By Cindy Atoji Keene
Elite college coach Leonardo Radomile has a word of advice for helicopter parents: “Universities are not like designer labels, where Harvard is an Hermes scarf and Princeton is Louis Vuitton luggage.” The most important thing is not squeezing a student into a particular school, said Radomile, director of the Cambridge Learning Center (CLC) in Cambridge, but finding a college that best fits a student’s needs. “Remember that your child going to college, not you.”
As admission to the Ivy League and other schools becomes more and more competitive, candidates are looking to “crack the code” as to what will help kids get over the hump and into elite schools. But Radomile, who runs CLC as a non-profit foundation that provides intensive academic enrichment and counseling for college prep, said that there are no tricks, only fundamentals. “The college admission process should be an opportunity to develop communication skills and self-awareness, and not just a resume-enhancing task,” said Radomile, who started the organization eight years ago as a field education project at Harvard University.
Q: If a parent says, “Please get my son or daughter into Stanford or Yale,” what do you say to them?
A: Parents operate under the misimpression that you need to teach how to take the SAT or how to write an essay. This is putting the cart before the horse. It’s not about test taking techniques but developing the whole student. My attitude is build the person first and find what they love to do, not only intellectually but also physically and emotionally.
Q: What goes into a good admissions essay?
A: There is a real art to it yet no cookie cutter formula exists. A good college essay is one that shows qualities of self-reflection and insight where the student shows he is a well-developed human being who is really thinking about himself and the future. We can help create conditions where these abilities emerge. It’s very Socratic; we ask the questions draws the real story from the student. It’s a process that often takes 8-10 weeks.
Q: How do you motivate students?
A: There has been an enormous amount of research into the neuroscience of achievement and what helps students make accomplishments at the highest level. For example, a student’s ability to read and think is tied to cognitive psychology and language acquisition. Motivation is an internal thing as well; students who unmotivated often don’t see the relevance of what they’re doing. Parents think it’s just about a set of skills, but it’s not about filling a cup as much as lighting a fire.
Q: You were on the admissions committee at Harvard. What was that like?
A: An application comes in, and a list is made. There’s a cut off point, say 3.75 GPA and 2,100 SAT, although we will look at applications above and below that. Each member of the admissions committee will look at maybe 200-300 applications over a six to eight week period. You go through the portfolio and see what the student has done and look for excellence, even if it’s just in collecting baseball cards or maybe it’s sports, music or chess. It’s a very holistic and open process, and not cut and dry. The ecology of the whole student is examined.
Q: Do you have any horror stories about overly ambitious parents?
A: A woman came in, sat her son in front of me, and said, “Harvard undergraduate and John Hopkins Medical School.” I said, “What?” And she repeated these words. I said, ‘What does he want?’ The son said, “I want what my mother wants.” She was so pushy. I see some kids who are so stressed they literally have post-traumatic syndrome and are shaking. I’m very sorry to see this happen.
Q: You have kids of your own. Where did they go to school?
A: My son could have gone to Harvard but he went to McGill University. He would have been miserable at Harvard. Students have to find their own “Harvard.”
Q: You went to Harvard and University of Chicago. Did your parents help you with your applications?
A: No, my father left school in fourth grade to go to work and he was not academically inclined. I had to do my own admissions work. I came to this stuff by trial and error.