West Point

Getting into Harvard and Stanford: How to Earn Admission Into Elite Colleges

Antonio Buehler, founder of Abrome was invited to the Laura Bush Community Library to speak about how to gain admission into elite colleges and universities. This video is shared courtesy of the library.

Getting into elite colleges such as Harvard or Stanford is not as simple as a perfect homeschool transcript, a 1600 SAT score, and lots of volunteer activities. 

Antonio Buehler, a Harvard and Stanford graduate, outlines the three dimensions that ivy league schools focus on most.

Antonio Buehler founded Abrome to fundamentally change the way the world views education. He wants society to reject the notion that education should be a standardized product in which children are expected to be passive recipients of instruction that is chosen and delivered by adults. Antonio wants learners to be able to direct their own education so they can live rich, fulfilling lives. He believes that by providing learners with the opportunity to take full ownership of their education, Abrome will help save millions of lives, and in the process change the world.

Antonio earned a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the United States Military Academy, an M.B.A. from Stanford University, and an Ed.M. from Harvard University.

West Point's Open Letter to High-Achieving High School Students Highlights What's Wrong With High School

This summer, the United States Military Academy at West Point released an "open letter to high-achieving high school students." No doubt West Point released it in the hopes that it would go viral and increase the number of candidates who end up applying this fall, but the letter drives home an unfortunate reality about the high school experience and college admissions, and perhaps what West Point is looking for in applicants.

I’m even more selective than the Ivies. In addition to being academically competitive, qualified applicants must be physically fit, have leadership experience, acquire a congressional nomination and pass a rigorous medical exam just to be considered for admission. So if you’re into history, prestige, academic rigor and competitiveness, then I’ve got what you’re looking for.
— West Point Admissions

West Point emphasize their selectivity, prestige, and competitiveness in the letter. While there is no shortage of high school students who are living their schooling existence for the purpose of outcompeting their peers so they can get into highly selective universities as a marker of their own self worth, there is a severe shortage or young people who are leading remarkable lives. People who lead remarkable lives do not get validation from being tied to certain institutions, or by beating others. People who lead remarkable lives own their lives. They make the relevant decisions about how to spend their time, and they find meaning in the work they do. They value their contributions to society far more than they value how society ranks them relative to same-aged peers at any given moment in time. 

A West Point Cadet at graduation

A West Point Cadet at graduation

West Point is seemingly choosing to pass on trying to appeal to those rare students who choose to lead remarkable lives today. Or maybe they are making a decision to pass on those who can find meaning within their lives without tying it to the prestige of established institutions?

West Point highlights that their alumni include "presidents, generals, governors, astronauts, CEOs, and captains of industry." But they don't talk about the humanitarians, scientists, and artists. They don't highlight the people who make their families and communities better by investing in the people close to home. This open letter sends the message that success is rising to the top of established institutions. Staying within your lane, doing your job very well, but never really challenging the status quo. This open letter is an extension of the high school experience for most "high-achieving" students, where they are told to take the most challenging classes, get the best grades in those classes, and seek out opportunities that will pad the resume, but never really challenge the status quo.

This open letter may bring more applications into West Point this year. That increase in applications would decrease the admissions rate. That would make West Point even more prestigious in the eyes of applicants, parents, high school counselors, and the publications that produce college rankings. And that may be what West Point is looking for. And given what West Point has to offer (an existence within a highly regimented military schooling environment), the extreme costs of attending (five or more years of required military service, and maybe one's life), and what they need graduates to do (obediently work within a hierarchical, slowly changing war machine), perhaps appealing to the desire of many schooled students to have their self-worth validated by being associated with a prestigious institution is the way to go for them.

However, this approach is completely out of step with what the most selective colleges are really looking for in applicants. Most selective colleges are not just looking to improve their admissions statistics. They are also looking for people who lead remarkable lives. They are looking for people who love to learn, who are constantly seeking out opportunities to learn, and who are trying to identify ways that they can contribute to improving the world around them. These rare applicants will raise the level of intellectual inquiry on campus. They are the ones who will dive into the additional readings in the syllabus because it will contribute to their understanding of the topics they are studying. They are the ones who will commit to leading campus organizations, joining research labs, and tutoring others because of the opportunities to help others and for personal growth, not because such activities will help them with future scholarships or graduate school applications. And when they move on from college they will have the courage to not go into the military, or banking, or consulting if they are more drawn to less "prestigious" professions that will ultimately allow them to lead lives of purpose and meaning, and contribute to the human condition.

Unfortunately, very few high school students have the opportunity to lead remarkable lives. The practices and structures (and pressures) of high school simply do not allow time for a remarkable life. And in lieu of a remarkable life lived, colleges are left using one's ability to rise to the top of high school as a proxy for their ability to someday lead a remarkable life. Or at least to be a competent military officer. Unfortunately, what it takes to get to the top of the class (including a focus on achievement and competition) is often incompatible with leading a remarkable life.  

Disclaimer: the author of this blog post graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1999.

 

How hard is it to get into West Point, Annapolis, or the Air Force Academy?

While most high achieving secondary students have their eyes set on the schools at the top of the US News Rankings, there is a smaller subset of students who are focused on gaining admission into a United States Federal Service Academy.    

The big three U.S. Federal Service Academies are the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), theU.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis), and the U.S. Air Force Academy. A smaller, lesser known service academy is the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. These four academies all have admissions rates that make many of the US News top 25 colleges and universities envious, with both West Point and Annapolis being in the single digits. Additionally, these service academies require no room, board, or tuition from their students; it’s “free”! Upon graduation, every person attending one of these academies is guaranteed a commission by their respective service, and they then receive further professional training that will help them in their careers, in or out of the service. Additionally, the alumni networks of these academies are extremely strong, and their placement rates into top business schools are matched historically by only Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Stanford.

With zero cost of attendance, a highly regarded education, a guaranteed job, and great prospects beyond the military, one would wonder why more high school students aren’t gunning for admission into the academies. The most obvious answer is war. There are legitimate risks to military service, and while West Point and Annapolis take on the heaviest burden in war in terms of casualties, none of the services are immune from injury or death. Another answer is fun, or lack thereof. When freshman show up at most colleges, they party and socialize. When freshman (otherwise known as Plebes or Doolies) arrive at the academies they get harassed and hazed. No drinking, plenty of studying, and too many parades. Many academy graduates consider their four-year college experience as a hazing experience. A third answer is long-term indentured servitude. Many 17 year-olds aren’t ready to commit to four years of a less than fun college experience in addition to an eight-year service commitment on the other end. This commitment helps many recognize that the academy experience isn’t really “free.”

However, for tens of thousands of high school seniors, the plusses outweigh the minuses and they throw their hat into the ring of Academy admissions. Having assisted applicants through my college admissions services; having previously been a Field Force Admissions Representative for West Point, with responsibility for two congressional districts; as well as having gone through the process myself as a 17-year old; I am amazed by how stressful the process seems to applicants when gaining admission to one of the academies is actually quite simple relative to gaining admission into a school ranked in the top 10-25 of the US News rankings. All it takes is proper planning. While there are far more requirements to an academy application, including Congressional nominations, fitness exams, and medical exams, all of them are easily accomplished, if given enough time.

As with getting young people into Harvard and Stanford, getting young people into West Point or Annapolis is substantially easier the earlier one begins preparing. If I can begin working with someone by the time they are a freshman, short of a medical disqualification, I can virtually guarantee they will gain admission if they are willing to put in the time and energy necessary to meet the many requirements of admission.

The key to admission to one of the academies is consistent investment into academics, athletics, and leadership throughout the high school experience. Unlike Harvard or Stanford one does not need to be an academic star to get into a U.S. Service Academy, but they do need to produce. Likewise, they don’t need to be a recruited athlete or the youngest person ever elected mayor in their hometown, but they need to hit certain benchmarks with regards to athletics and leadership. Through proper execution, one can position themselves for a near guaranteed admission into a fraternity that will open up doors in ways that most regular colleges cannot.

The decision to apply to a service academy is a heavy one with heavy consequences, and no young person should be pressured into applying by their parents or teachers. However, if a younger person chooses to go down that path, and if they commit to the process early on, they can easily gain admission. If your child wants to get into a Service Academy then contact us at 989-31-ADMIT.