5 biggest takeaways in 2018 (college admissions version)

Today is the last day of 2018 (and also, my birthday!)

I love that my birthday is the last day of the year because it gives me another reason to reflect:

  • What worked in 2018?
  • What didn’t work in 2018?
  • What did I learn in 2018?
  • What about 2018 am I most grateful for?

Likewise, I’d like to apply this to my college consulting practice as well.

Today, I want to share with you the 5 biggest takeaways in 2018 (and this is the college admission version!)

#1: The only way to stand out and NOT get deferred/rejected is to find your interest and passion and STICK TO IT.

I’ve read and edited thousands of college essays. The best essays are the ones that demonstrate their passion in the most authentic way possible (and the best essays lead to acceptance letters). Ivy Leagues receive thousands of students with perfect SAT and ACT scores, so honestly, the only way to stand out is to find your interest, learn and experience as much as possible, and create projects that stretch you outside of your comfort zone. You can’t just say “I’m passionate” without providing any evidence.

Also, long-term commitment is very important. If you’re passionate about something for 2-3 months, it’s not going to really appeal to them. That’s why it’s important to start early. 9th/10th grade is a good time to start identifying interests and foster them into a passion!

#2: Just focus on ONE extracurricular activity and be the best at it.

Multitasking is a lie. It doesn’t work. When you try to multitask (join 2-3 clubs, volunteer, research, intern, SAT/ACT), you either can’t or won’t do either well.

If you think multitasking is an effective way to get more done, you’ve got it backward. It’s an effective way to get less done. As Steve Uzzell said, “Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.”

Inside my college consulting program, I have students who are:

  • International business policy researcher
  • An author of her fiction book (signed and published!)
  • A programmer for a literacy app

And that’s all they focus on. One thing. One problem. One passion.

If you do more than what you can handle, you end up with mediocre results. Keep that mind!

#3: Recommendation letters are very important (this is a REPEAT from my 2017 takeaway)

I talked about this last year as well. With my juniors, I spend 2-3 months preparing for the Recommendation Letter brag sheet (and who we’re going to reach out to). Most Ivy Leagues consider Recommendation Letters to be VERY IMPORTANT when reviewing an applicant.

This year, I had a rising senior forward me the recommendation letter her teacher had written for her, and oh boy — I’m so glad that I reviewed that letter because it was NOT GOOD. The letter was generic with no specific examples. You definitely don’t want that.

#4: Students with a growth mindset get accepted into Ivy Leagues.

Ivy Leagues want to accept students who can HANDLE the academic rigor and coursework. However, they see an applicant with B’s and C’s….and never get to the A-level, it shows that this student has a fixed mindset. “I’m a C student and that’s the way I am.” “I’m not good at public speaking…and that’s the way it is.”

So what is a growth mindset? According to Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University…

“Students with a growth mindset embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see the effort as the path to mastery, learns from criticisms, find lessons and inspiration in the success of others, and as a result, they reach ever-higher levels of achievement.”

[Related Blog Post] How to Bounce Back from a B Grade: 4 Easy Steps to Boost your GPA

#5: College “fit” is the most important (even within the Ivy Leagues)

Yes, we label Harvard, Yale, and Brown as the Ivy Leagues, but they’re very, very different from each other.

The culture, class structure (by the way, Brown’s open curriculum is amazing), campus size and environment, research vs. liberal, and SO much more.

Find a school that you’re passionate about and that truly aligns with YOUR preferences. Then learn all about it (classes, opportunities, research), and be a passionate applicant!

I always say…it’s like dating. You want to figure out what characteristics make the college a  good fit for you. (Not your older sister, or Uncle Joe, or even your parents).


So that’s it, you guys! The biggest 2018 takeaways!

I want to thank YOU for being a part of our JKC community — we’ve grown to thousands of members in the past year. I will continue to provide valuable content and help YOUR child find passion and use THAT passion to get accepted into your child’s dream college.

And on a final note, I truly love mentoring high school students. When my students email me that they’ve gotten an A on their final Calc AB class, got accepted into UIUC and UMich, and especially when they say — Julie, I love what I do now! That makes me feel complete.


By Julie Kim Ed.M Harvard University