throw a bunch of stuff at a wall and like, see what sticks. And so then when we get into when it comes time to put their extracurricular list together, it's like, yeah, I've been in this club for three years, but I've never really done anything, you know, we have a meeting a week, and it's fine, whatever. And I'm like, Well, you know, okay, well, tell me more, you know, did you ever go on a trip? Where did you organize something, you know, for the club? And it's like, well, you know, I did this little event, but you know, I didn't really care about it's like, Okay, why did you spend all this time doing all these different things you don't care about? Like, that's the problem for me is that students just try to do so many things. And they don't really care that much about them. So if I were to give one blanket piece of advice, it's stop doing things you don't care about. Like that is not what admissions officers are looking for. They're not looking for a bunch of crap that goes on a list. Because look, when they receive that, that's how they read it to, like, they can see when you're passionate about something versus when you've just done a bunch of things, because you thought that's what you had to do. They're not interested in letting kids in who do the latter. They want kids who do it, who do the activities they do because they love them, and they dig deeply into them. So when it comes to something like music, you know, you have this question of like, Alright, well, every kid's going to take those exams and get those certifications. So how do I differentiate? And there are like, a million answers, there are so many different places in, in individuals, local community where they can volunteer, you know, their time to teach music, to play music, for a benefit, you know, they could go to a hospital and play music for patients there, they could volunteer with a music therapist, or they could volunteer to teach kids at their local church on the weekend, you know, and those sorts of opportunities can build into something much bigger, you know, and those they can build into recommendation letters and, and, you know, mentors and connections and things like that colleges want to see like, Do you care about something that you're doing? And if you care, dig in, like, do more of that thing. Do more activities relating to that thing? Does that make sense?
Podcast Host 28:28
Yeah, absolutely. No, it kind of reminds me of my days playing violin at the old age homes that I had around here in Australia, it's a bit of fun, they love it. Obviously, like COVID has thrown a curveball, I think in a lot of those activities in terms of access to these kind of opportunities. But you know, if you get creative is a good organization here. And that was started by some students in Melbourne called letters against ISO. And it was like students who banded together to write letters to people in aged care, to basically just kind of have pen pals to you know, try and make them feel less isolated in no time where it is very isolating. So
I have to say this is one of my students who started is Hannah. Yes. Yeah. I
Podcast Host 29:09
didn't know that. That's, that's very funny. I didn't know he actually was your student. That's so
cool. And I I can take absolutely no credit for the site. Like this was all all her and she created this. It's an amazing organization. She's done just a fantastic job leading it. But yeah, she's, she's awesome. And that that organization is sent, like 10s of 1000s of letters. Yeah. You know, like hundreds of maybe 1000s of different seniors. And now it's in multiple countries. And it's just amazing what she's done. Yeah.
Podcast Host 29:40
Oh, that's awesome. And I actually didn't know that she was your student. And I swear, that's not set up for anybody. No, that's very, very cool. Now, I want to still touch on the academic side of things because I think it'd be remiss of us to not at least address that whole idea of how students can further bolster their academics in the absence Since of the satays, and that kind of thing, I will just touch on that quickly. I know like a PS have been thrown around, we do that through CGA these days, and the students who are looking at you know whether they should really go towards IB or do extra a levels, these kinds of things. Obviously, like, as you mentioned, the extra curricular side of things, you know, if you're a biology student, go spend time volunteering in a marine Conservatory. And that's probably going to be much more impressive for those students aiming for biology courses. But from your point of view, without the LSAT, LSAT, Subject Tests, etc, I think a lot of students are going to be panicking a little bit, what would be your advice in that situation?
So, and I know I'm going to sound like a broken record, but it really does come back to this idea of like diving deeply into your academic areas of talent and skill. So we can start with some basics, you know, you don't have the sad subject test, how are you going to illustrate expertise in certain subjects, there are now so so many online courses, and really good ones, like through edX that you can take, and you can get certificates with them, you know, you can take a Harvard class and get a certificate, you know, through edX. And it's, it's rather remarkable, and I would highly recommend that students do that in subjects that are interesting to them. And I would say, like, aim to take maybe a couple courses that dig deeply into interdisciplinary areas of like that, with that, you know, hover around a common theme. So you know, for example, if you're interested in international relations, I would say, like, take a class on the politics of China, you know, take a class on how like, poverty can offset developments in, you know, burgeoning countries and economies take these classes where you can draw a thematic through line through the different classes, but they're not just all on the exact same topic. Because, you know, a big part of what colleges are looking for is like, interdisciplinary engagement with a general theme. So I love online courses. For this reason, there's online immersion courses from Columbia, these are amazing. They're actual certifications in things like, you know, technological subject coding, there's a great one, a certification from Cornell, that I've recommended to computer science students in the past, you could write a research paper on an academic subject that interests you, you know, to try to dig deeply into, you know, let's say you have a question on, you know, how to create a, like reusable water source, you know, in a, in a, like, village setting that doesn't have a lot of technology. And so you do research on like, what are the existing technologies that could be used, you know, what would be most functional, what's been tested, it's just a random example. But like, kind of engaging deeply in your academic subject, and then trying to publish it. And look, if you can't find a journal, and there are some journals out there for high schools, but if you can't find a journal, put it on medium, like, just put your writing out there, like, you can self publish, it's fun, make a YouTube video about it. Obviously, there's the like, you know, building legacy projects, things that's like apps, companies, you know, this is sort of a now a more popular method of like, illustrating your interest in something. So, you know, if you're super interested in healthcare, you know, building an app that helps people understand the local hospital system, and this, this low boss was particularly, you know, strong for, you know, this type of surgery, and this local hospital has a doctors and specialists in this or whatever, you know, I'm just throwing out kind of random examples. But I think the kind of overarching answer is like, there are a lot of ways to dive deeply into these, like critical subject areas that illustrate expertise, like beyond the SAP, or any standardized exam. And I think tests have always been the least interesting way of doing that. And so now that they're getting rid of them, it's like, for me, it's like, I'm not even I'm not that bothered, I think it's a good thing. You know, it'll force kids to think a little bit more outside the box, you know, actually, like, try to engage deeply with their, their subject areas, we pulled out a couple recommendations at the top, I think are great. Like, if you can take a levels, do it. If you can take AP exams, do it if you can take IB exams, do it. Like, these are all great illustrations of academic skill. But they're not the only thing. There are definitely other ways to do that.
Podcast Host 34:17
Yeah, absolutely. But one thing that I am interested in as well is how should students tell their parents that this is a good use of their time, when a lot of parents come from and I was chatting to students like this on the podcast, like parents come from, you know, India or China or like, academically rigorous backgrounds, right? Yep. And then the child's like, Hey, I'm gonna go volunteer at the old age home, or I'm gonna join the Marine Conservatory. And then like, parents, like, what are you doing? Study please like if you're gonna get into Harvard study, and it's a it's a real challenge. So what would you say to students in that situation or to parents in that situation to kind of help them get on the same page?
Yeah, so typically what I say is, there is basically so so when I think about Harvard, okay, so let's just use Harvard as an example. Obviously Harvard, you know, is is like the top school, but let's use it as an example. There's something like 60,000 applications every year. So somewhere around that, like 50 to 60,000 applications every year, they had made about 2000 students. So, you know, incredibly competitive. And what you have to ask yourself as a student, and as a parent, you know, of a student is, is there any subject that I'm working in right now, where just my skill in this subject is going to be better than 50,000 other applicants, the best other students in the world? That's the question, because really, what it comes down to is like, at least 10, to 12,000 of the applicants to Harvard, are academically qualified to go there. So already, you have like five to six times the number who can actually get in, like, who Harvard has room for you five to six times that number, who were qualified. So academic qualifications are so far from enough, it's just not enough, because it doesn't differentiate you, you need that. And that deeper digging into your, your subject area, you know, that grade extracurricular, you need these deeper things, it's not enough. Now to be clear, you know, students who are actually aiming for top schools like that shouldn't sacrifice their, you know, academic, their grades, you know, for the sake of an extracurricular, if, if they find themselves slipping academically, I think that always you know, you need to be performing at the highest standard for yourself that you possibly can particularly, you need to be performing like, against your peers, you know, very competitively, because that's when colleges are looking, you know, they're really looking at you versus the rest of the kids at your school who are applying or the rest of the kids in your country who are applying. So, you know, they're looking at your academics in that context. So you need to make sure you're still, you know, being very competitive there, you don't want to let that slide. But it's just not enough by itself, and putting all of your time into getting all the perfect grades. Without any of that deeper, you know, diving into your subject areas, it's just not going to result in the success that I think parents and students really seek. So that's the key. It's that differentiating factor, and it's remembering, like, Look, just getting great grades isn't going to make me look different from all the other 1000s of kids who get great grades.
Podcast Host 37:33
The stats don't lie at the end of the day, and I think if parents and students both on the same page with that, and we're like, Okay, then how do we differentiate ourselves? Okay, that's, that's the real key. Oh, yeah. It's been awesome having you on the college chats podcast. And if you'd like a chance to work with someone like a then by all means, jump into the show notes, and there'll be a link there for a free one hour consultation with an academic advisor, who will kind of help you pick your path potentially to the world's top universities. But again, thank you again for joining us on college chats. And yeah, I look forward to sharing the episode far and wide.
Yeah, my pleasure, man. Thanks for having me.
Podcast Host 38:09
Thanks for listening to top of the class. subscribe for future episodes. For show notes and to plan your best future head to Crimson education.org