There’s no magic formula for gaining admission into an Ivy League school. Perfect grades won’t guarantee acceptance, and neither will a perfectly well-rounded activities list. Countless valedictorians are denied admission to Ivy League schools, while their less academically high-achieving peers receive a letter of admission. What makes for a strong application? What qualities do admitted students all have in common? There’s no simple answer. There’s no ten step process you can follow to receive an offer of admission to Yale. However, there are some steps you can take to bolster your application.

Choose Your Classes Wisely

Elect to take the academically rigorous classes that are offered at your high school. Higher level classes demonstrate that you don’t shy away from a challenge, and that you’re willing to work hard. Honors, AP and IB Higher Level courses are also a great way to demonstrate your strengths and interests. Take as many high level classes as you can succeed in, but don’t shy away from challenging some subjects at the standard level if it means that you’re overall GPA will be higher.  If you’re interested in the hard sciences, you might take AP or IB Physics and Chemistry, but take English or a second language at the standard level. Earning high marks throughout the school year and on your AP exams would later bolster your college application, in which you explain that in addition to your AP/IB classes, you partook in chemistry research, and intend to major in chemistry in university. 
 
Earn high grades throughout high school, particularly during junior year and senior fall. This eighteen month period is the most recent demonstration of your academic ability, and it gives the admissions office reviewing your application an idea of the student you’ll be if they admit you to their university. Ivy League and other top-tier schools value strong academic performance, and want to know that they’re admitting a group of students whose academic performance will correspond to this value. On the other hand, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t earn straight A’s in every subject. Grades are only one portion of your application, and it’s understandable that you might not thrive in the humanities if your demonstrated strengths lay in the sciences, or vice versa. 

Earn strong standardized test scores

Start by taking a diagnostic test to determine if you’re better suited for  the ACT or the SAT. Research the schools you are applying to and work towards scoring at minimum within their average range, but preferably on the higher end of that range. While the SAT and the ACT are standardized tests that don’t highlight much about you as an individual, think of a high score as a strength that lays at the foundation of your application. They demonstrate your overall academic ability. Luckily, earning your ideal score can often be accomplished through hard work and strategic studying.

Demonstrate particular academic strengths and passions in two to three subject areas with the SAT II. Let’s return to our example of a student who loves the hard sciences. Scoring a 760-800 on the Chemistry or Physics SAT II would demonstrate a certain level of expertise and bolster his or her demonstration of said passion.

Perfect grades and test scores are not the end all and be all and most certainly won’t guarantee your admission to a top university. Start by reading our previous blog post on How to become a person colleges want and keep reading for more advice on the importance of delving into your passions.

Get involved and demonstrate who you are outside of your academics.

Think about what you like to do for fun on your own time and become involved with a related activity at school. If a club related to your particular interest doesn’t exist, take the initiative to create one. Join or start a cooking club if you’re passionate about cooking. If you enjoy writing, try your hand at journalism by becoming an editor or a writer for your school newspaper. Initially, trying a breadth of activities will help you figure out what your likes and dislikes are, but the goal is to determine where it is that you want to focus your energy. For example, our science loving student might join the science research team and begin competing in science competitions, write a science related column for the school newspaper, or create a science journal for publishing student research. This is both an extension and exploration of an initial passion for the hard sciences.

Remember that opportunities are not just limited to those in your school. Think about your community and the opportunities for involvement within it. For example, our science student might look to his nearby university and spend a summer helping a postdoc or grad student conduct chemistry research. 

Once you find an activity that you truly enjoy, work to make an impact. This can look like taking on a leadership role, but it doesn’t have to. Even if you’re not club president, you can take the lead on organizing an event or be reliable member of the club. Commit to manning the table at the bake-sale every first Monday of the month, and always show up. This demonstrates initiative, commitment and passion. 

Be True to Yourself

While it is important to get involved, it’s most important to be the authentic version of yourself. Genuinely enjoy whatever it is you choose to get involved in. The worst thing you could do is to become involved in activities because you think that they will look good on your college application. Not only will this lack of authenticity show through on your application, but it won’t help you to grow as a person or to enjoy your time in high school.

Write a unique personal statement

In addition to reporting your grades and activities on your common application, you must write a personal statement. This is your opportunity to differentiate yourself from your peers who have similarly competitive applications. Devote a lot of time to this essay and make it unique to you. Let your voice shine through, and let your college admission officer get a true sense of who you are. Outside of your grades, test scores and activities, what are the things that make you, you? Here’s a blog post on Personal Statement Do’s and Dont’s to get you started!

Letter of Recommendation

Another component of your application that will help your college admission officer get a sense of who you are are letters of recommendation. Just like admissions officers want to see that you’ll be a strong academic performer who follows their passions, they want to get to know you through the eyes of those in your community. Ideally, a strong letter of recommendation will advocate for your passions and best qualities. Did you nearly fail a class and persevere, working hard enough to bring your average up a whole grade letter or two? Are you exceptionally curious, reading and learning outside of class? Do you always hold the door open for your peers? Are you the one to crack a joke when someone is having a rough day? These are the qualities that your coaches, teachers and mentors can speak to, and they’re the ones that make you, you.

Now that you know how to get into an Ivy League, ask yourself why you want to go to one?

Remember that while it is important to take academic reputation into consideration when choosing which colleges to apply to, the school must also be a good fit for you in other categories, such as location, size, and educational philosophy. For example, while Dartmouth College and Columbia University are both part of the Ivy League, one is located in a small town in New Hampshire, and the other is located in the largest city in the U.S., New York City. Though you may enjoy both the idea of living in a small town and of living in a big city, you might thrive in one but not the other. Additionally, all eight of the universities that make up the Ivy League are located in the Northeast, but it’s possible you fare better on the West Coast or in the south, where you can attend top schools like Stanford or Vanderbilt. The Ivy status is important, but it is certainly not the only important quality in a school. Make sure to do lots of research and to go on college visits. Find schools where you’ll thrive, learn and most of all, be happy. This advice applies to any and all college applications, not just Ivy league applications. Best of luck!

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