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If you’re reading this, you probably already know the implications of getting an Ivy League education: way higher fees, crazy studying, but then prestige, and the best education in the world also. So, while getting into an Ivy League school is amazing, it is not without its challenges as we mentioned. We will be going into a comprehensive detailing of all that it takes to get into these schools and also help you build up yourself and offerings to fit the unique requirements for an admission into these schools. Although this guide focuses on the Ivy League, the tips found here can also apply for other top schools like Stanford, MIT, Duke, Caltech and the rest.

Must you get an Ivy League Education?

But before we continue, we will like you to pause here and do a rethink: do you really want an Ivy League education? Because the truth is that without an Ivy League education, you can still go on to do far beyond excellent in life. True, these schools have a way of giving you a jumping board straight into success with the strong alumni community and the name they’ve built for themselves over the years: something you can definitely use in whatever endeavour you decide to embark on in life. But truth be told, getting into these schools isn’t exactly difficult, however, it will demand a whole lot from you. Like a lot lot! Well, since you’re not yet aware of these costs yet, we will leave you to keep reading and at any point, if you feel like this isn’t for you, feel free to change your mind. There’s nothing more important than doing what makes you happy. Too many people are sad because they are caught doing the very things they’d much rather not do. Happiness is precious, please keep yours.

So now that we’ve cleared the air, let’s get down to it.

Why elite schools?

One of the things you should know about these schools before you apply for them is why they exist. What is the reason behind these schools? What do they seek to achieve? The reason you need to know this is that it gives you a more accurate, and realistic idea of what they will be looking for in potential students, and you can thus fashion yourself and profile to fit that picture.

First of all, Ivy League schools are nonprofit organizations in that they do not have shareholders whom they make profit for. So, essentially, your fees aren’t hiked because they need to pay shareholders. No. on the other hand, their main purpose of existence is to create value in the world in which we live and this they do in three different ways.

Research: This is usually conducted by faculty members. By carrying out deep, innovative research, they add to the existing body of knowledge on any particular area of science, humanities, or what have you. The results of these researches lead to the birthing of new innovations which improve human lives and living.

Services: These schools also offer different services which could include the dissemination of information, or the publishing of books.

Education: Of course, you are well aware of this one. Ivy League schools and other elite schools train students with an aim: that they go on to achieve great things for themselves, and even more altruistically, for the world at large. For instance, and in case you didn’t know, Bill Gates finished from Harvard, while Larry Page and Sergey Bron (the Google boys) finished from Stanford. We need not tell you the tremendous value these individuals have added to the world.

Now why do top schools go through all the stress to offer such value to the world? Is it a question of altruism? Or is there something more? Well, it’s a bit of both actually. There’s the altruistic part, and there’s the “something more” part. So what’s the “something more”? Well, by making such contributions, these schools initiate what is referred to as virtuous cycles, which, in this case, will be: more services leading to better reputation, leading to more funds.

Now what kind of students are Ivy League schools on the lookout for?

It’s simple. These schools want to admit only students that they have proved to have the innate capacity to change the world by accomplishing incredible feats. When these schools admit you, they do so with the hope that, after four years of study, you leave the school ready to kick off your gigantic company, or write a Pulitzer-winning book, or run a nationwide health initiative, or parent children who go on to achieve great things themselves.

Look at what Dean Fitzsimmons, the Harvard College Dean of Admissions says as reported by the New York Times: “Every year, we admit about 2100 applicants. We like to think that all of them have strong personal qualities and character that they will educate and inspire their classmates over the four years of college and they will make a significant difference in the world after they leave Harvard.”

We know you’re just 17 and you’re probably thinking to yourself: “I haven’t even decided on my dress for the prom, how am I supposed to know how exactly I want to change the world now?” Well, these colleges understand that, so, they designed their college application in such a way that it could be used to predict the achieving power of different students.

How exactly can colleges tell those with a high chance of changing the world?

It might seem a little unfair but top colleges actually measure your chances of success by analyzing the past 17 years of your life. And the rule they operate with is this: to predict the future success, check past achievement. Now instead of looking at this like it’s unfair, a better way to look at things will be to start making great achievements now that you’re in high school in order to get into the good books of these schools. You need to wiggle your way into the hearts of the admissions committee and one way to do that is to start making giant strides in the things that interest you. You should use your college application to prove to the college that you’re capable of achieving great things in the future.

Of course, this doesn’t, in anyway, suggest that not having an outstanding past achievement ultimately means that you won’t succeed in future. The truth really is that the past does not always predict the future. A good instance is the story of star quarterback, Tom Brady. He wasn’t always a star quarterback to say the least. In fact, he was 199th pick in the 6th round of selections for his team. So you see, the past does not always predict the future. However, profound as that saying may sound, this is not the way it works for Ivy League colleges. You have to prove your mettle to get a space. You’re not the only one applying; several thousand others are too! And if you’ll be honest, it will be a little too much to require these colleges to “give everyone a chance”.

The power of Focus: forging your hook

Now in trying to get the college admissions board to like them, a lot of students end up doing so many things, which is the highway to getting rejected. Yep, the highway to getting rejected, you read that right.

Getting into the Ivy League is not by doing so many things well, it’s by channeling all your energies and resources into doing one thing exceptionally and outstandingly well! Jack-of-all trades is still master of none today and that hasn’t changed. Many times Jack ends up doing no one thing particularly well. And there are so many Jacks in so many high schools today. Still, you never see the name “Jack” as editor of the school paper, or head cheerleader, or president of the award-winning school drama group.

To be quite blunt, mediocre people cannot really change the world, they just end up being fantastic followers instead of leading! And there’s nothing wrong with being a follower, some people are very content, and find their greatest joy and satisfaction being an average being and that’s great. Follow your heart. But like we said, if your aim is the Ivy League, you cannot be one of these people. Elite schools seek to raise leaders and not followers, so if you do not think that leadership is your lot in life, it’s perfectly okay to go after something else. You don’t necessarily have to get an Ivy League education.

Now back to Jack-of-all-trades… Don’t get it twisted, this same principle applies in life, and you do it even without knowing it. For instance, if you need a lawyer to defend you, you don’t particularly care if the person makes the best short ribs or sushi or anything of the sort. All you care about is that the person is a badass lawyer. The same way these schools aren’t particular about so many other things you can do well. Jettison the naïve idea that you need to do so many things to outdo the other person or to try to impress some other person. The weird idea that you need to be able to do so many things to succeed is a wrong one, discard it. Your working principle should be to think deep instead of thinking wide. The world we live in, these days, is so specialized that you can’t afford to be anything other than specialized to get ahead in life. In any field you find yourself, the competition is stiff and among thousands of other peeps who are equally as talented as you, so there’s neither room nor time to play the role of “Jack”.

It’s okay to be uncertain

But the issue for most people reading this is that they are still pretty young, and you’re not really sure that what you are doing now is what you want to spend the rest of your life doing and that’s fine. The college admissions board will hardly have an issue with that either. The basic principle of success remains the same whatever field you embark on. So, if you can push yourself to succeed in any chosen field of interest, you can use the same principles to achieve outstanding results in any other field. In fact, most colleges expect you to change your interests as you grow and get exposed to various aspects of life, so that really isn’t much of a big deal.

Look at this statement from the Princeton Admissions Office: “We are interested in the talents and interests you would bring to Princeton and outside the classroom. We don’t value one type of activity over another. Rather, we appreciate sustained environment and the interests you have chosen to pursue.”

So, to truly stand out, you need to choose a particular field of interest to you and set out to do something truly remarkable and spectacular to boost your chances of winning, whether it’s research, a national or state award-winning competition, sports, cooking. Whatever it is, make sure it is spectacular.

Imbalance is certain

Now, channeling your focus, it’s inevitable that you might have some form of imbalance in the sense that other areas won’t be as acute as the particular one you’re focusing on. That’s very normal and the schools will understand that. If you can prove your mettle significantly enough in one area, it can more than make up for other not-so-fantastic areas. Note, we are not saying that you should totally abandon other areas, no. Work on all areas, but give the earnest heed to the very one with which you intend to get the admissions board hooked to your application. So, if you’re an exceptional ballerina, no point trying to be the best public speaker too, just continue enjoying your dancing and waltz your way into the upper echelons of the trade! Again, some athletes have an innate grasp of the subject of Physics, you can tell from the way they play but when it comes to actually solving Physics problems in school, it becomes a little too much for them. It happens. All they need to do is to focus on playing and at least, get by in their schoolwork enough to scale through school. So, focus on forging your hook, pay attention to the other aspects, of course, and let your hook, make up for the rest.

How admissions really work in the Ivy League: Not a crapshoot!

Well, you might have heard it said that everyone who applies to the Ivy League (Harvard to be precise) has a 6% chance of getting in. Well, that is so wrong. Admission rates and chances of getting in are two separate issues entirely. While the admissions rates might be 6%, which means that of the thousands that apply, only 6% of the population will eventually get in, among that same 6%, there are some folks that actually stood a 90% chance of getting in while they applied! So, no, everybody is not on equal footing. Admission into the Ivy League isn’t a lottery. If you’re truly exceptional, there’s no reason you shouldn’t stand a 90% plus chance of getting your admission. The others who choose to do “well-rounded” will sit comfortably in a box of 50% chances, 6% chances, and 0% chance. That’s how it works, and this is why we keep telling you to forge your hook properly. If you do that, you’d give the admissions board every reason to give you a shot before everyone else.

Now, while getting excellent achievements increase your chances, it won’t matter a peep if other aspects of your application are not consistent with your hook. For instance, if you’re good at sports, then you’d have to also do well in your academics, at least sufficiently enough to be able to see you through college. Or if you’re a techie, then it’s okay to be a little weak in English. And then, very importantly, your personality! It must be acceptable. Fact: no matter how terrific your hook is, you won’t enter the Ivy League with a stinking personality. Again, even though we haven’t exactly emphasized it, your academics matters. You cannot enter into elite schools with a below average academic performance (we’ll discuss more of that in subsequent articles). Generally, in your application, there are certain aspects that should be included, and they are:

Grades/GPA

Test scores

Extracurricular activities and awards

Recommendation letters

Personal statement

And all these must be topnotch!

Forging your hook

We’ve talked about the importance of forging your hook and the power of focus but we’re pretty sure many still have the question: “how on earth do I forge my hook?” Even though it seems like it is a very difficult process, it really isn’t. Anybody can do it with just the right dose of willpower. If you’ve read this post up to this point, then you definitely have the discipline and willpower it takes to forge your hook. All you need is to follow some simple steps, and we will proceed to show you how:

  1. Pick your niche: We know this might present an issue, especially if you’re multi-talented, but you have to choose the one thing you’d love to do and that you can thrive and flourish in. Be extremely practical about it and don’t try to be sentimental. When you decide on a particular niche, and it’s, say a particular academic subject for example, be sure to practice as much as possible. Get a mentor teacher or tutor or something, and practice enough. Go out on researches, try out your hands at something, and enter into national competitions where you can get a prize or an award.

Or here’s another idea: if there’s a particular cause you’re passionate about, then begin a statewide club or nonprofit group. Always ensure that your successes are measurable/quantifiable: the number of people you were able to assist, the amount of money raised, number of cities reached, and things like that. In other words, real successes that can be measured and confirmed.

If you’re techie, then consider building an app. And not just any app, but something with an everyday relevance, something that can be used by everyday people for everyday issues. And of course, ensure that it’s on an app store. Remember, measurable success that can be confirmed. Imagine turning in your application and stating that your app has received more than 100,000 downloads!

For those considering the academia, consider taking an internship. There should be local colleges around you with professors who will gladly take you under their wings and show you the ropes. You both could probably even undergo a research together!

And if there’s a particular hobby that interests you, then you might want to enter in for competitions or mentor other people with similar interests.

So what if you have interests that do not fit into the boxes we’ve listed, maybe makeup, or gaming, just ensure that you engage it at a level where you can make a huge impact.

In essence, whatever interest you choose to pursue, the interest must be impactful enough to yield relevant, measurable, and quantifiable result. Do not feel boxed in by our suggestions, if you’re a lot smarter and you can think of better ways by which you can get those things done, then by all means, please use your own strategies. The bottom line is that it’s terrific enough to wow the admissions board.

  1. Stop wasting time: Most students spend unnecessary time on things that don’t matter and won’t make any impact on your application. If you don’t enjoy doing it, or you don’t seem to be making much progress despite the huge amount of time you’ve put into it, then it’s time to cut it out.

So, how do you know that your extracurricular activity is a waste of time and won’t impact on your chances at the Ivy League?

It does not require any special effort: if your extracurricular activity only requires you to fill out a form to begin, then it’s probably not worth your time. The more effort it takes to begin the task, the more outstanding it most likely will end up being. Anyone can fill a form to begin anything; heck we all fill forms to open an account and how many of us are changing the world? But not everyone can walk up to businessmen and convince them to invest in their startup. Do you see the difference?

If you’re not currently a leader or you aren’t most likely going to become one in the future, then that activity is a waste of time, at least, for the purpose of getting into the Ivy League. Check it, do you know how many are like you all over the world applying for the same position? You all will look like clones to the officer and only the leaders will stand out.

Lastly, if you’ve maxed out your time on that activity, that is, you cannot get any better with any amount of practice whatsoever in the nearest possible future, despite the large amount of time you’ve put into that particular activity already, then it’s a waste of time, no doubt. Let it go, like Elsa will say.

Now, if your activity of interest ticks “yes” to any of the issues mentioned above, then it’s time to cut it out. It is unnecessary and is subtracting from the time you need to get other more productive and more impactful activity done.

Here are popular activities where a lot of people waste a lot of time:

Volunteering: Except it stands out in some unique, mind blowing way, it’s most probably not going to earn you a shot at the Ivy League. Doing things like helping patients at the hospital and getting them fresh flowers is kind and sweet but it won’t get the admissions board to look at your application twice.

Athletics: If you aren’t star quarterback or you aren’t playing at national or state level, you’re probably wasting your time. Being a part of the “A team” is super critical to getting into the Ivy League. If your play is mediocre at best, then you might want to consider changing into something else.

Instruments playing: If you aren’t section leader or concertmaster, and there’s no possibility that you could be the next, then don’t see this as a forgeable hook, because it’s not. Save all the time for practice and do something else instead.

  1. Social media has to go: Okay maybe not totally but to a large extent. We know phones are addictive, and teens and their phones are like sugar and ant. Fantastic! But remember the goal: The Ivy League! There’s no space for jokes here. Checking up on and keeping up with your friends are very allowed but when it begins to delve into petty gossip that you know you can do without, then it’s time to switch gears. You’d have to learn to keep your conversations quite to the point. Any friend who really cares about you will understand that you’re working towards a goal. And here’s where friends with like passions become very important: if your circle of friends have the same goal to get into the top schools, then it wouldn’t be such a big deal and you guys can concentrate and even encourage each other as you try to achieve your dreams of getting into the Ivy League.

Getting Accepted into an Ivy Graduate School

Getting accepted into an Ivy graduate school is no mean feat at all, if it were, any Tom, Dick, and Harry with a college degree would easily get in. But we all know that doesn’t happen. It’s a well established fact that only the best stand a chance to get into these, as some may call them, highly snobbish schools.

Acceptance Rates

One major way by which we can prove the level difficulty to enter these schools is to check out their acceptance rates. This stat will give us an idea of the percentage of people accepted into each of these schools every year. Take the Harvard University’s Graduate School of Art and Sciences for example; its acceptance rate is 9% which means that of all the thousands that apply to this school each year, only 9% get accepted, same as Princeton which also accepts 9% for its school of humanities.

Just like other universities, Ivy League universities offer post-graduate programmes like Master’s, PhD, and Professional degrees. It might appear that the doctoral programmes will be more difficult to gain entry into but that’s not always the case in the Ivy League. Most times, it depends on the school in question and not necessarily the level of the degree being applied for. If we look at Princeton in the 2013/2014 academic session, for example, the acceptance rate for the Masters degree programme was 8% while that of the doctoral-level was actually 12%. Of course there are variations to these figures across different schools but generally, the level of the programme you’re applying for does not determine how tough it will be to enter. It’s mostly determined by the school itself. So, you might want to do your research before concluding.

Excellent Academic Records Count

You’d definitely need topnotch scores to get into the Ivy League, as stats show. We’ll look at the stats of certain Ivy League schools for example. The Law School 2016 class of University of Pennsylvania had 75% of its students getting admitted with a GPA of about 3.94; and graduates who applied for the Harvard School of Humanities mostly scored an average 164 out of 170 in the quantitative and verbal of the GRE! You see? Pretty high scores aren’t they? So, it’s obvious, based on these facts, that applying for an Ivy grad school might be somewhat different from the undergrad but essentially, the selectivity factor is still very much at play.