The One True Secret of Elite College Admission

It swirls in the air like a dust devil. It hovers stationary in the atmosphere like a cloud. It pierces the veil of silence like a chainsaw. It is omniscient and unmistakable, and all designed to change outcomes just as certainly as changing the roll of dice or the flip of a card. They are college admission card tricks. And while card tricks may successfully fool everyone who watches them, it would be far easier if the correct cards were actually there the first place rather than having to rely on sleight-of-hand to make it appear as if they were.   

Reluctantly and hesitantly, I admit that the job of experienced college counselors is to make our students appear better, stronger, faster, and smarter than they actually are. We accentuate positive attributes, and rarely admit the negative, except perhaps when answering questions about overcoming adversity or learning from our mistakes, which in turn then becomes a positive. It is the curse of the college counseling industry that this has become the era of ridiculous expectations of unrealistic parents, each of whom believes that their child deserves to be admitted to an elite college over the tens of thousands of other students who have also applied and who have similar or greater accomplishments. If 10,000 parents share the same dream of winning one of 1,600 coveted seats at an elite university, then 8,400 are going to have their dreams shattered. 

Indeed, college counseling has become a tricky business. There are some counselors who go to the extreme of lying and cheating to get their client’s kids into college. I don’t need to discuss this any more than has already been done on national networks and publications. However (and thankfully), these magicians who stack the decks make up a tiny percentage of our industry. As for the rest of us, we practice the aforementioned technique of accentuating the positive. We burnish essays and activities. We polish accomplishments. We instruct our students to join clubs, to rise to positions of leadership, and to coach their teachers to write extraordinary recommendations. We hide insecurities. We coach for interviews. We tell our students what to say, how to dress, and how to act during the college visit. And the truth is, if we did not do these things we would be shortchanging our clients. Our clients rightfully expect us to be PR agents in order to help their sons and daughters make the strongest possible case for admission. And we often come through with shining colors, helping our students get into amazing colleges, making everybody happy.

As keepers of the night watch, we are often asked to give up our secrets. We are often asked to reveal the keys to success while riding on an elevator, standing in line at the bank, or sitting next to a stranger in an airline seat. And while I could potentially come up with a witty answer or give away a secret or two, I usually keep it simple and clear: The best way to get into a top college is simply to deserve to be there in the first place.

If you deserve to get into Harvard, you stand a chance of getting in. If you deserve to get into Caltech, you stand a chance of getting in. Ditto for Williams, Duke, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Columbia, Cornell and so on. 

You earn your way into these top schools by working hard your whole life, by being extremely smart, and extremely resourceful. You deserve to get into these top schools because you have made the planet a better place, because you have changed the lives of people around you, because you have put in tens of thousands of hours to enrich yourself in academic areas you find interesting and rewarding. You deserve to get into these top schools not because your father went there or your mother went there, but because you demonstrate the promise of extraordinary accomplishments in the future. 

I feel blessed to be a college counselor. I say proudly that I can help each student put his or her best foot forward and get into the best possible college. I say proudly that I have helped facilitate students’ admissions at virtually every top college in the country. I say proudly that my students come out of the college admission process stronger and more worldly-wise than they were going in. Candidly, however, I will tell you that I much prefer helping students get into the right college simply because they deserve to be there. I will leave it up to you to determine what “deserve” means to you, but let’s stop the ridiculousness of simply believing that because you want your child to go to a certain college that he deserves to get in. That is disingenuous at best. If you want your child to have a good chance to go to a top college, then encourage your child to work as hard as possible, to be a great role model and a great person, and to follow his heart and passionately engage in activities that collectively tell a story of excellence. Encourage your child to prove to the admissions teams of top universities across America that he actually deserves a spot on the roster of incoming freshman.

Neil Chyten, Founder

NC Global Education


833-888-6232 (Chinese Line) 

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