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Turn College Admissions Into a Buyer’s Market

Who has the leverage in college admissions -- the universities or the students?

The situation we often see when it comes to applying for colleges and getting accepted is the following: dozens of thousands of applicants vying for scarcely available spots at the most selective universities, with the schools getting their choice of who they want on their terms.

This is a typical seller’s market, with demand (students who want degrees) far exceeding supply (desirable colleges offering enrollment spots).

It doesn’t have to be like that

If you’re a student, that is far from ideal. You, of course, want it to be a buyer’s market, so you have the leverage to choose which university to attend and on what terms. Fortunately, that scenario is more than just a fantasy; it actually already exists today.

Take a school like the University of Michigan. In 2016 they accepted 28.6% of their applicants. That’s certainly quite a reasonable percentage especially compared to the most selective schools, but it’s still very hard to get into. Your grades, test scores, essays, resume, and pretty much your entire application have to be tight. As an applicant, you are competing with 55,000 others to stand out from the pack and (hopefully) get the admissions officers’ attention for more than a few minutes.

Now look at the same school when it comes to admitting individuals with special talents. The admissions officer (in this case, head football coach Jim Harbaugh) took the time to go go-kart racing to try to convince a kid to enroll at Michigan. He even went so far as to give a job at the school to another kid’s dad to get him to join. It’s no longer college admissions where schools are gatekeeping and vetting candidates; rather it’s college recruiting where they are courting you.

What a difference, no? This is a buyer’s market, and this is what you want as a student.

Lesson: To be in high demand, be of high value

That dynamic has modeled the path forward for the rest of us: become the most special version of yourself without just copying others.

Obviously, not everyone can be a highly sought-after athlete (because if it were possible, then the buyer’s market would no longer exist). But everyone can become really good at what they’re already good at. There are two parts to this:

  1. Be great: Leverage and continue to develop your strengths.

  2. Be valuable to others: use your strengths to make a positive impact on others. Show you can add value anywhere (i.e. at your preferred universities, too)

When everyone is trying to run through the small hole in the wall, why not use the other entrance few are using?

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