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How Can My Perfect Three Year Old Get into Harvard?

For today’s blog I decided to spotlight my wonderful father in law, Dr. Richard Wilcox, and interview him about college admissions advice. Before I post the questions/answers I want to give a little bit of background about Rich.

First, he is one of the nicest, most caring individuals you will meet.  He is a very humble person who spends countless hours donating his time helping the less fortunate and serving at his church. He grew up in Illinois and met his wife in one of their college classes.  He has a Doctorate Degree and currently serves as the Assistant Dean for Admissions/Advising for the University of Texas Pharmacology Program. He teaches Pharmacology courses and his expertise (I did not even know this until I went to his UT webpage) includes Neuropharmacology / neurochemistry, Synaptic transmission / signal transduction, Parkinson’s disease, Schizophrenia, Major depressive disorder, Bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, Epilepsy, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Anxiety.

I feel this post is not only important for high school kids or parents of high school kids, but for any person who wants to attend college or wants their child to attend college.  I taught seniors most of my teaching career and was amazed at how unprepared they were in the spring before Graduation.

Question: Do students who are not top seven percent (and not perfect grades) still have a chance to get into the University of Texas?

***Yes if they have a specific talent or skill set that UT wants

Question: What are your recommendations for students in high school?

***Get top grades with hard courses including AP work. DO actual prep for the SAT / ACT. Try various school and community [service] activities until you find those you love and then work hard at those. Get a meaningful job.

Question: Where do you see higher education going in the future?

***IF we in high education can help people understand that an investment in education is the most cost effective investment we can make for our society [plus being the moral thing to do for the next generation] then higher education will be more focused on developing real problem solvers and team players than in the past.

Question: What do you see on applications that turns you off on a person?

***Applicants who have breadth but no depth, as if they have done stuff to be checking things off rather than pursuing their passion. People who focus on self and not selflessness.

Question: What do you see on applications that you really like?

***People who show that they truly care about serving others by having down it a lot and in deeply meaningful ways.

Question: Can you tell if someone is lying on an application?

***The only place they can really lie is on their essay about their motivations. Usually, one can tell if the story is real or not.

Question: How can a student make themselves stand out?

***By BEING someone who loves to serve and sharing that story.

Question: What are behaviors that you see in the college classroom that bother you?

***In my classes when students don’t show up and watch the videos instead. I know that sometimes schedules demand it but it makes me sad. Otherwise, students don’t act up [thus far] in my classes. Too much focus on the material and I may come across as a bit intense. 🙂

Question: Any other advice?

***Applicants should be journaling about their work and service lives to foster reflection and growth.

In conclusion, I feel my father in law gave lots of great advice. It is better to have fewer community service commitments that have depth than having a million just to have on your college application. I want to add a couple of my own tips that I learned by teaching/career counseling seniors in high school.

1. Many of my students said they were not going to college because they couldn’t afford it. My answer was always the same. “You can’t afford to NOT go to college or some type of training (military, trade school, etc). There are too many people you will be competing with who have the credentials. Also, if you have to take a loan to go to school, that is ok!!! Just don’t go crazy and waste the loan money. Use if for its intended purpose.

2. Stay away from “For Profit” Colleges. Most of the are scams. A community college (which is much cheaper) has a better reputation than many of these for profit colleges that are often investigated by the government for fraud.

3. Just like my father in law said, keep a journal when you enter high school. Write down and describe your community service and other activities you are involved in. By the time you are a senior, you might have forgotten many of them. Also, make your child periodically email the list to himself (the activities and community service).  There were several students I helped fill out college and scholarship applications that wished they would have done this starting with their Freshman year.  By emailing it to yourself, you always have a saved copy of it.  (Also:  Email yourself all of your pins and passwords you create in the application process.  There are several different forms and you will forget what passwords you used for the different things).

4. Be original, creative, and stick out (in a good way).

5. Make sure you make positive impressions to your teachers because they will be the ones you ask to write letters of recommendation.

6. Fill our your Financial Aid (FASFA) EARLY!!!!! The first people get more of the money.

7. Be careful about the major you choose. What will you do with a philosophy degree?

My question for the readers, what do you wish you would have known when you were graduating from high school?

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