What does your child want from college? If you don’t know the answer to this, don’t fret. There’s a good chance your child doesn’t either. Ask yourself this question then: What motivates your child? And how do you often motivate your student?

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Think about the last time real excitement sparked across their face. What triggered this excitement? Was it something athletic or competitive? Was it cerebral, academic, imaginative, or maybe something slightly risky or dangerous?

Lessons in Motivation from “Duck Hunt Boy”

For example, I had a student I worked with years ago who loved duck hunting. On the Saturdays he hunted, he woke up at 4:00 a.m., didn’t eat breakfast, and loaded up with 20-30 pounds of gear, all so he could duck hunt in freezing temperatures for several hours. In this scenario, Duck Hunt Boy was willing to endure mountains of work, discomfort, and fatigue to do what he loved. This is why helping your child find their motivation is essential. College requires hard work and making sacrifices. It means not doing things they sometimes enjoy to work towards something they genuinely want. Take Duck Hunt Boy as a case study. You couldn’t pay most of our students to wake up at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday. But for Duck Hunt Boy, these were worth it. Do you see what I’m getting at? When a student knows what drives them, what truly motivates and engages them, you won’t have to convince them to work hard. Helping your child with their core motivation gives them an edge and purpose in applying to college. It’s essential you help them find what that motivation is. And in this blog, I’m going to show you how.

How to Find What Motivates Your Student

Your student needs to undergo what we call a Why Discovery. A Why Discovery is an extensive interview-style exercise we use with our clients to help them both discover and express their primary motivation. This process was developed by Simon Sinek, a thought leader in business leadership and marketing expert. He uses this method to help individuals and organizations to identify their intrinsic motivation, which he coins as their Why. We adapted this exercise to fit the lives of students.

Interview with two women discussing motivation

By the end of their Why Discovery, a student leaves with a simple, powerful statement that articulates their Why. Students can then use their why statements to pick their college majors, write their college admission essays, and seek out opportunities that prepare them for their ideal occupation (more on that later).

Examples of Why Statements

Here are a few why statements some of our clients have given us permission to share. This is Rhett’s why statement: To help others see all their options so they can solve personalized problems. With a why statement like this, it’s no surprise Rhett decided to study law, a career designed to help people make the most advantageous decisions. Take Emily’s why statement. Emily will major in anthropology to become an archeologist. Her why statement fits perfectly with her intended career path. To learn from the experiences of others so that, together, we create a more accepting world. Do you see how this helps? It clarifies the student’s motivation, enabling them to strategically pick their college major, admission essay topic, and university programs that align with their genuine interest.

How can a statement motivate your student?

Some might wonder how a why statement is different from a motivational meme. Well, let me tell you this: a why statement is very different from banners or décor phrases you buy at home goods. These words capture the essence of what makes students tick. You see, these words are inspired by their most important memories. During the why discovery process, students write down ten of their most memorable experiences. These experiences range from their best and worst moments. The person helping them conduct the why discovery methodically reviews each experience with them. From this exercise, themes emerge. And from those themes, they draft their why statement. So yes, a why discovery is just a phrase, but not just any phrase. This statement motivates their entire college strategy. And having their motivation articulated this way helps in more ways than one.

Knowing their Motivation helps students get into their dream schools

Yes. You read that right. Knowing what genuinely motivates your student can be the difference between them getting into their dream school. How so? Well, don’t take my word for it. Dr. Aviva Legatt, a former Ivy League Admissions Officer, puts it this way. Competitive GPAs and standardized test scores are important. However, as Dr. Legatt notes “grades and SAT scores are not all ad admissions office cares about. Far from it.”[1] What then do admissions offices care about? In her book Get Real and Get In (2021), Legatt reveals that communicating a student’s authentic motivation can be the secret ingredient that gets them in:

“Getting real is the first step on the road to getting in. You showing the admissions committee that you would be an asset to their school has to do with the authenticity of your impressiveness.”]2

-Dr. Aviva Legatt, Former Ivy League Admissions Officer



Authenticity is the way to start, the first step, as Legatt put it. But that sage wisdom only helps as much as a student is able to know and then communicate their authentic selves. And that’s where a why statement comes in.

Find What Motivates Your Student Using These Two Methods

Help your student discover their why. You can do that in one of two ways.

  1. The first is to have one of our college prep consultants conduct a why discovery with your student. You can do that by scheduling a free consultation with us.
  2. You can help your student discover their why yourself. You can that by ordering Simon Sinek’s book Find Your Why and finding a trusted family friend or mentor willing to conduct the interview.

Help your student find their motivation in whatever way works best for them. It can make or break their college experience, reduce their chances of changing majors, help them get into their dream school, and even spare them from an unfulfilling (or downright depressing) career.

By Marc Gray


  1. Legatt, Aviva. Get Real and Get In: How to Get Into the College of Your Dreams by Being Your Authentic Self. 1st ed., St. Martin’s Griffin, 2021.


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