The Ivies have always held the allure of elite educational institutions that seem to magically open doors for their graduates. And they’ve always been hard to get into – only the best students or those with connections, it seems. Nowadays, the criteria for admission are broader, but with so many extraordinary applicants at home and abroad, the competition is more intense than ever. According to top college coach Michele Hernandez, nearly a quarter million students applied to Ivy League colleges last year, with fewer than 10% admitted (and less than 7% at Harvard)! While there is no surefire way to get that fat envelope from Columbia or Princeton on April 15th, successful applicants each are special in some way. Here are some of the top predictors of Ivy League admissions:
– Be the son or daughter of a VIP, world leader or other person of power and influence. Be famous already in your own right, like Emma Watson of the Harry Potter movies – and now Brown. Ivy League colleges benefit from the reflected glory and connections that celebrity and power confer.
– Buy the college a new admissions building – or student center, athletic facility, library, etc. But beware: the richest, most ivy-covered Ivies, like Harvard and Yale, have plenty of rich donors. Don’t think you can play this game unless your daddy truly is one of the big boys.
– Be a top athlete, especially in a sport in which the college competes. Last year, 7% of Cornell’s admits were recruited athletes, according to the Cornell Review. According to another report in The Daily Beast, “male athletes are four times more likely to be admitted to any Ivy League school than a non-athletic male. For female athletes, the advantages are even greater.
– Be a smart guy at a college that has a preponderance of women, or a smart woman at a college that has a majority of men. Show true interest, accomplishment and aptitude in a subject area that is usually less popular with your gender, e.g. engineering for girls or women’s studies for guys. By the same reasoning, it is to your advantage to be from an unusual or obscure spot on the globe and to be of unusual ethnicity for that college. Admissions officers like applicants who are different and who add to obvious marks of diversity. It’s not easy to measure differences in scholarly approaches, but everyone can see the little flags in the admissions brochure, marking where that college’s students come from around the globe.
– Be a member of a historically underserved population, an ethnic or racial minority. Even better, be a member of the first generation in your family to go to college.
– Alternately, be a legacy! At U Penn, the college opens an Early Decision admissions office exclusively for the children of their alumni. When that office closes before the regular admissions season, legacy admissions are done.
– Excel in the hardest courses offered at your high school, preferably lots of APs.
– Excel in your SATs. While high test scores and grades alone won’t be enough to get you into the most popular Ivies, they are generally the starting point for most applicants who don’t have a more obvious “hook.” A “hook” is a special quality outside of traditional academic achievement, such as the other qualities listed here.
– Apply Early Decision. Early Decision applicants enjoy an acceptance rate 2-3 times higher than regular applicants, according to Michele Hernandez.
– Be special, unique, even quirky. Find your passion and excel. If you like photography, start a club, then a studio, maybe a business venture or – even better – one with philanthropic goals. Thirty years ago, colleges sought well-rounded students. Now, colleges seek a well-rounded class, filled with unique, focussed individuals, according to New York college counselor Kat Cohen.
– Be a double or triple threat, combining several of the qualities on this list. That just might earn you a trip to Cambridge, where you can buy your crimson Harvard t-shirt as an admitted student, rather than as a tourist!
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About the author: Karen Berlin Ishii, a graduate of Brown University, has 25+ years of experience as a teacher and test prep tutor. Karen teaches students in New York and internationally via Skype for the PSAT, SAT, ACT, ISEE, SSAT, SHSAT, IELTS, TOEFL and GRE, and also offers tutoring in reading, writing and math. Learn more about Karen at karenberlinishii.com.