The insider secrets to getting into the college of your choice

Bribes, faking your race, blatantly stalking admissions officers.

I’ve pretty much seen & heard it all and a lot of it hasn’t been pretty. College admissions are a competitive game, and like any competition, it can bring out the best and the worst in people. Being in the field of college planning for quite a long time, my team and I have figured out what works and what doesn’t.

Trust me when I tell you that lying, cheating, and bribing your way into a college doesn’t work. In fact, these kinds of dishonest tactics will do more harm to your chances of acceptance more than anything.

That’s the goal of this report is to help you get an edge over the next applicant without resorting to morally irresponsible behavior.

The following is a collection of the “5 Best Little-known College Admissions Strategies.”

But before that, I need to dispel a few myths that hold a lot of kids back from getting accepted at their dream college.

Myth #1: Your family name guarantees your acceptance. In fact, at the so called “in-state elites”: UCLA, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, UCLA, Cal Berkley, and UNC Chapel Hill – being a legacy is almost no help. Schools of this size are simply too big to make legacy a factor unless your grandmother built them a new hospital or something.

However at some of the smaller elite private colleges, legacy is an admitted factor, but the percentage is very small. It can range anywhere from 5% and 30% of the freshman class. That still leaves the large majority of open spots to non-legacy kids.

At Yale (according to their alumni magazine), only 30 percent of legacy apps are accepted.

Keep in mind, there are always exceptions. In fact, if your family has been donating large sums of money (tens of thousands) on an annual basis because you’re an alumni, then chances are your child is going to get accepted to that college, assuming your child has the minimum standard GPA and test scores.

Do you have a building named after you on a college campus? If so, you can stop reading this report now. Your child is getting into that school.

Otherwise, don’t rely on your good family name to get your kid in.

Myth #2: High GPA and High ACT/SAT scores are all that’s needed to get accepted.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

At elite colleges, high GPA’s and test scores are the absolute bare minimum for applicants. This could be the biggest mistake kids make. They focus too much attention on these factors while ignoring other elements that are important to college admissions boards.

They’re still important, but there has to be more.

Put yourself in an admissions counselor’s shoes for a second.

You’ve put in a full eight-hour day at the office already and you still have a stack of applications to go through at home. All the applicants have high-test scores and grades. What part of your child’s application is going to set him/her apart?

The answer to that question is really what the rest of this report is about.

Without further ado, here are 5 Secret College Admission Strategies (ones they really don’t want you to know!)

College admissions Insider Secret #1: How to Create a Essay to Impress

Plain and simple, you want your essay to stand out from the crowd. You want the admissions officer who reads it to proclaim “WOW!” and then proceed to pass it on to their co-workers and further add – “This is an interesting student. Let’s take a closer look at what they have done.”

Your essay is not about bragging. It’s not about re-listing all the different activities you’ve done. (There are other parts of your application for that.)

So what makes a great college application essay?

The best ones tell a story. As humans, we have been conditioned since birth to learn and communicate through stories. As we get older, the importance of stories doesn’t change. In fact, the power of stories continues to grow.

Let me give you an example of a standout essay. (Perhaps the best our office has ever come across.)

The essay used the classic underdog storyline. The student shared how she was painfully shy as a young girl. Until one day she discovered the classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie. She shared her favorite lessons from the book and how they helped her to cope with her natural shyness, even sharing how painful it was as a freshmen entering a new school where she didn’t know anybody in a way that made her essay feel personal. But slowly but surely, the lessons she learned in Mr. Carnegie’s book helped her to grow as a person. Culminating in her senior year where she finished a close 2nd in balloting for Homecoming Queen.

After you reading this essay you couldn’t help but root for this girl, and it paid off big time. She was accepted at Notre Dame, one of the toughest colleges in the country to get into.

It was absolutely unique. After reading it, you felt like you knew her. And she came across as very likeable. Likeable in that you knew she wasn’t perfect. In fact the story shared some of her flaws (as well as some interesting quirks about her family.)

Colleges like to see themselves as one big extended family. And this essay made it clear that family was important to her.

Colleges aren’t looking to fill all their slots with brainiacs. They want creative types, leaders, and athletes. Colleges want a mix of everything.

Colleges don’t want you to be predictable. They want you to stand out.

And standout essays frequently are about specific events that show how you think and deal with situations told in story form.

College Admissions Insider Secret #2:  5 Decision Making Options: Which Is The Best?

ED, EA, RD, RA, and now SCEA – what does all this mean?

These letters all represent one of the 5 different college application options you have. Let’s take a closer look at each and how they affect you.

#1 ED – Early Decision: Selecting this option commits you to that college, if you’re accepted. You are making a binding decision. Once you’re accepted, you’re required to withdraw all other applications. If you’re not accepted early decision, your application is still considered with all other applicants.

The BIG advantage to ED is that acceptance rates are typically higher for students who choose this option. If need based aid is not a factor or your grades and test scores are on the lower end of the average student at that school, ED can be a good option.

But there are several big downfalls to ED. The main one being, giving up the opportunity to compare financial aid offers from multiple colleges. We have proven time and time again that have several aid offers from competing schools is a big advantage when it comes time to negotiate with colleges. ED virtually eliminates any chance of negotiating a better package.

#2 EA – Early Action: This option offers nearly the same benefits of ED without it being a binding decision if accepted. You can apply EA to as many colleges as you want.

#3 SCEA – Single Choice Early Action: This one is fairly new. Not many colleges are offering it yet.

This option requires that you apply early action at only one school.

This allows colleges to determine which students have the most desire to attend their specific school.

#4 RD – Regular Decision: This is the deadline date for all applications. Most elite colleges require applications to be submitted between January 1 and February 1 of the student’s senior year. With acceptance letters going out between mid-March and mid-April

#5 RA – Rolling Admissions: Colleges that offer this option review applications as they come in. And students are notified within three weeks after submitting their materials.

College Admissions Insider Secret #3:  The New Common Application: Pros and Cons

There is plenty to like about using this free service though you still have to pay each specific colleges application fee or secure an app fee waiver. It allows you to fill out just one application online and then send to more than 400 different colleges at once. Versus filling out each app by hand. This thing is a real time saver.

Now the downside. Elite colleges that offer the common app require specific supplemental forms on top of the common application. Supplemental forms are not optional. That means if you submit the common app, but miss the supplemental form for a school, your application will be viewed as incomplete and will never get looked at. It’s vital to closely read each school’s specific requirements and keep track of them in checklist form.

All in all, the common is a good trend. One we hope continues to grow.

College Admissions Insider Secret #4:  How to Nail Every College Interview

Individual college interviews are pretty rare these days. But they are required at times, especially at elite colleges. And how you perform at the interview can either increase your chances for acceptance or be a deal breaker. Here are some tips for nailing it…

  • Be on time. In fact, be early. Nothing screams, “This isn’t that important to me,” louder than being tardy.
  • Come prepared with questions of your own.
  • Dress business casual. Slacks and colored shirt for guys.
  • Make and keep continual eye contact
  • Practice how you will respond to potential questions. Don’t just wing it. You can pretty much bank on getting asked, “Why are you interested in ______ college?” Having a well thought out response will go a long way.
  • Follow up with a handwritten thank-you note.

College Admissions Insider Secret #5:   How to Get Amazing Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are a critical part of the subjective criteria in an application. Along with essays and extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation can do the most to set you apart from your other applicants.

Most competitive colleges require one or more letters from other people who can give insight into who you are.

A strong letter of recommendation can be one of the deciding factors when admission committees are comparing students with similar test scores and grades.

Who should you ask for a recommendation letter?

Think about what teacher, coach, or administrator you impressed the most. Your favorite teacher or class you got an “A” in might not be the best one. If there was a class you struggled in at first but then demonstrated some perseverance and eventually got a good grade overall is a better choice. That teacher is going to have a lot more to say about you. Because they will be able to attest to both your talent as well as your work ethic and contribution to the class.Help your recommenders out. Give them a copy of your transcript and a sheet that lists out all your accomplishments. And also supply them with stamped envelopes addressed to the college admissions offices. And make sure they can meet your deadline.

And don’t forget to send a hand written thank-you note to your recommenders once everything is in and let them know the results of your college applications.

To your successful college admissions,

Scott Weingold


Rick RadoNovember 26th, 2010 at 10:14 pm


Thank you for sharing your experience with us all. For about four years I served as a “Cornell Ambassador” for my Undergraduate College, Cornell University. During that time I met with most everyone who had applied to Cornell in the Region where I resided at that time (Bellevue, Wash). In most cases I would meet with the applicant at the High School, and not often enough at the Home of the Student. I too wanted to know more about that Student than just meeting them at School and hearing about how well they did academically. Meeting them at home with some of their Parents and Siblings would have helped. My Role was to answer any questions I could about Cornell and then fill out a “Report” that included a section consisting of about 100 words on what “impression” that Student left with me. I recall too, meeting with my “Ambassador” prior to my Application. In my case this person serving as the Ambassador was also a Trustee and a very influential person at Cornell. Very few Students ever wrote back to me and oddly enough, none were accepted despite these Students being more than capable of carrying the work load, coupled with very high GPA’s and Test Scores. Where in my case, Thank You letters were mandatory(and insisted upon by my Parents) and have become a Habit. I would think too that this is why I’m leaving this comment now–a way of showing my gratitude for your sharing what Admission Officers know about entrance to Elite Colleges. Thank you once again for your validating for me anyway what I’ve confirmed with the Admission Officers at Cornell–Parents should show an interest in how their Child (at this young age) deals with Adults that have a large influence on their lives and future. You pointed out one very important point that being to always follow up with a brief Thank You–it really is a meaningful jesture and remains equally important as we become adults. Best of Luck with your Service and Book on CollegeMadeSimple.

LathaJanuary 6th, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Thank you for providing the insight into college admission. As a parent of high school freshman student, I have also learned that Ivy league schools look for students who have volunteered abroad instead of at home. Is it true? Any information you can provide in this matter will be highly appreciated.


AKCJanuary 12th, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Wow, this is really helpful! I’m a sophomore in high school and this really cleared a lot up for me, thank you for putting this up.

Hunter GarnierMay 9th, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Thank you for the information! I plan on applying to Ivy League schools and need the extras besides great grades and test scores.

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