It's the time of year when the nation's top colleges are letting applicants know once and for all whether they've been admitted. A lot of students are probably hoping against hope for just one top choice. But one Texas high school student defied the odds recently, by being admitted to all 20 of the top U.S. colleges he applied to.

It all started for Michael Brown last December, when he was admitted early decision to Stanford University. (The video of his reaction when he learned the news, embedded at the end of this article, is priceless.)

But the good news kept rolling in. He wasn't just admitted to Harvard, Princeton, Northwestern, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, and Texas, and 11 others. He was offered full scholarships to every single college.

With his last few admittances, Brown had gone from being an anonymous senior at Lamar High School in Houston, to a bit of a star, and he's been giving lots of interviews. Here are 9 of the key things he describes having done as a student that led to his admissions success.

1. Push yourself.

You'll expect to hear some of the kinds of credentials that Brown brought with him: A 4.68 GPA, and "a long list of extracurricular activities," including his favorite: debate, according to The Houston Chronicle. His SAT score was 1540 out of 1600, and his ACT score was 34 out of 36.

What led him to those credentials: a no-nonsense attitude that started toward the end of his freshman year of high school: "I got very serious about finding ways to get extra-involved in my community and be prepared for college admissions," he said.

2. Have goals.

Currently, his goals seem to have to do with politics. He says he wants to major in political science, and he worked on the campaign of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in 2016.

But, goals can change--and that's okay. It's the fact of having goals, and things to work toward, that's most important. By the way, in the original Stanford video, Brown says he's sure Stanford is his first choice. Now, he's not so sure.

3. Follow the good examples in your life.

Brown says one of the fantastic examples in his life was his mom, who went back to college to earn her degree after getting divorced from his father. She graduated when he was 9 years old.

"That's the first time I understood what going to college might look like," he said. "And seeing how important it was to my mom was important to me. I don't even think she really knew that I saw, that it had an impact on me -- but it did."

4. Don't quit in the middle.

I like this story Brown's mother tells. It's not about never quitting--honestly, sometimes quitting is the right thing to do. Instead, it's about not quitting in the middle.

The story, simply, is that Brown played on his seventh-grade football team, but didn't like it. He didn't enjoy a sport where he had to hurt other people, and he felt it interfered with his grades. But his mother said she insisted that he play through the semester.

"I said, you don't quit in the middle. You don't quit on your team," she told The Washington Post. "You see it through to the end, and if you don't want to play after that, that's fine."

5. Embrace adversity.

It's not 100 percent clear to me whether Brown had a difficult childhood; his family is clearly not made of money, but he seems to have had good family support from both parents. He also benefited from several formal programs aimed at helping lower income students get admitted to top colleges, including the University of Southern California's Bovard Scholars program and the Emerge Fellowship.

Brown's mother told The New York Times that during an orientation for Emerge she "began to realize then what was possible for her son -- "'possibilities that I never ever considered."

"I cried because I realized that there was a chance that my child would get the education he deserves -- the one I could not afford to pay for," she told the newspaper.

6. Use your emotions.

Watch the video, and Brown's reaction when he learns that he's been admitted to Stanford--the first of the 20 colleges to give him his decision. This is not a person who keeps his emotions hidden, and it's clear his passion helped him to succeed.

7. Take a lot of shots.

He applied to 20 colleges. I'm aware that this is less unusual than it once was; the Common Application makes it much easier than it would have been when I was applying to college.

But still, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take. So take lots of shots.

8. Don't self-select out.

Brown is clearly at the top of his class, but almost everyone who applies to these elite schools has amazing credentials. Beyond that, his public high school in Houston has 3,300 students, and more than half the student body is considered at risk of dropping out, according to The Washington Post.

These colleges that he applied to have very low acceptance rates: Harvard admitted only 4.5 percent of applicants this year. How many students each year don't apply because they think they don't have a shot--and wind up taking themselves out of the fight?

9. Take advantage of good luck.

At the end of the day, no matter how brilliant and attractive a candidate you are, the idea of going 20 for 20 has to include a component of good luck. But, you can't take advantage of good luck if you don't work to put yourself in that position to begin with.

"If you look strictly at statistics and demographics, then the cards were stacked against him," said his high school principal told The Houston Chronicle. His success is what can happen "when the forces line up the right way."

Published on: Apr 3, 2018
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