Christopher Rim, founder and CEO of Command Education, helps students develop the life skills that not only can increase the likelihood of admission at top-tier universities, but also aid them in their careers post-graduation.
Jake Dressler Published on November 16, 2021 SHARE
Photo courtesy of Zhanhui Li via Unsplash
Decades ago, a high GPA and good test scores were almost enough to guarantee a seat at many of the nation’s top colleges. For today’s high school seniors, however, the competitive college admissions world is anything but straightforward. Every January, when most applications are due, many students are still at a loss when it comes to what top schools, such as Harvard or Yale, are looking for. Elite schools are not just looking for academic excellence; that might be necessary to get your application to the next round, but prospective applicants need to show that they went the extra mile to prove their potential.
Christopher Rim, founder and CEO of Command Education, a private admissions consultancy headquartered in New York City, knows how much emphasis top schools put on the less quantitative elements of an application. “Getting into a top school isn’t solely about grades anymore,” Rim told Worth. “It’s about what makes you stand out.”
Today, Rim helps students all over the world develop the life skills that not only can increase the likelihood of admission at top-tier universities, but also aid them in their careers post-graduation. Command Education’s current mentoring philosophy is rooted in the emotional intelligence research that Rim conducted throughout his four years at Yale alongside Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. There, Rim came to understand that students are most successful when pursuing their passions.
Rim has worked with students who published books, joined award-winning research teams, founded nonprofits and even started their own companies. He sat down with Worth to answer our questions about what it takes to get into the Ivy League.RELATED The Importance of Mentorship and Why Starting Early Is Key
Q: What is Command Education’s strategy for getting students into the Ivy League?
A: We try to help students stand out authentically. At Command Education, we work as an incubator for teens, providing support and expertise to help students develop their own passion projects, build a meaningful nonprofit or run their own company. Students learn leadership skills within their community and this naturally helps them stand out to top schools.
It’s important that this initiative develops the student’s own personal ambition and something they are truly passionate about—that’s why it takes years for something like this to be developed.
For example, we worked with a student who was not only an incredible writer, but also spoke five languages. After some time working together, we helped her land a publishing deal. We just helped provide her with the roadmap, guidance and motivation through the process. She was the one who did all the work and put in the time and effort. If you talk about something like this in a college application, it’s definitely memorable, authentic and unique.
Another student was an ice hockey player who started a nonprofit that set up a community ice hockey clinic and collected gently used hockey equipment. We’ve also had students file for patents, audition for Shark Tank and speak at prestigious national events.
Research opportunities also help, if that’s what you’re into. Many parents think research at a local university isn’t as impressive as conducting research at an Ivy League school, but to be honest, it doesn’t really matter where you conduct the research. Oftentimes, you’ll have a better, more hands-on experience at a local university over the summer.
Why is standing out so important?
Ultimately, top schools have their pick of the litter. With most schools having received a record-breaking number of applications this past cycle, they could fill their incoming freshman class several times over with 4.0 GPAs and 1600 SAT scores. You need really standout extracurricular activities that make your application memorable. Colleges are looking for a well-rounded incoming class, not a well-rounded student. This means that they want a class of students who individually have their own passions and interests. They want their campus to hold diverse opinions, dialogues and debates—that’s what college is for. It’s meant to help students think, challenge their own views and grow both as a person and as an intellectual.RELATED Insuring College Outcomes Delivers Better ROI on Donor Dollars
The vast majority of students, with enough prep and coaching, can achieve stellar scores on their standardized tests like the ACT and the SAT. What students need to do is take academic excellence to the next level and actually take action on their own authentic passions.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
Prior to attending Yale, I wasn’t exactly my high school’s valedictorian. I went to school in Englewood, N.J., where I didn’t have straight As. When I applied to Yale and other Ivy Leagues, many people told me it was a long shot, including my in-school guidance counselor.
After arriving at Yale, though, I wanted to help students navigate the process in the unorthodox way that I did, so I started coaching high school seniors from my hometown through the process. The first two students I worked with got into Stanford and MIT, and that really set the foundation for what would become Command Education. The process only gets more competitive and stressful each year, so the business organically grew as more and more families looked for outside help to navigate the misconceptions and complexities of this process.
How do you get students excited about this process?
We put a lot of emphasis on getting to know and connect with our students. Our near-peer approach helps our students feel that their mentors are exactly that: non-parental mentors who are helping them not only gain the best shot of admission at their top schools, but also grow as a student and as a person through working together. Most of the people in my field are double or triple my age and can’t connect with students at the same level as we do. All of our mentors have gone through this process not too long ago, so we are all familiar with the stress and anxiety that comes with this new, complex college admissions landscape. Students are often not excited to prepare for and navigate this process due to the high stakes, so we help them break down the steps to standing out and show them that with enough hard work and proper guidance, they can navigate this process in a way that is not only effective, but also true to themselves.
Is there a lot of pressure on Ivy League candidates?
It’s incredible the amount of pressure students are under. I once had a parent tell me, after her daughter got into her dream school, “you’ve saved our marriage.” This just goes to show how much stress and anxiety there is around this process, not just for students, but also for families. There is no formula for admission to these elite schools, and as we’ve seen in recent years, this process isn’t entirely meritocratic. Because of how complex getting in is, applicants may find their heads spinning when thinking of how to craft the perfect application. In reality, there is no perfect application. The most standout applications are as diverse and unique as the students writing them, which is why it is essential that students focus on what they are truly interested in. It is always clear in applications when a student’s true passions are shining through.
How do you interact with students and their families?
We are there for our students from start to finish. Many parents come to us looking for an expert to guide their child so that they can stay out of the process and rest easy knowing that their child is in good hands. What gives our clients even more confidence in our process is that we are focused on both college admissions and helping our students grow as people. College is the short-term end goal, but students still have skills they need to learn and develop to be successful once they are in college and beyond. We’re helping our students become better public speakers, develop leadership skills, build confidence and much more.
To this end, we emphasize to parents that our work is student-focused; the best outcomes occur when students drive the process. Oftentimes, though they have their child’s best interests in mind, parents who are over-involved in the work we do with their child could actually end up sabotaging the process by confusing or misdirecting the student. We recommend that parents step back to allow their child and their child’s mentor to work together so that the student can really focus on honing in on and developing their passions.RELATED How Philanthropists Can Support Transformative and Equitable Change in Education
An extremely important element of our process is that it is student-driven. Everything we do is advisory, so the student must be willing to put in the hard work to act on our advice. If not, it will be a waste of time and money. It takes time and effort to craft a truly memorable and genuine profile, which is why the majority of our students start working with us in 8th or 9th grade. Of course, we also have students start with us later on in high school, leading right up to the application deadline. Although there is less time at that point to develop an application’s worth of material, there are still ways we can add value and help an applicant put their best foot forward.
What are your success rates and fees?
We’re proud that 91 percent of our students get into at least one of their top three choices. Our entire team of mentors is full-time and very committed to each of their individual students, and we think that this is a huge element of why our work with students is so successful. We are there for them every step of the way during this process. Regarding our fees, they range depending on the grade level of the student and what the client’s goals are, but on average our annual fee is approximately $85,000 for unlimited guidance.