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  • Jody B. Miller

Getting into the IVY League: The Truth about College Admission | Alex Chang | TEDx SMICSchool

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Before you read this TEDx transcript, and before I read it myself, I am going to give you my TOP 11 RULES TO LIVE BY that led to one of my children ending up at the #1 IVY B-School, and another as the #1 athlete in his sport at a top 15 Liberal Arts College.

I can't wait to see if I did a good job as a mom or completely messed up.

OK, here goes.

  1. Sing to and with your kids. Sing often.

  2. Be silly. Let your children know that you are more than caretaker, meal maker, healthcare worker, homework monitor, activity planner and taxi driver. Be silly - and spontaneous.

  3. Listen. Don't lecture. Listen.

  4. Give them choices so that they know they have them. Don't make choices for them - even if you are right (other than the obvious lessons about right and wrong and good manners). Let them discover and let them beat to their own drum.

  5. Make sure your child learns an instrument - even if that instrument is their voice. Music builds happiness, self-esteem, intellect and creativity.

  6. Read. To them. With them. Provide quiet so they can read alone. Making up stories is fun too!

  7. Encourage friends. Don't hover. Don't make 'playdates' your world. Sleepovers are fun.

  8. Let them walk to school, or off campus, or on an adventure with friends.

  9. Go on outings with your child(ren). Volunteering can be an outing. Especially when it holds a special meaning to them based on their lives and interests.

  10. Don't follow the crowd: Example: instead of sending them to the fancy pants mountain summer camp that everyone else goes to, send them to the tiny church camp that has inner city kids come and send them without a friend in tow.

  11. Play games: board games, online games, outdoor games. Play.

Getting into the IVY League: The Truth about College Admission | Alex Chang | TEDx SMICSchool

With these core rules, I raised 3 Great KIDZ!

- Jody B. Miller

Now onto Alex's TEDx talk. The following is only a partial transcript but it portrays his main message. I will comment at the end.

The Truth about College Admission | Alex Chang | TEDxSMICSchool

Hello, okay, now you guys can hear me all right.

High school is super stressful. You have GPA, you have AP classes or IB classes, you have SAT, you have a CT, you have SAT two, you have extracurricular activities, yeah internship and then summer is coming.

So there's, maybe summer school and I don't know, summer research there's, so many things going on. There's also friends And if you do all those things you don't have time for sleep, but what if I tell you that, if you try to go through everything on that list, you're doing things wrong.

This is not really what colleges really want you to do when you're in high school.

Imagine. Look around and think about all your friends. Do you have anyone? Maybe yourself, maybe someone you know, maybe your sibling, maybe your best friend, who has maybe a GPA of 3.Who gets maybe around thirteen to fourteen hundred on the SAT, maybe a little higher, maybe a little lower, who does extracurricular activities in sports in music.

In maybe Model UN or debate, maybe in an orchestra - everything that everyone else is doing - and if you know that someone else is doing that or you are doing that- think about it.

I hope you guys know or have seen Where's Waldo. This is a game for kids, where your job is to find this guy. Waldo in a picture of many many people and it's really hard for you to find Waldo because there's so many people that look exactly the same or almost the same.

You're trying to fit into this list of good SAT scores. Good GPA, having extracurricular activities, making sure that you volunteer in Cambodia to build houses, making sure you learn on instruments, making sure you perform, making sure you go to Johns Hopkins for CTY summer program.

Where's Waldo - Getting into the IVY League: The Truth about College Admission | Alex Chang | TEDx SMICSchool

If you do that, it's, going to be really really hard to find Waldo over here in this chair. This is data that, from a website called has data from high school students and college students and a lot of students reviews on how colleges are and on the website there's this data, about how Harvard students are the green points, are the students who got in and the x-axis is the SAT or HDD score. The y-axis is their GPA, and so you can see a lot of students who got into Harvard have really really high, SAT or a CT score, and they have really really high GPA scores.

A lot of them are near the top corner, which means they have almost perfect or perfect, SAT and GPA. But if you look at the graph for the people who got rejected, that pretty much looks the same, because there's more thoughts on it.

There are a lot of students in the top right corner with perfect, SAT, perfect GPA, and they still get rejected. If you put them together, you'll, see that the data points are pretty much. They're just proportional, though.

Getting into the IVY League: The Truth about College Admission | Alex Chang | TEDx SMICSchool

The green points are less than the red points, but the the distribution of the points are pretty similar. So I think this data shows that if you just look at SAT GPA a CT, this is not really a reliable indicator of where you will end up in college.

How many of you have seen what I have seen a story of this? This is the blind man and the elephant, and basically the story is that a long time ago there's, this elephant, new elephant in town, and people don't know an elephant and so they come around and they are interested to find out what the elephant is.

The first guy touches the elephant, the elephant's tail and said: Oh elephant must be a rope. The next guy hugged the elephant's foot and said: Oh elephant must be a tree. Next person touches elephant's ear and said: Oh, wait! No elephant! I think elephant is a fan.

Next person touches elephants, nose and say wait. No, this is a pipe elephant, and so on. If you only look at SAT GPA or if you go down that checklist, then you're, pretty much like a blind man in this in this story.

What do colleges really want? It's, actually really really easy Colleges want anyone, everyone! Anyone who is awesome and awesome people have awesome qualities. So if you're, really smart, you're awesome.

If you're, not super smart, but if you're mature and responsible, that's also awesome. If you are skilled in something that's awesome, if you're passionate about something, if you love sports or if you genuinely love to play piano, that's awesome for you too.

If you love talking to people, love being on stage, love to present, that's also awesome, and so on. There are so many things that you can be awesome, leadership, teamwork and so on.

Many many things make you awesome, and this is what colleges are looking for, but it's hard to put things into perspective on a piece of paper. To show what awesome is - it's hard to put a number on. How awesome you are at communication, or how awesome you are at leadership; and so, when colleges are trying to present you or websites like, are trying to present you with data on who gets into what colleges, they could only use the Data that can be presented on a piece of paper and those are GPA and SAT scores. But colleges care even more about who you are as a whole and whether you are impressive and whether you are awesome.

These are all my friends at Harvard in my freshman year, my room, one of my friends who lives above me on my floor was on the Winter Olympic US ice hockey team. There's another guy, this Japanese guy on our first floor, who missed almost all of high school because he had to perform violin around the world, and then there are people who get straight A's.

But there are also people who get A-'s, but may be a minority and from a very poor neighborhood and he had to raise his own family as a teenager. Take a guess out of these five people.

Do you think they all received 4.0 GPA and 1500 plus SAT, or they all had the checklist? They all had. Clubs and sports and internship, instrument and volunteering and so on, or are they all very impressive in their own way? And I think the answer is obvious: they're, all very impressive in their own ways.

They're not all super bright in terms of academic, but they all have their own special talent in their own special passion and that's what they end up pursuing and that's how they are special and that's why they all end up at Harvard.

There are many ways that you can approach this college admission process method. One is, I think, the most common one in Asia is to go down the checklist. First, you have to make sure that you have the perfect scores to show that you are smart.

You're awesome in terms of intelligence and so to many people, the way to prove that you're smart is to make sure that you get at least a 3.9 GPA at least a 1500 on your SAT, and if you find tutors and pay a lot of money, study extra hard, study on weekends, take away your time for your passion and basketball or violin or anything or arts focus on school, because school is first right.

Focus on school make sure you get the best grade, then worry about everything else and then to get the next point you pretend that you're kind-hearted. Maybe go sign up for volunteering in Cambodia, even though your passion is not in Cambodia, even though you don't really like building houses.

Just to pretend to colleges that I love people, I love helping others. I'm, going to pay a lot of money to go there and build houses, and maybe other people will think I am very kind-hearted to show that I'm future ready.

I'm career ready. I'm gonna go sign up for a two week, internship or three week internship during the summer, so that other people think I'm really good, because I'm able to work in this company to show that I'm very good at public speaking and get that extra hash tag on public speaking, I'm gonna join Model UN because that's what other people are joining. I'm gonna join Model, UN or debate, to show that I'm, really really good and then to show teamwork and leadership.

I'm, going to do other things like sports and clubs. This is one way to do it, but I believe this way is really stressful for many of you, because not everyone is built for school, not everyone is bill for, SAT and GPA, and not everyone really genuinely loves building houses in Cambodia, not everyone loves Model UN And presenting in front of a in front of an audience, if you do this one or two things may happen, you may oh, that's, that's, a slide yeah.

So you get to all these. Just making sure that you get you get there and show that you have good grades, and you have volunteering and all that...

Imagine a two-week volunteer, a two-week internship where you go to a big company, let's, say Google or Citibank. Those companies sounds really cool, but you guys are really just high school students.

Let's face it. It's. Really hard for me, as a Harvard student majored in computer science, to find any computer science internship for two months in a company like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and in a finance job like Citibank, Goldman Sachs.

If it's so hard for me to find a job there, then for a typical high school students, it's, also going to be really hard, and if you only have two weeks, how are you going to contribute? The fact is, you're, not going to contribute.

So how is that going to show to college admission officers? You're just there, you're wasting time. You could use that time to do something else that you're genuinely passionate about, but you're not doing that, because you want to pretend that your college career ready, you're teamwork! All that, maybe if you really enjoy speaking up in front of other people, that you could debate, you could be a leader. You could present things in front of other people. You could do a TED talk. These are awesome, but if you're not built for that, if you don't have that personality to do all these things, these will be super stressful and boring and a waste of your time.

Let's, say when you're a senior and you're getting your college admission letters, one or two things could happen. If you get admitted to a good college that you want, then all the hard work paid off. But imagine if you don't.

Imagine the situation where all of your schools that you want to get in, even the schools fit, you don't get in - you get rejected, and you only get into your safety schools.

If you follow this list or let's see if you don't get into any schools at all, then you've wasted all the money. All the time. And you have extra stress that you don't really need, and you failed in everything. You wasted four years and you end up with nothing.

Let's imagine another way of approaching this College Admission where you're still trying to get all those tags. It's trying to show that you're smart, but you also find other ways to show that you're smart.

This could be from GPA and SAT, but this could also be from street smarts from your skill in basketball, your skill in piano, your ability to organize things, your ability to start your own online company, your ability to do a talk, your ability to get people together.

Your ability to make other people happy. All those things show that you're, really smart. You could get tags about your passion and your interest from other things. Think about what your strengths are.

Are you really interested in going there to do this? Volunteering stuff, or are there other things that you're more interested in? If you're interested in piano, play more piano, perform.

Other people enjoy your music. These are ways to show your passion.

Do you have any weaknesses? If you have, then those are things that you shouldn't waste time on it. If you can conquer your weakness in say US history, then go for it. But if you can't, then don't. That will look really bad.

Lastly, to show that your future ready or your career ready.

Imagine ten years from now, five years from now or sometime in the future, what job will you have? It will make you happy and make you proud of yourself. That should be your goal. So let's say right now you might be interested in Tech in architecture or in computer science.

That's awesome. Focus on anything that you can do to prepare you to become a really good architect or a really good computer scientist. These are the things that you should be doing now, using myself as an example in high school.

I only only had a 1450 SAT. To some people this is a really good score. I think that was top three, but for Harvard students that sucked. T a lot of Asian students and a lot of Chinese students, 1400 is a failure score.

I wasn't the brightest, but I was able to show that I wasn't stupid and I'm somewhat smart in other fields like math and science. I wasn't able to do everything, but I realized I was pretty good at math.

I was on the New York City, math team. I was the math team captain for my high school and I helped our school win seven semesters. I placed first in math competitions, so I focus on that.

Math and science was pretty much all I did in high school, but I realized, I really thought in US history and anything that's history related...instead of trying to get into AP US history, my teacher advised me - and I realized that I really shouldn't - be taking AP US history, because it's too hard. For me, I should focus my attention on something else.

Like AP Java, AP physics and so on, and so that's, what I end up doing throughout my high school.

I was pretty consistent. I knew that I was really good at math and science and that's all I did, and so in the end I was able to get into Harvard.

I think that was one of my reasons, because I knew my strengths and I knew my weaknesses and so in general, for like any student, if you're not academic, think about what you are good at and focus on that. That could be art, that could be physics; it could be any subject in school or outside of school. Find your passion know what you like, and do it really really well and make other people feel impressed that you know that thing and that you're able to do it.

You're, able to do it as a teenager, something that maybe adults can't even accomplish, but you could do it as a teenager. If you love art, there are many ways for you to learn. And you don't have to pay a lot of money to take art classes over the summer.

You can take online classes. You can learn how to draw by yourself. You can organize and start your own art gallery. You can do many things about art that can make other people think you are really cool and really awesome.

My thoughts..... Jody B. Miller

Alex is a smart, young man. Dedicated. Skilled.

I told you about my 11 Rules for Raising Great KIDZ! at the start of this blog.

And I will close with the three pieces of advice I emphasized to my kids starting very young.

1. Your social life is just as important as your school life.
2. Treat school like a job. You have to finish the task at hand and do your best. If you do your best, then that's good enough. Only you know if you are doing your best.
3. Do something you love outside of school. Something that is fun and makes you happy.

These three pieces of advice will lead to a happy, fulfilling life.

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