Seth Godin riffs on education. He articulates the concept of going through the front door vs. the back door in higher ed and beyond.
If you want to go through the front door, you want to have a spotless resume. High GPA, good high school, good test scores, good extracurriculars, good story etc… A lot of people knock on the front door and you have to make sure you don’t get denied right then and there.
Alternatively, you can find a different way in. Seth gives the example of being a 16 year old high school student interested in a specific subject area. You spend some free time studying the latest research and developments in the subject area. Then, you reach out to a professor at a school you would like to attend about some of the work you’ve read. With the right message, you can position yourself as an enthusiastic peer, hoping to learn from this well-respected academic. Once you build the relationship on genuine curiosity, if you end up applying to that school, you have a strong champion there. If you don’t end up applying, you’ve learned a lot and made valuable connections, rather than jumping through someone else’s hoops.
This can work in education and beyond. Want to get hired by a company? Redesign their website and share it with them. Create some potential social media posts and show them. Write up new ideas for how to optimize their processes or improve the customer experience. Add value before asking for anything.