1) Extracurriculars – The Ivy League often looks for students who not only have strong academic strengths, but also for students who they consider “well-rounded”, meaning socially capable, engaged in their school, and high achieving. They gauge this through two measures, the essay and the students extracurricular activities, which can include community service, sports, clubs, science fairs, and similar activities. There are two mistakes students make in this process however. First, when picking extracurriculars, you should try to find ones that make you stand out. The Ivy League reads thousands of applications where the student volunteered for his church for hundreds of hours. Although this may be incredibly selfless and virtuous, this does not add diversity to the university nor does it make you stand out. Pick an extracurricular like your school’s Gay-Straight Alliance or environmental club, or volunteer at an AIDS hospice or local wildlife protection group. Becoming involved in a niche group is a key to making yourself stand out to the admissions councils at Ivy Leagues. Secondly, do not spread yourself thin over an enormous number of extracurriculars. Focus on three or four, and become highly involved. Don’t be a member of 20 clubs that you went to two meetings for.
2) The Essay – The essay is a very critical portion of your essay because it is one of the rare times when the admissions officer can hear your personality. Thus, it is critical that you are able to communicate a positive and personable personality. You may still speak of times when you did something you regret, but the essential component of the essay should show personal growth. Key traits that you should try to demonstrate when deciding on how to address the prompt should be: open-minded, compassionate, inquisitive, outgoing, laid back, funny, extroverted, thoughtful, engaging, and optimistic. The essay can be the most difficult component for many students, which is why I often recommend that they utilize some sort of college admissions counseling service, which can be found through online counseling firms or through counselors in your area.
3) The Standardized Tests – Let’s clear one thing up right now: You do not need perfect SAT/ACT scores to be accepted to an Ivy League school. What you do need is very strong SAT/ACT scores. I would aim for between a 2200-2400 on the SAT or 32-36 on the ACT. All the Ivy Leagues will take both equally, so my advice would be to take practice tests of both online, and find which you feel more comfortable with, prepare for it, and do well. Regardless of whether you take the SAT or ACT, I would advise students take 2 or 3 SAT II’s. Students should definitely be the Math 2 test (Preferable done the June or May of the year the student takes Pre-Calculus). The other two can be geared towards the major the student will be applying towards and in areas where they have taken AP classes successfully. Engineering majors should do Physics/Chemistry, science majors Physics/Chemistry/Biology, Liberal Arts major should take the English Lit/Histories/and foreign language.
4) Grades/Transcript – Your transcript is an essential part of your application. No matter how amazing your essay or extracurriculars are, if you around outside the top quarter of your class, you should try to find other schools to apply to. During high school, it is critical that you not only make very strong grades, but that you also have taken the most rigorous classes offered by your high school. You should not have many instances on your transcript where you took the regular version of a class that is also offered in the AP/IB curriculum. Also, taking four year of foreign language is not required, but it does make you more appealing to the universities. A dominant theme in admissions these days is a multicultural emphasis, and taking a foreign language extensively demonstrates that you are interested in different parts of the world.
5) Interview – The interview is another critical element to your application because it is one of the few chances when an admissions officer or alumni can directly speak to you. And don’t stress out if you’re a shy person! The goal of this interview isn’t to see whether you’re going to be the biggest party animal on campus, it’s to determine how genuine, intelligent, personable, inquisitive and friendly you are. It’s also important that you demonstrate to the alumni that you are highly interested in the school, so be prepared to ask the alumni questions about his experience at that school. The interview is a great opportunity to show yourself off, so don’t stress out too much and just try to enjoy the conversation for the 30-45 minutes that it lasts.