The short answer is “doing the things you like really well, and then being smart in presenting your case”. Actually, you do not prepare to get into a top school, you prepare to be successful!
We usually come across 2 types of successful innovators in the world: Young Geniuses and Old Masters. There is also a common perception that innovation is uniform across all stages of life and both groups follow the same processes. However, a Chicago economist David Galenson has postulated that each group follows a different style, and this leads to different levels of productivity. Young Geniuses follow a conceptual innovation model, formulating big ideas and then executing on them, while Old Masters follow an experimental model, trying out different things, learning and evolving as they go.
Step 1: Build a profile
To be a student attractive to a top school, (s)he has to follow one of these 2 paths diligently. The Young Genius shows enough promise early itself and is usually identified at different levels in the system (school topper / young inventor / Olympiad winner, etc.) and has an easy entry into his choice of schools as they are looking for him/her.
But the average student can also build up adequate attractiveness by following the experimental model to build up competence in any chosen domain. The primary tools of an experimenter are his/her inquisitive nature and persistence, two things most human beings are born with, and tapping into these traits can help a person become an expert. Once these domain areas are identified, this person could potentially spend years refining her skillsets in this particular area. Often, such people are able to showcase a more compelling narrative beating down Young Geniuses!
This process of building the narrative is what is often called building a profile. We fundamentally disagree with an approach which is focused on building a profile to get into a school. Rather, we have seen, identifying the right area and then choosing to excel in that, for the sake of love for that particular domain delivers far more successful outcomes. This process often takes years and may need the help of a coach/ mentor who can hold your hand as you push beyond the envelope of your existing capacities.
Step 2: Tell a story
The second part of a successful application involves a smart approach to presenting your case to the school you are applying to.
The Young Geniuses have it easy here too. In fact, sometimes they do not even need the second part as their reputation and achievements gets them easy access, and the presentation of their case does not even matter.
For the rest, standing out from the crowd involves a smart presentation of their cases, highlighting the uniqueness of their experiences, and stringing it through into a coherent story that would help the admissions staff visualize the value-add that the school could provide, and the end-product that would come out at the end of the course. Depending on the parameters that the school prides itself on, the smart applicant makes it easy in his application to visualize his/her situation at the end of the course.
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