My brother is an ironman triathlete, the kind who runs a marathon after biking a hundred miles and swimming across a stretch of open ocean. Last week, he sent me this article about how elite swimmers train, which has quite a bit of application outside of the pool (if it didn’t, there would not have been a single reason for him to send an article like this to me).
The author uses the comparison of a cook and a chef. A cook follows a recipe’s instructions to the letter. The dish is a task to be completed, a job to be done. But the chef sees cooking as an art. It’s her passion, and one that she’s consciously pursuing. At every opportunity, she will use her training and knowledge to elevate a dish to be the best it could be. A cook and a chef could prepare the same dish with the same recipe and the same ingredients. But the end result will be very different.
Two swimmers can complete the same workout as it is described on paper. But the champion will consciously do a dozen small things differently to make the workout really count, from altering her breathing, to concentrating on her form, to explosively pushing off the wall at each turnaround. The two swimmers might appear to have completed the same workout. But in fact, the champion gained a lot more from her time in the pool.
Some students approach preparing for college like a cook. They’ll take challenging classes, earn good grades, and involve themselves in activities because that’s what colleges want. They’re following the recipe. As my business partner, Arun, says, these are the kids who are good at executing, a concept I explained here. Cooks aren’t bad kids. They have a great work ethic. And when decisions arrive, they usually have plenty of colleges from which to choose. But the chefs bring something else to the college admissions table.
The student who prepares for college like a chef takes challenging classes because they want to be challenged. They earn good grades because they’re curious and want to learn. They find activities they really enjoy and look for ways to make an impact. They’re not doing this because they’ve heard it’s what Princeton would want them to do. They’re doing it because they can’t imagine behaving any differently.
High school chefs can name a favorite class, teacher, and activity. They can tell you what they’re excited to learn more about in college. They can describe the type of college where they envision themselves, and why that school seems like a good fit. Most cooks can only tell you their GPA, test scores, awards, and number of community service hours completed.
A high school cook and chef may have similar transcripts, test scores, and resumes, but they are in fact very different applicants.
If you want to improve your chances of ending up in the admit pile at the college of your dreams, do more than just follow the recipe.