With acceptance rates in the single digits, why are so many students compelled to throw their application into the pool with hopes of attending an Ivy League school? Known initially for their outstanding performance in athletics, the term Ivy League was coined in 1954 naming the NCAA athletic conference division for Harvard, Yale, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Columbia. Consistently ranked as top colleges for their educational success as well as their medical and law school programs, the Ivys are sought after for the prestige of earning a diploma from one of these revered colleges.
The Ivys have been known to turn away students with perfect SAT scores and GPA’s of 4.0 plus. What exactly are these colleges looking for in their students? While many tout using a holistic approach, they are looking for unicorns. That one student who stands apart from others– the student teachers describe in recommendation letters as, “The most amazing student I have taught in my career!” In addition to meeting the numerical benchmarks for GPA and test scores, the rigor of a student’s high school programming is also taken into consideration. Did the student take the highest level of courses available? Did they take all five core subjects for all four years of high school? What school activities does the student participate in, for how long, and have they progressed to leadership roles within these activities? What does the student do outside of school? Do they have a part time job, volunteer, take care of siblings? Are there any special circumstances or any significant accomplishments? What classes is the student enrolled in senior year and yes, colleges will look at senior year grades. Sometimes being a legacy may still help to tilt the scale in an applicants favor, however, if the other elements are not there, it is likely the student will not become a part of the chosen few.
So how do you get on the radar of these highly competitive colleges? If attending an Ivy League school is your goal, start as early as freshman year so you can work toward establishing a strong foundation meeting the basic criteria mentioned above. Make sure you have met or exceeded the general prerequisites and then start building a profile, essay, and application highlighting your unique, magnificent qualities. Now is the time to brag about the club you started, the success of the business you created, or the science courses you are taking at a local college because you exhausted the science curriculum at your high school. As you complete your application and move on to your essays, try not repeat information the colleges will already have about you. For example, if you won All State for track and listed it as an award on your application, don’t write an essay about how winning the award was the best moment or biggest challenge of your life. Instead introduce new information about yourself so every aspect of the application is another piece of the puzzle that is you. Use all available resources. Harvard is transparent about what they look for in applicants–take advantage of information posted on college websites.
As you peruse these Ivy League websites you will see phrases like early decision, regular decision, and restrictive early action. How do you know which is the best way to submit your application? Applying early decision is binding–meaning if you are admitted to the college you agree to attend and withdraw applications from other colleges to which you have applied. Applying early decision declares, “This is where I want to go to college!” If you are a strong candidate it can work in your favor. Applying regular decision is beneficial if you want an opportunity to get more grades and course work under your belt. It gives you all of your first semester to demonstrate you are indeed Ivy League material. Restrictive early action allows students to apply early without the commitment to attend, however it prevents them from applying to other private schools early action or early decision. Ivy League colleges will offer either restrictive early action or early decision but few offer both.
Keep in mind there are many great schools out there! The perfect college is the one that promotes growth academically, socially, and personally preparing students for the next phase of their life.