Like his sister (also an Admissionado client), Gregor was understandably uneducated on the American college admission process having been a recent immigrant to the US (he arrived sophomore year of high school). Due to this lack of knowledge, he had unrealistically high expectations (MIT, CalTech, WashU) and was unaware of the role personality and individuality plays in admissions. Realigning (truly, resetting) expectations was difficult.
We could have pitched Gregor as a chess prodigy (like his sister, he won a national championship in his early teens), but I didn’t think his skills were quite strong enough to overcome his low test scores.
The Admissionado Approach
With Gregor, I decided to foreground the immigrant narrative more than I did with his sister because he lacked the extra-curricular activities that she had (which showed her attempts to integrate with the community – Gregor seemed more isolated). As such, we foregrounded the challenges Gregor had overcome as a very recent immigrant and tried to suggest a “buy him low” selling point; that is, he was going to be a star once he developed a better grasp of American culture and the English language. Whichever school were to give him a shot now would reap the rewards eventually. Because he was applying to engineering programs, we highlighted the areas where he had performed well in school – math and science – and described his passion for physics and engineering. The implicit suggestion was, if he can do this well while he’s simultaneously learning the language, imagine what a rockstar he will be by the time he is a junior and senior in college.
Gregor received scholarships to several of his target and safety schools. He ended up matriculating at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While this was not his first choice (MIT), given his starting point, it was a fantastic outcome. We couldn’t be more proud.
Gregor was a babe in the woods of American college admissions whose intelligence and inventiveness were hidden behind a veil of cultural differences and still-developing English skills. But a tremendous upside (as NFL draft scouts would say) and he’ll be an all-pro engineer.