THE BLOG

Break the Rules and Get into Your Dream School

06/08/2015 01:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016

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The college admissions arena is starting to feel a bit like a 3rd century gladiator fight.

Alright, maybe not a fight to the death. But definitely a fight to follow the college admissions rules -- and they've become downright brutal.

With record-breaking low acceptance rates that just keep plummeting every year, you probably feel like the pressure is mounting higher than ever.

Like you have to be some kind of super genius or, at the very least, the founder of a super successful startup before you're 16.

So, are you spending all of your time diligently trying to following the rules: getting perfect grades and test scores and wracking up a slew of community service hours?

Guess what? If you blindly follow these rules you're actually going to end up looking like every other high achieving student out there. And many times all you get for your grueling work is a spot on your top school's waitlist.

Like those gladiator fights, the whole process has become ruthless.

But I've got good news for you: you can break the rules. You can step out of that vicious arena of perfection -- and still get into your dream school.

The secret is so simple we've overlooked it. But the heart of it is this:

DO WHAT YOU LOVE.

In other words, before you do anything else, create something that showcases your unique interests and passions. And whatever you create, use it to make a difference in someone else's life.

Now, before you start worrying that you'll have to think of some never-before-thought-of project, rest easy. It doesn't have to be complicated. Whatever you do just needs to be a genuine expression of your unique interests and skills.

And don't worry about how "masterful" your project appears. Focus instead on how deep an impact you can make on your community. Your project will automatically become more powerful when you see that your efforts make a difference.

Take Brian, for example. He's a shining example of a student who broke the rules -- but only after he tried following them. Last December, he was deferred when he applied early decision to Cornell, and all because he'd written his application following the "rules" -- focused on grades and test scores.

He was actually quite passionate about creating a local, sustainable food system and using his programming skills to support this movement. But these qualities had been buried underneath the traditional focus of grades and test scores that his application emphasized.

So he decided to break the rules. He spent a week reshaping his application, and by the time he resubmitted his application to Cornell and his regular decision schools, his passion nearly leapt off the page.

It worked like magic. When his results came out this spring, he received two letters of acceptance: Cornell and MIT.

See, when you let others see you as the passionate, thoughtful, lit up individual you are, you are so much more likely to get a yes at your top school.

So, break the rules. Get out of that treacherous gladiator arena and go do something that lights you up and makes a difference. And then shout your passion from the rooftops. Your dream school is listening.

Elizabeth Dankoski has been working with elite students as a college consultant for 15 years. Her unconventional approach -- ditching perfection in favor of passion -- has helped her students gain acceptance to all of the nation's top schools: Harvard, Caltech, MIT, Columbia, and Yale, among many others.

To learn more about how you can distinguish yourself and get into your dream school, join us here for a free online seminar.