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ILUMIN Blog

Helpful tips about college admissions, test preparation and just being a better student, leader and person from ILUMIN Education.

Top-Tier Colleges: What do they really want? (Part 3)

John Chen

Please note that this is a three part series on what traits colleges are looking for in competitive applicants. Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

Ivy Leagues seek students who develop and pursue their passion

When Drew Faust, the President of Harvard, was asked for her best advice to parents she remarked “Make your children interesting!” Easier said than done—but interesting students only emerge when they pursue their passion.

Many parents dismiss their children’s area of passion as a childish waste of time. Unfortunately, this dismissal develops in students a sense of directionlessness--and may even curtail their success later in life.

For example, a friend of mine was raised in a typical “Tiger parent” household. She was prodded into academic excellence and was finally admitted to Berkeley as a pre-med student. She later attended UCLA for medical school and graduated as an M.D. Yet only a few years into her medical practice, she dropped out completely to pursue a career in graphic design.

In our most recent conversation, she admitted bitterly to me, “I was the perfect child, always doing what was asked of me. But I kept wondering if happiness was real, and why, if it was, I missed it. It wasn’t until I finally left medicine that I realized happiness was real--but that’s after I wasted eight years of my life and racked up $300,000 in debt." 

Unfortunately, my friend is not alone. We see many students who do not pursue a genuine interest, and end up with a resume that blends facelessly in with all the others. However, parents who encourage the pursuit of a passion--any passion--enable their children to shine.

Mary’s mother dreamed of her daughter becoming a savvy business woman--but Mary, an introvert, had other plans. Much to her mother’s dismay, Mary became obsessed with science. She lived and breathed it. She spent her Freshman summer at the UC Davis COSMOS program, and immediately emailed her professor begging that he let her work in his lab for the rest of her summers in high school. She spent three years helping him research the effect of second-hand smoke on rat lungs, and later went to Harvard where she is currently studying Biology.

Our students’ story and the growing voices from Ivy League schools all send the same message: give us students who are driven, passionate risk-takers.

So what can you do to help?

First, empower your child to make his own decisions. Give him choices, and walk him through (without lecturing) each decision’s consequences. Ask good, meaningful questions and leave the ultimate decision up to him. Each decision is an opportunity for growth for your child--if you let it be.

Second, let your child fail. Sit with him as he faces the consequences of his own choices, and support him no matter what. Give him the tools to think logically about how he will do things differently in the future. Let him learn that taking risks is the key to success, and quite possibly, the key to Harvard.

Finally, foster your child’s passions. When they’re young, help them explore all their interests--don’t weed out the ones that you don’t approve of. Look a little deeper. Does your child spend time playing video games? Maybe encourage him to join a video game camp that teaches him how to code and create his own game. Does your daughter love fashion? Consider teaching her how to create goods to sell online. Many parents complain that their child isn’t motivated--but we believe all students are motivated--it’s leveraging what they’re passionate about with a direction for their future.