If you are a California high school student thinking about college, odds are Stanford University is at the top of your list. So who better to help you apply than someone whose former job was to read student applications to Stanford?
“I’m bringing college readiness expertise from the college admissions perspective,” says Alix Coupet, the Director of College Readiness at East Bay Innovation Academy (EBIA), a locally grown Oakland public school.
Coupet, who also has worked as an application reader for the University of Chicago, and graduated from Harvard and worked in its admissions office, started at EBIA this school year. He’s a self-professed “college nerd” who looks up college facts on the weekend. “And just kind of looking at general trends in college admissions,” he says. He also takes the SAT and ACT each year, “just to see how the test has changed.”
While many want to attend Stanford, few actually get in: just 4 percent of more than 40,000 applicants each year. When you are competing against students with perfect GPAs and SATs, how do you stand out?
Coupet talks to students a lot about writing strategy and how to craft a great essay. “You really have to market yourself and separate yourself from other kids,” he says. He knows the cliche topics (life-changing trip, grandparent passed) to avoid. “When I’m talking with kids, I tell them ‘don’t just think about your topic,’” he says. “Try to guess what everyone else in the room is going to write about and don’t write about that.”
He tells students it’s OK to be different — a little weirdness helps you stand out. He knows from his own experience. When he was a high school student in Chicago applying to college, he wrote about his favorite extracurricular activities: boxing, blogging (“I was very in my feelings every day,” he says. “I would open live journal and just kind of emote.”) and running a website he created with his friends.
“A lot of kids don’t think, ‘Hey, I’m running a website, I should put that on my college application,” Coupet says. “Or, ‘Hey, I journal every day.’ But other folks aren’t putting that down and it’s a good strategy to discern yourself.”
Jason, an EBIA junior and a founding student, is looking at different colleges and thinking about where he wants to go. He wants to study film and has been talking with Coupet about if that’s a good idea. “Because of you know, the stereotype about the starving artist,” Jason says. He says Coupet encouraged him to follow his interests. “When I first told him that I’ve been doing this stuff since middle school, he was like, ‘Yes, it’s really good to show that you’re committed to one passion,’” Jason says.
Jason and his parents recently met with Coupet to discuss his college plan. They talked about what activities and programs he can participate in during the summer to beef up his application. How to leverage his math skills. “He knows the ins and outs,” Jason says.
During the fall, Coupet arranged for representatives from 27 universities to visit campus and meet with students. Jason says the visits helped demystify a process that’s still very new to him. “Applying for college, and student loans and all that, I have always kind of thought I’m not ready for it,” Jason says. “Having someone who specializes in that, and has actually done that as an admissions officer, makes it a lot less scary.”