What to Do When Good Grades Can't Get You In

In the last entry, I asked you about how to identify your contribution. What are you working towards to make your mark? The earlier you do some thinking (and more importantly, acting) on how you will contribute to your school, community, and family, the more impressive you’ll be to college admissions officers.

But it’s not out of the question that you can get started a little later and make a big impact. Take my student, Mike. Mike was a fantastic student academically and his test scores weren’t half bad either. But he was pretty haphazard about how he chose his clubs and activities. Unlike other students, one thing Mike had going for him is that he chose to do things after school that he actually liked—like skateboarding, playing in a band, and sharing stories on his blog—but he hadn’t thought about how to build on these experiences to make a larger impact.

When I first met with Mike, he told me that he wholeheartedly wanted to be a writer. There was nothing else that appealed to him more.

When Mike and I started working together in the February of his junior year, I suggested that he should write and self-publish a book on Amazon. To my delight, he agreed that this was his best option for taking his passion and experiences a step further than he had before.

The big challenge of this project was not only that he was writing a book, but that he was writing the book in English (not his first language!) Mike was fluent though, so it was difficult, but not impossible for Mike to get the book done.

Mike started his book writing process in February and got the book done by September. How did he do it?

One of the first things that Mike did was start a peer review club to help him with the editing. Much to his surprise, about a dozen students wanted to be part of Mike’s review team. He ultimately selected two reviewers from this group who awaited Mike’s draft of chapters on a scheduled basis. (By the way, the review team was also a club/activity – and one that Mike launched himself.) Mike turned in each chapter to his editing team when it was due. If Mike missed a deadline, he readjusted it; knowing that his final deadline for publication would be September. We chose this as the final date so that he could finish up his college applications without having to worry about the final book publication.

Over the summer, Mike navigated the complicated process of self-publishing to Amazon. It was more challenging for Mike than others who publish to Amazon because he needed to have an American-based address and bank account (he was based in China) in order to get the book online. Self-publishing on China’s Amazon wouldn’t work; the same customers wouldn’t see Mike’s book and Mike’s book was written in English. There was no choice for him but to figure out how to be on the American version of the site. Fortunately, with family support and contacts in the U.S., Mike was able to set up the logistics appropriately so that he could publish his book on Amazon.com.

A few of things to dissect here about Mike’s success and how it applies to you:

1) It’s not too late for you, no matter where you are in high school. While Mike’s early high school years didn’t have a lot of obvious leadership, he was able to build on his experiences in the final half year of high school before applications by pursuing with great focus his passion for writing. So too can you.

2) With support comes success. No one succeeds alone; the solo hero leader is a Hollywood myth. Mike’s peer group, his teachers, coaching from his college counselor (me, in this case), and his mother’s help with connections to U.S. sources to support his publishing on Amazon allowed this project to come to fruition in the timeline that Mike set out.

3) Prioritize college application deadlines. Had Mike procrastinated on writing the book, he may not have been able to complete the book in time and get it online for college applications. He wouldn't have had anything to show for when he applied to college if he didn’t complete it in time—a half-written book is something, but it’s not as impressive as publishing a finished book on Amazon.com

4) If you can’t decide what you want to do within your school community, start your own thing. Mike didn’t find an organization where he felt he truly belonged at school. So instead he took his interests and created a club (his peer review team) and his own deliverable from this club (his published book!).

So where did Mike end up for college? Mike will attend his first choice college, Pitzer College, which is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the United States. He applied early decision and we were thrilled when we saw Cecil the Sagehen, Pitzer’s mascot, do a happy dance the day Mike was accepted.

Questions for you: Are you like Mike? Is there one thing that you love to do, ache to do, that you can’t stand not doing? This is a big clue for you when you’re deciding what you should be doing more of after school when you get to high school. You want to do what you love, do it well, and find ways to scale your impact. Just like Mike did when he published to Amazon.com.

You’re working really hard in high school and have a lot of demands. But if you only focus on academics, you’re missing out on a core part of your high school experience – and you’re missing out on the chance to stand out for your college applications.

Need help finding what will make you stand out? Send me a note and tell me what’s on your mind.

Until next time…

Dr. Aviva Legatt

You can contact me by email or Follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. I blog at http://www.vivedconsulting.com.

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