The biggest secret you will ever learn
about Ivy League admissions
It’s the stories, not the scores.
It’s the stories, stupid.
This is one of the biggest secrets that I share in my guide to elite college admissions.
Students are doing it ALL WRONG. They focus on the WRONG THINGS – things like an extra 50 points on the Math section of the SAT; 2 more AP tests; joining another language club at school.
It’s ALL WRONG.
Students fail to put themselves in the shoes of application readers and admissions committees.
Admissions committees review THOUSANDS OF APPLICATIONS. There are thousands of valedictorians. Hundreds of perfect 2400 SATs. Hundreds of national champions in every conceivable sport or subject.
Regardless of how accomplished you are – there are people who are more accomplished.
What does this mean?
It means you need to stop focusing on the small things. You need to PUT YOURSELF INTO THE SHOES of people who ACTUALLY MAKE DECISIONS.
Here’s the secret: Admissions Officers love stories. They love GETTING TO KNOW the candidates. They love understanding a candidate’s passions, fears, hopes, and dreams.
No student does this well – they focus too much on promoting scores and successes, not on relating to the readers.
So focus on that! Focus on activities that develop your passions. Focus on essays that describe how your experiences have made you who you are.
STOP WORRYING ABOUT BEING WELL-ROUNDED. IT DOESN’T HELP.
It’s about depth over breadth, always. That’s the one college admissions tip that you need to know.
In future posts, I will go into the details about how to build these stories. But the simple secret is – stop worrying about your SAT. It will never get you into Harvard or Princeton.
College admissions help:
a unique way to set yourself apart
Are you interested in the internet? Technology? Business? Are you simply looking to standout in college admissions? Challenge yourself to a new opportunity?
Here’s an out of the box idea that will help your quest to get into Stanford: offer to be an intern at a startup!
It’s easier than you think – it requires leg-work and initiative on your part, but it looks great on college applications and can help you move your careers and professional interests to the next level.
Here are two examples of how it can be done:
1) Search for local startups through Google. Email them with a brief description of your background, and tell them you’re interested in an unpaid part-time or summer internship.
The key here is local – these will give you the best shot since it’s convenient for you and them, and there’s greater overlap in interests, backgrounds, etc
2) Browse through the online services that you use the most and love – such as Facebook, Myspace, Imeem, and so on. Look through their websites and get in touch with human resources staff or recruiters. Explain your story. Again, offer to work in an unpaid position or any position they have available
Startups are always looking for more help, especially if it’s free. Showing initiative like that in high school will impress any company. Even if they say no, you have nothing to lose.
An internship will strengthen your college application – it will bolster your work experience and leadership/initiative-taking. It will also be one helluva story to tell in college essays or alumni interviews.
Finally – and here’s the best part – it could lead to a unique and outstanding recommendation. Everyone else just has recs from teachers – what if you got one from your CEO? Win-win-win. Harvard here we come.
5 Secrets Of Ivy League Admissions
Ivy League schools look for careers, not another “I went to Sri Lanka to build homes” college essay
Very very important. Just because you went to Africa for 2 months to promote AIDs awareness does not make you a global citizen. It does not make you a committed public servant. You need to show more than short stints like that to impress admissions offices.
So just because you have one impressive highlight, I wouldn’t focus too much on it. After all, that volunteer trip to Sri Lanka was 2 months. You’ve been in high school for 4 years – what else do you have to show?
It’s much better to talk about commitments that you’ve had for many years, where over time you’ve gradually built up a record of achievements. It shows schools like Yale that you really care about a particular topic, and you’re not just resume-padding for college admissions.
Ivy League schools look for a balanced class, not perfectly balanced students
I’ve said this again and again. Colleges may want a well-rounded class, but they certainly don’t need every student to be perfectly well-rounded Renaissance men and women.
99% of applicants do it wrong. Why? Because they want to be good at everything. As a result, they have no focus, no personality, no clear story of why they deserve to go to an Ivy League school.
While it’s important to do well in most areas (such as academics, standardized tests, and high school extracurriculars), you need to focus on one or two areas where you’re really passionate, whether science or math, painting or calligraphy, wrestling or waterboarding. Try to be the best in the world at that one thing! I guarantee your chances of getting into Harvard will be much higher.
Ivy League schools look for demonstrated interest
I mentioned this briefly in my Get into Harvard post. Demonstrated interest is important – so visit the campus if you can. If you can’t, here are a few things you can do:
1) Connect with friends or people you’ve met that go to your target schools. You can talk about these conversations in your essays and college admissions interviews, and you’ll learn more about the university during the process
2) Ask the admissions office to speak with student ambassadors. Sometimes they’ll refer you to current undergraduates who are willing to speak with high-potential applicants
Ivy League schools look for a good fit
Culture matters. Every school is different – think Princeton vs Yale, Columbia vs Cornell. Clearly they have different student bodies, different histories, different strengths, and so forth. Sometimes you may just be a great fit for one school and not another – depending on your passions, your accomplishments, where you’re from, and the personality of your college essays.
A good fit is important – if you care enough, it’s important to tailor your college essays to each school. As an example, if you apply to Wharton I would focus on your interest in global business. Princeton loves wordly people who have artistic and athletic strengths, so play to those in your Princeton app.
Customize and stand apart in college admissions!
Ivy League schools look for a lifelong record of achievement, not one lucky year
This is extremely important. You can’t expect to have a great freshman year and then slack off the rest of high school. Simultaneously, you can’t expect to have a bad freshman year and think that by working harder the next 3 years, you’ll get into Stanford. You need to always be working hard – while you can make up for occasional lapses, you’ll need to DOUBLE your efforts.
My Ivy League admissions guide is all about how to make up with smart, secret last-minute tactics. But my general advice is that you need to start early, and you need to show a consistent record of success over the years in everything – from academics to extracurriculars, from athletics to community service.
Why a 4.0 high school GPA
& 2400 SAT won’t get you into Harvard
First off, there’s no need to freak out if you’re not the valedictorian or salutatorian.
Did you know that the vast majority of admits to Harvard and Stanford aren’t?
Here’s what you need to know about your high school GPA to get into the Ivy Leagues:
1) It’s ok to have a poor freshman year GPA. What’s important is to show an UPWARD TREND – improvement over time
2) As important as your high school GPA is your transcript and the classes you take. Be sure to take the HARDEST CLASSES AVAILABLE – APs, IB, etc
3) Make your junior year count. It’s the one that Admissions Committees focus the most on – you want your best grades in this year
4) Don’t forget about the SAT. It counts as much (and sometimes more) than your high school GPA and class ranking
5) As long as you’re in the top 5 percent of your class, roughly speaking, you’ll be fine
Canadians reading this: thinking about applying to Harvard, Stanford, or any school in the States? You probably have much less information handy regarding the SATs, but don’t worry – there are plenty of SAT preparation courses available that’ll get you ready. Just do a little poking around online and talk to your teachers and guidance counselors.
I’m not recommending you do the BARE MINIMUM necessary. You should always aim for #1.
But, follow my 5 steps above, and you’ll be fine. Focus on your passions – whether that’s sports, science, or social studies.
Learn how to get into Harvard now!
I went through this process awhile back and was accepted to 6 Ivies and Stanford. I wrote a book on college admissions help called Hopeless to Harvard.
I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on this article from readers, and wanted to clarify and elaborate on a few points:
-What matters more than your junior year being the best in terms of grades is that you are on an UPWARD TREND. Ivy League schools like to see consistent improvement – it indicates that you’re working hard and getting better
-Top 5% is great at good high schools like Thomas Jefferson, Stuyvesant, TAMS, Whitney, etc – but is not the best at smaller high schools in Middle America. As with everything I say here, take it with a grain of salt – if your school only has 200 students and has only sent 1 to Wharton in the past 5 years, being top 5% will NOT be enough
-I canNOT emphasize enough how important taking hard classes is. Admissions committees will significantly discount standard math, science, history, etc classes if you are not taking Honors/Pre-AP/AP/IB – provided that your school offers them. The only exception is if you took a normal, non-Honors class, and then scored a 5 on that subject’s Advanced Placement Exam
Last minute Common Application tips
to get into your dream school
College applications are like artwork – there are a million ways to craft your own Common Application, but only the best products will get into Ivy League schools.
If you’re like me, you waited until the last minute before thinking about college admissions. It’s a tough battle – I share a few emergency college admissions tips here – but I want to provide more examples of how you can make a poor piece of art look like Picasso.
1. Exaggerate the “Approximate Time Spent” column – but only on your 2 most IMPRESSIVE ACCOMPLISHMENTS (if this feels uncomfortable for you, good luck going to state school next year). Do not put ridiculous numbers that don’t add up!
2. Exaggerate the “Grade level” and number of years commitment – again, only on your 2 or 3 most impressive accomplishments, and do not make it look like you were a member of the same 6 clubs since freshman year
3. Include numbers to highlight specific achievements in your clubs and work experiences:
You managed 10 interns each summer
You helped increase sales by 33%
You increased membership by 200%
You grew the club budget from $500 to $1000
4. Use strong words in describing your extracurriculars – words like LEAD, FOUNDED, CREATED, BUILT, INVENTED
Those are just 4 tips for last-minute applications – I include many more in my guide to getting into Harvard. As a former Admissions Officer, I know exactly what counts, and most importantly, the minor differences in the application itself between the strongest candidates and the waitlisted ones.
Think of yourself as a salesman – if you want to win the admissions game, you must promote yourself well!