Is this the “Secret to an Ivy League Offer?” You decide.

May 3, 2022 | Choosing a Major, College Admissions, College Applications

The email came into my Inbox, titled, “How to get into an Ivy – Insider Information.”  Interesting.

I clicked on one of the links and was immediately told how the acceptance rates to the Ivies has gone down dramatically over the past couple of years.

Yes, we already know that. The Ivies aren’t accepting fewer students. They are simply receiving more applications.

Then I learned about this particular company’s secret for getting their students offers from the Ivies. Apparently, it is some kind of “Showstopper Extra Curriculum Initiative.”  I wonder if they got that from “The Great British Baking Show?” If you haven’t watched it, I can highly recommend it!

Anyway, according to the company, this “SECI” is defined as an original project on a topic that resonates with the student, and that may be connected to their major or career aspirations. It needs to have a positive impact on others and bring out their leadership skills, their communication and organization abilities, and their innate curiosity and creativity.

These are definitely the traits top colleges are looking for, so they’re right about that.

So, what’s wrong with this Showstopper Extra Curriculum Initiative?


Unless you outsource it to a hired professional!

These companies say that if you “fill out a quick form” they will rally their development team of designers, content researchers, producers, writers, editors, technology platforms, etc. and voila – students will have just what they need to make your Ivy League application stand out!

Now I came out of the advertising agency world many decades ago, and that sounds a lot like hiring a firm to do your work.

I am guessing that these companies offer all the services of a reputable IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association) college admissions counseling company, but offering this type of service is a disturbing trend. It plays on the fears of students and parents that they are somehow not turning over every possible stone to find the magic key into an elite college. In reality this is creating unnecessary pressure that causes way more mental anguish that 14, 15, 16  and 17 year olds need at this difficult time in their lives.  With such low acceptance rates, admission to elite colleges takes on an air of randomness as much as anything else.

Jo Leonard & Co., is a member of the IECA, an association held to very high ethical standards of college admissions counseling. I have spent twenty years mentoring and advising young adults on how to develop self-awareness and leverage it into their college experiences and their careers.  100% of my clients have chosen the correct school for them and graduated from that school. Many of my clients have taken on difficult extra curricula activities and presented them beautifully to the colleges of their choice, but our role is supportive and as a guide, not as an marketing agency.

IMHO students would be better served finding advisors and mentors who will facilitate their applications, not do the work for them. As one Dad known well to me says, “My kid lost the Soap Box Derby because I wouldn’t help him build his car – and he cried for two days. But now he’s an engineer and he’s resilient. Apparently he got over it!”

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.