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The College Admissions Game Show: What Does It Take to Get In?

By Eric, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

The Price Is Right is iconic, having graced TV screens since 1972. Plinko, the Showcase Showdown, and of course the excitement as they call your name to come on down to contestant’s row is familiar to a lot of people, so I was thrilled when I appeared as a contestant in 2017. Becoming one of the nine players that are plucked out from an audience of 300 (that’s a 3% “acceptance rate”) is not as simple as just showing up and hoping for some good luck. As a former Ivy League admissions officer, I noticed that many of the same techniques that are employed in the college admissions process were at play here. There are a lot of striking (if unconventional) parallels between game show casting and college admissions. So, what does it take to get a “Come on down!” from your top-choice college?

Understand That College Admissions (and Game Show Selection) Is Not Random

Just like in college admissions, getting on your favorite game show is not a lottery. At The Price is Right, the producers meet every prospective contestant before the filming in groups of 10. I had about 30 seconds to show the producers why I should be one of the chosen few. This sounds a lot like the application review process that college admissions officers do every year, doesn’t it? Just like in admissions, the TV show producers are real people evaluating you and you need to hit certain benchmarks in order to make it to the “committee” review. Yes, there were a lot of “qualified” people vying to be contestants, but I had a unique story and stage presence that somehow made me stand out from the crowd and made me a good fit for the show. Finding your own story and accurately conveying that in your applications is what is going to set you apart and show admissions committees that you are a good fit for that school.

Be Your Best Self

Yes, game shows and colleges alike are looking for qualified contestants/applicants but they also want authentic participants that are high energy and genuine. In college admissions terms, I think that this would be the equivalent to be yourself, but on steroids! Did I show my authentic personality when trying out for a game show? Absolutely. But I amplified it so that strangers could get to know me well in such a short amount of time – that means cutting out a lot of the unnecessary fluff and really highlighting the things that mattered the most to me. I had to distinguish myself from the hundreds of other people also competing for that 3% in 30 seconds, so I showed my best self. There was no way to know exactly what the producers were looking for, the same way you can’t predict exactly what colleges want from an applicant, but I showed my authentic self and I was chosen. So when it comes to your college applications, write your essays about what you want. Highlight your accomplishments and interests. Interview as yourself on your best day. Don’t try to predict what it is that the producers/admissions officers want to see and just do you!

Know the Game/School

Game shows are looking for people who are really enthusiastic about being there and who really want to participate. When I auditioned for The Price Is Right, I had watched the show for years and made note of the common qualities that contestants who are selected typically have and one thing I noticed is that all contestants are really knowledgeable about the show. I didn’t come in unprepared. I knew the games, and not just the obvious ones like Plinko, but some of the more obscure ones too like Hole in One.. or Two!, Cliffhangers, and Punch-a-Bunch, and when I was in the room with the producers, I made sure that they knew that I was familiar with these games. This is a lot like research and demonstrated interest in the college admissions process. Similarly, an applicant needs to do extensive college research to show deep knowledge on an institution. Saying “I hope to take advantage of the wide range of offerings at your school” is mentioning something obvious. But offering “At Yale, I would be able to research rank uncertainty in organizations of game theory under Dr. Marina Halac at the Cowles Foundation” shows a much deeper understanding of the school. Specificity and research are key!

Stay Calm

I had the difficult task of trying to stay cool, calm and collected while I was waiting in line for hours being evaluated by the producers and then walking onto the set with the lights, stage and cameras that I had dreamed about since childhood. I had to shut out all of that noise and stay calm in the face of all that excitement mixed with uncertainty while I anxiously waited to find out if I made the cut. Similarly, in the college admissions process, you will have the difficult task of cutting through the noise and nerves to stay calm and focused. Opinions and noise from your parents, your teachers, your friends, College Confidential, Reddit, and your own internal saboteur telling you that you’re not good enough can cloud your mind and dampen this exciting process for you. While difficult, if you can put that aside then you can stay true to yourself and increase the chances that you will be honest and authentic in your applications. This will ultimately position you for the best success in the college admissions process.

When the announcer yelled out “ERIC, COME ON DOWN!” I lost it. I made it into the 3% and ran down to contestant’s row with the same enthusiasm that you will feel when you get your college acceptance. Because just like when I made it on The Price is Right, when you get into your best-fit schools you are being rewarded for being yourself in this process. Keeping these tips in mind will help you have the best chance of being selected in the “game show” of college admissions!

Want to learn more about how to have the best chance of admission to your top-choice colleges? Contact us today to learn more about our college counseling services for high school students.

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