March Madness: The College Admissions Edition

March Madness: The College Admissions Edition. Yes, you read that correctly and, believe it or not, there is an eye-opening correlation between the two. Read on for lessons taken from college hoops that are relevant for high school students planning to apply to top colleges, all thanks to legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden.

Cinderella stories, bracket-busters and buzzer-beaters. March is abuzz with the annual NCAA basketball tournament that takes the country by storm and we’re loving it! Here at Top Tier, we’ve adapted Coach Wooden’s seven-point creed for life to frame how to prepare to be the best applicant you can be.


From classes to extracurricular activities, summer programs and enrichment opportunities, you’ll have so many options to choose from. Authenticity and genuineness matter a great deal to college admissions officers, so choose to devote time and energy to those areas that spark your curiosity. When it comes time to reflect on your choices in your college essays and interviews, you’ll write and talk with greater impact when you are reflecting on those things you love.


Work to your fullest potential, always striving to do your best on every class assignment. Grades and rigor of curriculum are the most important factor in admissions decisions, so devote the necessary time and energy to achieve at the highest levels.


College admissions officers care deeply about the community they are building and therefore take great care to identify those students who will make the community better. As a high school student, how do you make your community stronger? The ways that you help – whether family members, peers, your community and others – speaks volumes about the kind of student you’d be as a member of their college community.


Reading challenging books – classics and contemporary, fiction and non-fiction — matters, perhaps now more than ever for students who have never known the world pre-digital devices. From developing critical and analytical thinking skills to building a more sophisticated vocabulary, a strong reading practice leads to academic success (and improves your writing and SAT scores). In an information-overloaded environment, reading a book while tucked in bed, sitting under a tree or in a quiet library engages your entire intellect, stimulating your creativity and curiosity.


“Friending” someone on social media or “liking” a post is “friendship lite.” In reading your application, admissions officers will ask themselves what kind of roommate you will be, how will you contribute to student run activities. Show them! Move beyond social media to develop close personal friendships based on mutual respect. Reach across differences to get to know peers whose life experiences are different from your own. Some colleges even have peer recommendations for this reason to hear a different perspective than from your teachers and guidance counselors.


High school – and life – will be filled with unexpected twists and turns. Resiliency, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, is a quality valued by admissions officers. AP Calculus will be tough, so will translating Catullus or mastering the cello. Develop your own reservoir of resiliency so that rather than being discouraged when things get tough, demonstrate your grittiness when faced with challenges. Admissions officers know that students will inevitably face difficulties at their universities, so they seek students who are flexible and adaptable and learn from their failures. Making mistakes is how we grow stronger and more resilient, emotionally and intellectually. Taking academic risks instead of taking the safe route is a plus in competitive admissions.


Mentors matter. Whether teachers, community members, older peers, or family members, learn from the experiences of others, even as you seek to blaze your own path. Remember that no person is an island. Give thanks – generously and graciously – to all who have helped provide you with educational opportunities and supported you in your academic and personal aspirations.

Good luck to all seniors in their own version of March Madness. As you wait to learn the results of your regular decision applications this month, remember that here at Top Tier Admissions, we’re all rooting for you!

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