Reviewed by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
Anyone who has ever applied to college knows the process is somewhat of a mystery. But if this is your first encounter with the procedure, it’s probably an even bigger mystery for you, one that’s filled with a myriad of not only questions, but mixed emotions as well. Further adding to the uncertainty is the idea that while you have grown to be a very mature and sensible person who has done his or her best throughout high school, scored well on the SAT or ACT, and participated in extracurricular and community service activities, you’ll still be subjected to the judgments of strangers who you probably have never even met! To make matters worse, you don’t even know who your competitors are!
What High Schools Don’t Tell You by Elizabeth Wissner-Gross peels back the layers of uncertainty to reveal what really goes on during the college admissions process, and offers a step by step guide to success in what is often the most competitive experience many people will ever face in their lives. Readers are invited to follow the author’s proven formula to maximize their (or their children’s) high school years and put them in a position to attain admission into their top choice colleges.
One of the great qualities of this book is that the information is not presented as an exercise in trying to fit every college applicant into the same generic mold. The book’s premise is based on the idea that success in the college admissions game and long-term happiness in life are achieved when a student follows his or her true passion. For this reason, the first chapter is entirely devoted to providing parents with ideas on how to help teens identify their own true passions, rather than telling them what they should be passionate about to make themselves appealing to colleges.
The twelve chapters of the book are divided into two parts:
Part I (Chapters 1-4): The Secret to College Admissions Success? You Have to Have a Game Plan focuses on short and long term goal setting, and offers strategies to meet those goals. This section provides a framework into which the reader can “plug in” the resources provided in Part II of the book.
Contrary to traditional thinking, planning for college is not something that should be left until your junior or senior year of high school. Successful college planning starts the summer before you even step foot into high school as a freshman. Building a solid four-year academic plan—which includes challenging yourself through a rigorous curriculum, summer programs (starting the summer between 8th and 9th grade), and extracurricular activities—is tremendously important; it shows that you’ve taken advantage of the opportunities around you and “challenged yourself to the fullest,” a quality sought out by almost every college admissions counselor.
Part II(Chapters 5-12): The Amazing Array: Finding the Best Opportunities for Your Kid is a compilation of opportunities, resources, competitions, and awards in specific subject areas that will help to bolster resumes and improve chances of admission. Opportunities are organized into the following seven categories: Mathematics; Science and Engineering; The Arts; The Humanities; Journalism, Media, and Advocacy; Government; and Business.
Part II is followed by an appendix of forty possible four-year summer plans, taken from the goals that the author’s students have asked about most. While these forty plans offer great examples of what a four-year summer plan could look like, your own summer plan should be tailored specifically to your personal interests.
This book is designed to serve as a guide for parents and teens who are serious about developing and preparing an overwhelmingly attractive portfolio that no college will be able to turn down. In addition to presenting valuable advice, suggestions, and information, the book also consists of 309 “secrets,” all of which are followed by an explanation and specific strategies for implementation. Teamwork (between parents and teens, parents and schools, etc.), individuality, and focusing on one’s true passions are emphasized throughout, giving the reader a sense of worth and empowerment even if his or her interests lie outside the traditionally highly-recruited subject areas of math and science.
Of course, it is only a matter of time before any published book—no matter how comprehensive— is outdated, as new opportunities and resources become available. Wissner-Gross offers a website (http://www.educationalstrategy.org/) as a resource for readers who are interested in learning about updated opportunities since the writing of this book.
Wissner-Gross is the mother of two children, each of whom was named among the top twenty high school students in America by USA Today, and who were offered admission to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute's Database does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is solely the opinion of and the responsibility of the author. Although reasonable effort is made to present accurate information, the Davidson Institute makes no guarantees of any kind, including as to accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.