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What are some tips for high school students looking to apply to ivy league schools?

I am a high school sophomore looking to apply to several prestigious universities. I'd like to know what kind of things that they look for besides good grades. #high-school-students #ivyleague #harvard #yale #columbia #high-school-classes #high-school #college

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Subject: Career question for you


5 answers

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John’s Answer

Grades and courses matter Paige, but top colleges want more than just students who work hard and get good grades. You need to demonstrate that you willingly go above and beyond what’s required of you in your classes because you have a love of learning and curiosity. Admissions officers will be looking for your academic niche: an interesting field or two; supported by courses, independent research, projects, or endeavors that you’ve dug into because you are curious, college admissions officers want to know you'll blossom once on campus.

ESSAY – Admissions officers reading your essays look for authenticity and want to know who you are, what you care about, why you do the things you do, and your goals and aspirations. A tall order for a 650-word essay, but it can be done. For starters, write about something you know. Don’t just recount the details of something you’ve done or experienced, but reflect on how you’ve grown and been shaped by it. Essay prompts are intentionally open-ended, so write about what you are genuinely interested in. Evolutionary anthropology, Middle Eastern studies, political feminism, machine learning, artificial intelligence – don’t be shy about the topics and questions that have captured your imagination. Show – don’t tell – the reader what makes you unique and distinctive. Find a creative angle or hook for your essay and let the rest flow from there. Be honest and authentic about what matters to you and why.

CHARACTOR – Most students are a bit biased when it comes to reviewing their qualifications, and they are going to go the extra mile in presenting themselves in the best light possible. That’s why admissions reps look to letters of recommendation for a more objective perspective. They know no
 applicant will ask someone for a recommendation if they think that person
 won’t speak highly of them, It’s the ones that
 are passionate, then, that stand out. So it’s important for you to 
seek out recommenders who truly know you and believe in you—people who
 can get very specific as to why you deserves that spot, why you
 are exceptional, etc.

LEADERSHIP – You’ve heard for some time that college admissions committees look for well-rounded students who engaged in a variety of activities while in high school. And while that’s true, they’re actually more interested in students who took on a leadership position within a few select organizations. If you are a member of 7 different groups, the odds are that you are spread thin and may not have had major impact on any one group. Being involved at a higher level not only shows leadership, but it can also give insight into the your personality and values.

LIFE – School activities are great, as is a strong GPA and high test scores, but admissions committees also want to know that you have a life outside of academics. Volunteer work shows a commitment to the community at large, which admissions reps certainly appreciate. But there’s a lot to be said for students who have held down real jobs. Jobs and internships show your desire to learn and
 grow beyond school, and they demonstrate your financial responsibility and 
time-management skills.

NEGATIVITY – Since it seems as though most teens’ preferred method of communication is online, it should come as no surprise that college admission reps are checking will check your social media profiles. Yes, admissions officers do check
 Facebook, so be mindful of how you present yourself online. College admissions officers are increasingly using your social media profiles to learn more about you, so keep it positive.

Good Luck Paige

John recommends the following next steps:

APPY EARLY – Your junior and senior year of high school can be tough, with standardized testing, visiting colleges and actually making sure you graduate. But when it comes time to fill out college applications, apply early. It will show you have a committed interest in the school and that applying wasn’t just a last-ditch, throwaway effort.
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Leslie’s Answer

Hi Paige. I would definitely say that your SAT/ACT scores are extremely important. Some schools have cut-offs and won't look at your app unless you have meet a certain requirement. Other than that, it is important to be super specific regarding why you want to attend that institution. In your supplemental essays make sure you get into detail about your why. Look up specific professors you are interested in working with and also clubs you are interested in joining. Mention all of that in your app and they will love it.
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Jennifer’s Answer

Hello! I would recommend that you focus on your grades and test scores. With test scores, there is not much you can do besides studying on your own time and utilizing resources (Khan Academy!), but with grades, I would recommend utilizing what your school has to offer you to the best of your ability. For example, if your school offers AP classes, then go for them! Taking the initiative to do well in these higher level classes is impressive. Now, with extracurriculars, don't spread yourself too thin. Do a few that you are very passionate about and willing to put the time in, as it will give you much more to talk about when you are asked to describe it. With extracurriculars, being a leader (starting your own club, running for student government) shows organization and problem-solving skills that will be asked about, so if you can, try to act as a leader in one of your extracurriculars. Another alternative is community service! Volunteering and service shows true passion, dedication and character. It is always commendable to serve those who are in need. Your essay is also important as well - think on what experiences have shaped you into who you are today and why that growth is remarkable to you or what you have learned as a result (this is just one prompt, but there are also others). There will never be one right answer, as colleges look for different things, but hope some of this helped. Good luck!
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Adam’s Answer

Hi Paige.

Nearly all of the elite universities, including those in the Ivy League, use what they call a wholistic admissions process. Put in plain English, when admissions officers review applications, they don't just plug grades, test scores, and extracurriculars into some calculator, instead they actively try to answer the question "how will this person contribute to our campus." Their job is to select students who fill different niches in the hope of building a class that is excellent in many different ways.

So what does this mean for you? Unfortunately, I'm not saying grades and test scores are insignificant. Speaking as a member of Harvard Class of 2020, nearly everyone I met on campus had excellent high school grades and SAT scores. Doing well in school and on standardized tests is for the most part prerequisite to being considered by an elite university. At the end of the day, there are more high performing kids than spots, so if you want to increase your odds, you have to think from the admissions officer's perspective.

They want to know what niche you will fill on campus. Beyond getting good grades and test scores, your job as an applicant is to answer that question with evidence. Your niche is something you should start thinking about as early as possible. Are you political? Do you love reading? Is there a cause or scientific question that animates you? Think about your interests and how they might connect, and then think about ways you can pursue those connections in an extra-curricular setting. Not only will this intentionality make your application more coherent, but it will also make your essays easier to write.

When I was in high school, I liked politics, science, and volunteering with children with autism. Early on, I decided to brand myself as a multidisciplinary thinker who was deeply motivated to better the lives of people with autism. I know that sounds cynical, but I honestly was "a multidisciplinary thinker who was deeply motivated to (you get the point)." The trick was in making that my north star early, and then building my resume around it. I continued volunteering with those children, but I also began volunteering politically and used that experience to get an internship with a mental health advocacy organization. Then, through some cold emails, I managed to get an internship as an RA with a professor using mice to study autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. By the time I was applying to school, my application as somebody who pursued multiple avenues to help people with autism wrote itself, and it did so well enough that I was admitted to Harvard, Stanford, and Duke.

I'll also point out that I was rejected from as many good schools as I was accepted to. At its core, college admissions is random. You can do everything right and still get rejected. So cast a wide net and embrace the uncertainty of this process. Getting into college is not an endpoint; it's the first step of going to college. Your dream school might not be what you think it is (mine certainly wasn't), andas long as you stay curious, hard-working, and self-motivated, every college on earth has resources to keep you inspired.

So pursue your interests, intentionally, in an active and thoughtful way. You'll never regret leaning into the things you're passionate about, and that's the kind of thinking admissions officers appreciate. And if it turns out that you're not actually a politician in waiting who is going to revolutionize mental healthcare (spend a three months on Capital Hill and you'll lose that idealism quick), then it's a good thing college is a place place for finding yourself, no matter where you go!

Adam recommends the following next steps:

Think through your interests.
Establish common themes until you've distilled your 'brand' as an applicant.
Look for extra-curricular activities that evidence this brand.
Lean into these activities.
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Brandon’s Answer

Hi Paige, there's some great answers here already so I'll simply add this - I think it's very important to be passionate about something and have a demonstrated track record of pursuing and excelling in that passion. I don't think it particularly matters what that passion is: robotics, violin, triathlon, etc. What matters is that you demonstrate that you are more than just a GPA and test score and that you will bring something special to the school and enrich your classmates' university experience. Every serious applicant will have a sterling academic record and extracurricular activities so that's not really going to set you apart. I think admissions officers in these programs are also very good at discerning who is stacking up extracurriculars to bolster their application vs. who is actually passionate about something and pursuing that passion in an organic way. So my advice to you is to throw yourself wholeheartedly into your passion (or passions). You may or may not get into your dream college as a result of that but I can almost guarantee that you will come out on the other side of that as a better person for having done it. Best of luck to you.