How to Create a Research Leader Theme: A Stanford Success Story

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I reluctantly took the meeting with David’s mom. While many consultants try to take 20-30 students a year, I focus on taking 8-9 of the very best students I can find. Students whom I can help and that will work hard towards goals we both develop. I was already at my 8th student so I was being careful about not taking on students who didn’t fit. David’s mom came through an introduction and knew about me and IvyZen’s programs. So I agreed to meet with her and planned to give her as much good advice as possible and send her on her way.

David’s mom was very polite and sophisticated. But she kept insisting that I would love working with her son, that we would work well together. She wasn’t being pushy and she sounded sincere. So I agreed to exchange emails with David who had just started 11th grade at an East Coast boarding school. It was a small school, one that I had never heard of before. I instructed the mom to ask David to send me a short email explaining why he wanted to go to college. Once the email came, I would start dialoguing with him.

David sent me a long email about how hard he had been working. His grades were great, his test scores were so-so and his extracurriculars were amazing. He was Class President and President or Captain of 10 other clubs at his school. His mom was right, because I do love to work with students like David. Taking all his energy and ambition and channeling in a good direction always works in getting accepted to a top school.

It was clear that leadership was a big strength. This is a basic quality that all top Ivies love, especially his goal school Stanford. But Stanford also loves unique students as well. So we started discussing his passions. Rather matching a student to the school, I prefer starting with the student and finding out what he is interested in. David wanted to enter the medical profession. Further, he had joined a research program created by a science teacher at his school. The program was conducted at a nearby University and gave students an opportunity to join a research team there. After two years of hard work, it looked like David’s name was to appear on two separate research papers that had a good chance to be selected and published by prestigious journals. This would be a big plus, something top schools love to see.

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After 3 weeks of emailing with David, we decided to develop a “Research Leader” theme. That is, rather being a surgeon or something more hands-on, David would work on research and find the cure for Alzheimer’s. We worked on several more research-oriented projects during the year. We wrote a review paper highlighting the latest research developments in Alzheimer’s, we entered a technology business plan competition discussing a way to use nanotechnology for smarter drug delivery systems and we looked into Stanford’s medical research programs and confirmed that this was the right school for him.

During the summer, we worked hard on our applications. We wrote our Main Essay on the strange smells inside a research laboratory and how he found his identity and future career in it. He talked about all the failures doing experiments and how that only challenged him to work harder to learn more about the medical field. We worked for a month just on the Stanford supplement essays to make sure David’s strengths and uniqueness shined through.

Then David, his parents and I met at the end of August to decide whether we would apply to Stanford early or not. It was a difficult decision. But everyone felt that because it was David’s genuine first choice, we should give it a try.
Sometime near Christmas, I received an email from David with no text, just this scanned letter of acceptance from Stanford.
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