Are you a high school student applying to college this year? Is it your dream to go to an Ivy League school and one day graduate from Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia ,Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, or UPenn? Or maybe you’re interested in one of the many other extremely competitive and excellent “Top Ten” schools in the country, such as MIT, Stanford, Duke, etc., etc.
The below are the top 5 college admission essay books I personally recommend. They give you a great overview of the types of essays that actually work, and get you in to the Ivy League!
Need more help and advice? Contact me today for a free initial consultation. I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer and Harvard graduate, and currently run the Ivy League college admissions firm, www.IvyCollegeEssay.com. get into your dream school today!
Applying to an Ivy League College? Common App Essay Advice from a Former Harvard Interviewer! GalleryBrown, College Admissions, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Ivy League, Princeton, UPenn, Yale
1. What are some of the common misconceptions/mistakes you see regarding students’ Common App essays? Do you have any general advice for the Common App?
The biggest mistake I see students repeatedly make with the Common App, is not understanding what makes them unique. Schools are looking for “original thinkers”…. “original doers” and in your Common App you want to show off just what makes you different from your peers. It may be something you don’t even realize, or pay much attention to, so look for it!
I had one student for example, who had spent her life studying ballet at a very high artistic level, where she was even asked to join a big city ballet company as an apprentice, and yet she didn’t think this was something worth mentioning, and instead wrote her essay on a science fair she participated in (wrong approach). Another student of mine had had an extremely interesting life growing up in a town where he and his brother were the only Jewish kids in their entire school system in the rural South. He (again, wrong approach) wrote about going on a summer trip to Mexico with his high school class. WRITE ABOUT SOMETHING UNUSUAL! The most unusual experience, or fact, or interest in your life that you can think of. Done well, that is what will get you in.
- Social media is a boon for some students and a bane for others. Does Harvard search up students’ social media profiles during the admissions process?
I actually was an admissions interviewer for Harvard before social media was so prevalent, so can’t officially answer this question on Harvard’s behalf. However, as a general rule, if an admissions committee is very interested in someone, or if they’re on the fence about a candidate, they will sometimes google the student to see what comes up, and this includes more often than not, facebook profiles. It simply helps to put a face with a name in most cases, and that is really often all they are looking at, just trying to get a “feel” for the applicant, but whether admissions officers will admit to this practice or not, is debatable. Again, wasn’t around as an option 15 years ago!
- What advice would you give to students who want to succeed in an admissions interview?
I actually offer free interview prep for all the students who work with me on their applications, at no extra charge. We go in-depth into what they can expect, how to prepare, how to present themselves, but in general, the overriding action needs to be: confidence. No matter what you say, it is going to be more important how you say it. Again, this is something I work on with my clients more specifically.
4. Some students I know are self-studying for AP exams in subjects that aren’t offered at their schools, and not taking the actual class itself. Is this a good idea?
It is a good idea if they can do it well, and score well on the exam. By “well,” I mean achieve a 4 or a 5. Preferably a 5. Anything less and I would not report. I would also consider enrolling in a community college class if the student’s school doesn’t offer a particular AP that they’re interested in, as the admissions committee will be impressed that they had the ambition and drive to branch out and education themselves on their own, outside their immediate resources.
5. Are some majors harder to get into compared to other majors at Harvard?
Not if you can demonstrate “original thought” in terms of why a particular major is right for you, why a particular interest stems out, and can be backed up by, your own unique experience. Saying, “I want to be a Biology major, so I can be pre-med” or, “I want to major in Economics so I can get my MBA and eventually work on Wall Street” isn’t going to get you in, unless that uniqueness in terms of your background and experience can shine through.
So, in that regard, saying you want to major in Latin, because you are very interested in expanding your already ongoing research in ancient Catholic cryptology, and have already published papers on the topic in some well-read Vatican journals…is going to give you a better chance than the pre-med student above, but it all depends on you and, again, what makes you uniquely interesting in your major of choice.
6. What general advice would you recommend to students who have been waitlisted, or students who are appealing their decision?
First, I have known both clients and friends who were waitlisted and then got in at the very last minutes, so there is always hope! The best thing you can do, is follow the school’s instructions and submit any additional materials IF REQUESTED. If nothing is requested, than you simply have to wait it out, also knowing that you could consider transferring after your first year elsewhere if you truly wanted to try to get into that particular school.
- What are the main qualities Harvard wants to see in extracurricular activities?
Again, uniqueness! I can’t stress this enough. Everyone who applies to Harvard is President of some school club, ether plays the piano or the violin (at an extremely exceptional level), and/or is on the swim team or math team (take your pick). Everyone also volunteers and “gives back.” It’s all the same.
What they’re looking for though, once again, is originality. What do you do with your time that’s unique? What do you do with your time that’s already at an adult level? Find what makes you different and emphasize it throughout your college application…especially if you are applying to the Ivy League. These schools pride themselves on creating an “interesting” class. A class where you look at the person next to you and think, “wow, that’s really cool.” Be that person and you add to the school’s diversity. That is what will get you in, on top of already having the excellent scores and grades.
If you have always dreamed of having your son or daughter graduate from an Ivy League college — which, to define the term, are the eight schools that make up the Ivy League and including: Harvard, Princeton, Yale (the “Big Three”), as well as Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania — there are many thing you can do that will help your teen succeed in the Ivy League college admissions and college application process.
#1. Make sure they take as many AP courses as possible: College admissions officers, especially Ivy League college admissions officers want to see that your student is not only challenging themselves by taking the most challenging courses possible at their particular school, but they want to see that they are ALREADY fully immersed in college-level classes, before they even get to college. So, if your student’s high school DOESN’T offer any AP course work, make sure they get it somewhere else (like enrolling in a community college at night).
This shows that they will be able to handle the work-load once they get in to a highly competitive school. It shows they have the intellect and can take the pressure, and that kind of proof is what makes admissions officers happy, and lets your high school student actually pass the test and get in!
#2: Make sure they have extracurricular activities that are interesting and different: By different, this means something more unique than piano, violin, or swimming. Oh no! What if you’re saying, “but my kid is taking piano, violin and swimming!”
These activities are fine if they’re either a musical prodigy, or an Olympic medalist, but in case they’re not, try…just try…to branch out and have the, expand into other activities that will make them stand out more than their friends and become even more unique to college admissions officers – again, especially Ivy League college admissions officers.
Schools like to diversify their class, and they like students who have done, or are doing, incredibly interesting things. So, branch out. Do something different – on top of the regular “smart kid” activities like classical music or Model UN. You don’t want to just do what every other smart kid does: ESPECIALLY for the Ivy League!
#3: Let them choose their own, real interests: Don’t push your kid to go into Engineering or Finance as a potential major in college if they’re sincerely telling you they want to study Greek, or eventually get a Ph.D in Microbiology. The college admissions officers want to know what REALLY interests your student, again, especially for the Ivy League, and what they don’t want to see is someone who’s been programmed by their parents to say something that simply sounds like the hot thing to study right now, or with the only purpose of setting your student up for a (perceived) well-paying job.
The Ivy League schools in particular like to admit students who want to study something DIFFERENT. Remember, they employ a lot of professors, and they need to fill the Greek classes, too. The Ivy League colleges often admit students who have a WIDE VARIETY OF INTERESTS, especially in the humanities.
These are also the students who might later go on to law school, or medical school, enter a policy program in foreign relations, and/or get their Ph.D.
The Ivy League colleges in particular like students who appreciate the value of a broad education — one that will leave them post-graduation with a full and solid understanding of today’s world. In other worlds, the Ivy League colleges are more interested in graduating people who will always be “well-educated” by anyone’s standards, and that means being able to speak on a wide variety of interests and topics at some depth.
What they are NOT interested in, are people who are simply looking at college as a way to get a job. They try to weed those “non-intellectuals” the “non-scholars” out. Those students honestly are better served by going to a state school or one of the more highly competitive science or engineering schools like MIT.
In summary, Ivy League colleges are for students who appreciate learning…about everything! They are students who have a passion for new things and intellectual topics, and understand and are well-versed in a wide-variety of literary, artistic, political, and academic possibilities.
If you can encourage THAT mindset, your child has a chance to get in. Strong essays, high grades, good SAT scores, glowing teacher recommendations, and a nice interview all help complete the admissions package, but instilling in your student a desire to learn, about everything and anything as they go forth…that’s what Ivy League admissions officers look for the most, and THAT will help them get in!
[I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer and a Harvard graduate, and currently run the Ivy League college admissions consulting firm: IVY COLLEGE ESSAY.com Contact me for a free consultation today, and get into the Ivy League! IvyLeagueEssayInfo@gmail.com ]
Thinking About Transferring to Another College? What You Need to Know… GalleryBerkeley, Boston University, Brown, College Admissions, Columbia, Common App, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Emory, Harvard, Ivy League, Michigan, MIT, NYU, Princeton, Standford, UCLA, UGA, UPenn, Yale
Deciding to transfer schools is a big decision when you’re in college. Whether you’re in your first or second year, transferring will entail making new friends, living most likely in a new city, and making sure that your current credits transfer to make it all worth your while.
That said, there’s a lot that can come out of transferring, especially if you truly don’t like your current school. I fully believe that there is no reason to stay somewhere you don’t like once you have given it a good try. Instead you should try to salvage what you can of your college career, pick yourself up and find a better place, so you can still have great memories, great friends, and (most importantly to the admissions committee) a much better academic experience that better aligns with your goals.
And, that’s where I will start: What You Really Need To Know For a Great College Transfer Application.
1. You need to make it about the academics
Colleges understand that perhaps you don’t have any friends, or just don’t feel “connected” at your current school. Maybe you’re going to a community college and want to go to a 4-year program, or maybe you just want OUT, anywhere that isn’t where you are, or perhaps anywhere not so close to home.
Whatever your reasons, what you tell the college admissions committee needs to focus on your ACADEMIC reasons for transferring, and not your social ones. Successful applicants always have an academic reason for wanting to go elsewhere. For example, perhaps you can’t major in Biophysics where you are, because your school just doesn’t offer that major, and would therefore have to settle for a more general degree in Biology, which will limit what you really want to be studying.
Or, perhaps there is a professor at another school who is doing research on EXACTLY the topic and speciality you’re interested in, and that’s why you “need” to transfer in order to take advantage of the best opportunity you can.
Perhaps it makes more sense if you want to study economics to be in a big financial capital like New York, or perhaps you’re an English major but really want to be a Journalism major, and your school “just doesn’t offer that.”
Those are the reasons that will get you in: something ACADEMIC that is logical and makes sense. Basically, you want the admissions committee to read your essays and say, “yes, that is a very logical and appropriate reason for wanting to transfer.” It’s that response that will get you in.
[I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer and a Harvard grad. I currently run the college admissions consulting firm: www.IvyLeagueEssay.com Looking to transfer colleges? Contact me for a free consultation today!]
So, it’s official. You’ve decided it’s time to start working on your Common App. Good for you! Great even. You’re not procrastinating! That is, until you looked at the prompts and thought, “I have absolutely NO IDEA what to say, let alone guess what the colleges are even looking for.” This thought perhaps made you panicked, sick, ill, malaised (i.e. good SAT word, write it down), and forced you to have visions of working at a donut shop for the rest of your life, (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Perhaps you had plans though of potentially setting off for Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or some other picturesque U.S. school to watch football games, meet great life-long friends, STUDY and get an excellent education, and just do something incredibly solid and interesting with your life…but then messed it all up with the Common App and destroyed the dream. Done. OVER. Donut?
Well, stop worrying. We’re going to go through the prompts one by one, and if you take away my key points from each of the questions, you’re going to do more than fine.
Prompt #1: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
This essay is a great chance to show your uniqueness, your individuality, what makes you different, and college admissions officers LOVE different. Did you hear that? They read so many applications, that they truly gravitate towards those students who are unique and stand out. So, do you have something unique in your background? Have you done something unusual? Is there something different about your family that makes you interesting? Here is where you write about what makes you different from others in your school. What does make you different from your friends. Remember, different = interesting.
PROMPT #2: Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
Make sure you answer each of the questions stated in this prompt and you’ll do fine. Mostly though, you want to pick a negative experience (a “failure”) that then has a positive spin — that shows your self-reflection and ability to pick yourself up and move forward stronger than before! This essay is a good choice if STRENGTH and FORTITUDE are two of your major traits.
PROMPT #3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
This essay is here to show your character. What are you passionate about? What are you willing to stand up for, even in the face of adversity? As with prompt #2, make sure you address all of the questions within the question – that is part of what you are being tested on. This essay is a good choice if you have very strong morals and values and are willing to make a public stand. Always be aware of your audience though, and take into consideration how things will be perceived by the admissions committee. In other words, choose your battles wisely.
PROMPT #4: Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
I like this essay, as it is the most creative. Again, make sure you address all three points, and focus equally on description as well as self-reflection: why this is meaningful to YOU. I’ve read very lyrical essays that describe a place, only to not understand its significance for the student. Similarly, I’ve read very factual essays for this prompt that have no description or emotional feeling or language. Balance both, and do it in a creative way, and you’ll win by giving your reader insight into your world.
PROMPT #5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
What the admissions committee is looking for here, is growth. Your growth. That moment when your world changed. Pick an event that clearly shows how you were before, and then how you were different after. Again, as with the other essays, they are looking for self-reflection. This essay also allows for a lot of creativity and I have found sometimes the smaller, less formal and more personal events or moments in life make for the best, most moving essays – and that advice goes for all of the prompts, above.
The season is upon us. Now is a good time to start your Common App. You’re a month into the new school year, you’ve settled in, and now the Common App is starting you in the face. Day and night. You try to forget about it, but you can’t. It’s always there in the back of your mind. College Application time. You know it’s time to begin, but HOW? How! How can you create the absolute best admission essays possible when you have absolutely no idea what to write about, what the admission committee is looking for, and what will make a really strong college essay and application.
Oh yeah, and did I mention your entire future seems to appear to depend upon this?
Don’t worry though, because I am going to walk you through the process. Tell you how you can master the Common Application and make the most of your college choices and, to be more direct, get into the best schools possible…including The Ivy League: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, UPenn, and Cornell. The top. I mean, what if you want to go there? How can you tackle the Common App and catapult your way to the top?
Let’s start with the questions. These are the choices for your Common App Essay:
- Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
- Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Which one to choose, you say? Which one will be the best one to write about? Here’s what I say: go with the one that is going to contain the most EMOTION. Emotion is powerful, good or bad, and the examples you choose, if they have a certain emotional weight to them when you think about it, that will add weight (and admissions committee engagement) to your essay. In other words, emotion or powerful experiences (which is really what I mean) serves to ENGAGE your reader, and an engaged reader is going to not only remember your essay, but feel that you truly conveyed a mood, and environment, and an experience.
In other words, they will feel they got to know YOU just a little bit more than if you had written about something “less powerful” that didn’t engage.
Go with the powerful emotions. The experiences and examples for any of the above, that convey some kind of emotion, and make you feel, because that is going to translate to your essay.
More tips and advice to come…
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!