It’s that time of year again, when high school seniors hoping to get into an Ivy League college stare desperately at the Common App and supplemental college admission essay questions and ask themselves:
1. What are the Ivy League colleges really looking for?
2. How can I make my Ivy League application stand out?
3. Do I even have a chance of getting in to the Ivy League?
Let’s address these questions one-by-one, but first of all, for those of you who don’t know (or maybe aren’t sure) the Ivy League is made up of 8 colleges and universities including Harvard, Yale and Princeton (which are considered the “Top 3”) and then Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania.
One shouldn’t forget though, that there are also a handful of other extremely competitive schools that are considered to be on par with the Ivy League, such as Stanford, MIT and Duke University, just to name a few. So…
- What is it that the schools are really looking for (especially when talking about Ivy League colleges)?
I believe that the answer can be found in two words: confidence and individuality.
In other words, yes, your grades are important, yes, your test scores need to be as high as possible, yes, you need to have a strong assortment of as many AP courses as you can fit in your arsenal, but once you have all of that (because why would you be applying to an Ivy League college if you didn’t think you could compete at that academic level with your peers) the next important thing is: YOUR UNIQUE EXPERIENCE.
By this I mean things in your background that make you different, that are going to make you stand out to an Ivy League college admissions committee. Things that are going to make you different than simply being “another suburban high school student from New Jersey,” or “just” another kid from a private school in Massachusetts or New York.
Not to say that the top schools don’t accept A LOT of students who fall into these two categories (believe me, they do)… but your competition if you’re coming from these categories is going to be stronger because of that highly competitive applicant pool and because college admissions officers like to diversify.
- The answer to question #2 then is that, no matter what your background, you should always, always, always ask yourself, HOW ARE YOU DIFFERENT and then try to highlight that!
In other words, what is it in your background that makes you unique? That’s what Ivy League college admissions officers want to see as they paint a picture of you in their mind. You will increase your chances astronomically, if you give them something to paint with.
So, were you raised in a poor village in India before immigrating to the U.S.? Did your family move here from Russia? Is your family in politics? Are you training for the Olympics in ice skating, or skiing, or do you compete at a very high level in equestrian sports? Have you built your own guitar? Have you studied ballet in NYC since the age of 8? Did you grow up in a fishing community in Alaska, or was yours the only Jewish family in a Southern Baptist community in the deep South? Have you served in the U.S. Army? Is anyone in your family famous, or extremely well-known in their field? Is anyone a legacy at the Ivy League college you’re applying to? Do you own any patents? Or, are you a budding biotech or real estate entrepreneur even though you’re still in high school who started their own company from the ground up (regardless if it failed).
All the above are true stories from admission essays in the past. All are very interesting and obviously make the student STAND OUT.
And, that is what an Ivy League college admissions committee is looking for, and this is the big secret that will give you an edge: tell them something interesting. Everyone in my opinion, has done something of interest in their life, even if they are too close to it perhaps to really see it for themselves. Think about what makes you different from your peers.
So, should you even apply to an Ivy League college if you don’t have these things, or is it just a waste of time? Will you even have a chance? Yes, you have a chance, a good chance — if you have the grades, and the test scores, and the academic background and some interesting academic or life experience. You are then, as they put it, a “contender.”
- So now question #3, – will you get in? That’s the wrong question. Change the question instead to, “can I paint an interesting picture of who I am and where I want to go in life?”
Then craft that into a properly formed college admissions essay, and make sure you speak with clarity, insight into your own experience, truth, emotion, and confidence.
All these together become the first step to getting you into the Ivy League college of your dreams!