One of the most important things. Actually, THE MOST important thing which probably races through a teens mind at least once a day is, “I want to get into this college”. Many teens even believe the whole point of high school is so that you can get into a good university, which is partially true. Although college is not the only factor which affects your life, it could be a big one which is why so many teens take it so seriously. My parents, and a lot of other parents, repeatedly tell me that if you get a good GPA or SAT score then you will get into a good college. This might be true, but I was curious if that was the only way to get into a good university because many people I know got into great colleges through the sports they played. This confused me which is why I dug deeper into the topic by reading a couple articles and watching a few videos. This ended puzzling me even more because of how many other factors I found which go into getting in a good college. Instead of reading random articles written by people who might not even be credible, I asked myself, What better way to learn how to get into a good college than to ask someone who recently did? This sparked an idea in my head which was to start a series on my website where I go interview students who recently have gotten selected to attend great colleges including ivy leagues, and ask them 8 common questions which many people ask about getting in colleges. This will not just help broaden my understanding about college selection, but it will also help me pinpoint key things which you need in getting into a good university. So without further ado, here are the answers to the questions which run through a teenagers mind about getting into an ivy university.
Before I start with questions, here is some background information on what the person did in high school.
SAT Score: 2260
ACT Score: 34
Number of AP’s taken: 8
In your opinion, what was the number one factor which helped you get selected to attend this university?
I would say that the most important factor for me was being well-rounded. By this, I mean a combination of the strength of my academics, extracurriculars, and letters of recommendation from teachers who knew me extremely well. I wasn’t always the top student at everything I did, but I was always right near the top. However, Ivy Leagues and other great universities don't look for only well-rounded students, they also look for students who are very impressive in either one vector such as sports or music, or people with rich parents or legacy status to be honest. I personally focused on being well-rounded since I didn’t have those other advantages.
In your opinion, were academics the most important aspect of you getting in this college?
For me personally, yes, academics were an extremely important component since I was aiming for an engineering degree and needed to appear smart and well-rounded. This wasn’t the case for all of the people who attended Cornell with me. I had a few friends at Cornell who had one impressive trait that got them in, like a friend who was the #1 high school upright bass player in all of New York state, or another friend who was one of the top high-school cross-country runners in the US. In both cases, their academics were above average, maybe top 20% of her high school, but not top 1% because they had focused most of their energy on their vector interest.
What extracurricular activities played a role in helping you get into the college?
I had over a dozen extracurriculars that I submitted on my common app, from clubs to volunteering. I was most active in music since I had played viola since the 3rd grade. I was first viola in my school orchestra, took private lessons, made Tri-M music honor society, and played the county and state orchestras each year. I did Jazz, Chamber, and community orchestras throughout high school in addition to my school orchestra. Additionally, I spent two summers volunteering at Upstate Hospital. I was in a lot of clubs as well: Honor Society, Math League, a few others, and my senior year I became president of Programming Club. I did probably a half dozen other activities I can barely remember. The non-technical clubs helped me to appear well-rounded on my apps, while the technical clubs helped show my passion for engineering.
What extracurricular activities were not as important in helping you get into this college?
There were some clubs and activities I only stayed in for a year or two (French club) that weren’t worth my time because I wasn’t super dedicated. Honestly, I'm not even sure that I needed to have such depth of dedication to viola- my brother only did private lessons, school and chamber orchestra, and was still admitted to Cornell the year before I was. However, he had other strengths, like his recommendations and essay. The trick is to demonstrate depth of dedication and excellence in a multitude of ways, so if there’s an activity you’re not going to show real dedication to, it’s not worth showing up for. Look for leadership positions in the activity, or do the activity for a minimum of 2 years, otherwise it’s probably not worth putting on your apps.
Did you start any clubs or any volunteer/intern/research work which might have impacted your acceptance?
Before I went to Cornell, I was split between comp sci and bioengineering, so I volunteered at a hospital for two summers, and I became president of programming club senior year to demonstrate interest in both. I think it’s probably essential to have at least one club or extracurricular related to the field you want to go into, to demonstrate that you’re serious and you have some related background. I wish I could have interned or done research somewhere! I know a lot of people I went to Cornell with who did, but I never had the opportunity due to where I grew up. If you have the opportunity, take it.
Did you participate in any sports in your school and do you think it might have helped you get into your college ?
I am completely non-athletic. However, my brother who also attended Cornell did track and field for a couple years- probably helped him appear well-rounded. When I finally got to Cornell, I was very pleasantly surprised by how smart and dedicated most of the student athletes were. Of course, there were a few dim bulbs as well.
What advantages or disadvantages did you have against other students applying for this university?
One advantage I had was being a female applying to an engineering college- it’s most likely the reason I got an early acceptance letter. But I don’t think it’s the reason I got in- my brother was accepted the year before me with lower grades and fewer extracurriculars!
One disadvantage I had was being from a school with a very average academic reputation- very few people got 5s on their APs and there weren’t many academic after-school extracurriculars. Only one to three people were accepted to Cornell each year out of 500 graduating, and never any school better than Cornell.
What things did you make sure to include in your essay which distinguished you from other students?
I didn’t really know what to write about, so I wrote about my biggest inspiration, which is my mother. I’m not sure it really distinguished me very much- even when I was writing it, I knew it was cliché to write about a parent inspiring you, but that’s ok. For most young people it’s hard to be original when you’ve only got experiences from your middle class suburban life and high school to write about. You’re going to be attending university with mostly middle and upper class people, and only the people with cool backgrounds or really niche vector interests like paragliding or winning journalism competitions are going to have interesting and original essays. My advice is to sincerely write about what inspires you, or about what you love, even if it’s cliché, and try to put an interesting personal twist on it. I wrote about how I strive to be like my mother and excel beyond her accomplishments, and I put a few sentences in about how Cornell could help me achieve my goal to be an engineer like her.
Hopefully through these question and answers you have developed a nice overview of what colleges are looking for in a person. If you have any questions which you want me to ask the next person I interview, make sure to comment them or contact me with your question. I hope you enjoyed the first part of the, "How to get into an Ivy League" series.