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How to Get into an Ivy League School: Getting into a Good College

Updated on July 15, 2015

Rejection Does Not Equal Failure

For many people, getting accepted into an Ivy League University is a goal or dream. Whether you want to attend Harvard, or simply a college of your dreams, the college application process can be daunting and scary. Don't stress: This process is complicated but to an extent, formulaic. There is no way to guarantee admittance to the college of your dreams, but there are things you can do to make your application more attractive and thus give you a greater chance at being accepted.

Firstly, realize that rejection is not the be-all and end-all of your life. Your life is not defined by what college you go to, in fact, far from it. Your college is simply where you are spending four years of your life to get the knowledge you need to be a successful worker and member of society. Whether your degree says Harvard or University of Connecticut, you are a college graduate and that is an accomplishment. You should realize that admissions offices are run by people and you not getting accepted doesn't mean you're a failure or not good enough. It could simply be an admissions officer who's having a bad day, it could be that you may not be the best fit, it could be that you'll be much happier somewhere else, all you can do is make the best of your situation.

That said, there isn't anything wrong with wanted to get into a college that you admire. This may be Ivy League, this may not be. Ivy League does not mean superiority, but the Ivies do come with bigger endowments which usually means good financial aid. Let's get started...

Ivy League Schools
Ivy League Schools

Grades, AP Exams and SAT Scores

Firstly, this is the most obvious and perhaps rigid part of college applications. Good grades and good ACT and SAT scores certainly don't hurt your application. Don't stress about getting all As, it's OK to get the occasional B or even C, as long as you show CONSISTENCY. Its easy to pull yourself together every few months a pull out an A among a bunch of Cs, but being consistent with your grades is more important. Its better to consistently get Bs and show that you are a steady and hard worker than to show that you feel unmotivated sometimes and only try when you feel like it. Everyone gets discouraged and everyone gets unmotivated, but remember you are in this for the long-haul.

Its true that you don't have to have a 4.0 GPA for Ive League schools and in fact, many schools have done away with GPA minimums entirely which is awesome, but this doesn't mean that you can just give up every year once you get a crappy teacher.


SAT scores are similarly starting to be less and less important, but as of right now, you still need decent scores when applying to many colleges. One thing about the sATs is that they aren't at all related to intelligence. You don't do better if your smarter, and conversely, if you don't do well, you're not stupid. Getting a good score on the sATs is simply a matter of learning how to take the SATs. When you get a good score on the sATs, it means you have cracked the way that the SATs are written. A great way to do this is to take practice tests. This is the easiest way to learn how the SATs are designed and how they should be taken. Practice tests are available for free from and a great resource.

AP Tests and Scores

AP classes are a great way to show colleges that you can handle college curriculums. Take APs, but keep in mind that the work load needs to be manageable. Take as many as you can handle and no more, otherwise this can become extremely anxiety-inducing and your grades will suffer. If you don't do well on your AP test, don't worry, you can cancel your score so that colleges don't see it. If you do well, great! Your test may help you get out sf classes later in college which is awesome!

AP classes are not a place to experiment. Try out AP classes that you are confident are strengths of yours. If you're not very good at math, then don't start off with AP Calc, try regular calculus first and then AP afterwards.

SAT Subject Tests

Finally, one last thing to keep an eye out for is SAT Subject Tests. Most colleges require around two Subject Tests. The easiest way to get these requirements out of the way is to take Subject Tests in whatever AP class you're taking. If you take an AP class, most likely you will do extremely well on the sAT Subject Test related to that class because the subjects on the SATs are much less in depth than in AP classes. This is an easy way to get a high SAT Subject Test score, and prepare for your AP exam. Try scheduling your SAT Subject Test before the AP exam date to give you some good practice and studying time.

Video on Applying to College

Extracurriculars and Leadership

Ok, so maybe grades aren't your thing. Well then, extracurriculars are your time to shine. Here's the thing about the modern day college applicant: Back in the day, grades were the whole story. As long as you had good grades, you had great chances of getting into good colleges. Today, grades are simply a boost, and extracurriculars are where you show your real passion and leadership skills.
First of all, have a few activities you do outside of school that really capture your interest. In college interviews, these are the things that the interviewer will ask you about, so you want to know why you love being on your city's Youth Council, why you do band, why you play soccer. Have it be something you actually like because you'll be spending A LOT of time doing it. Extracurriculars show colleges that there is more to you than a test-taking memorizing robot. They show colleges that you care about things outside of school. And they give you a chance to explore things you might like doing later in life that school often doesn't offer you. Perhaps most importantly, they give you leadership opportunities.
Leadership is crucial to show your initiative and ambition. Leadership positions show universities that you are a take charge kind of person. They show colleges that you are able to lead others, facilitate teamwork, and work hard ons something you care about. If you are in a club, try to be President, VP, or Treasurer. If you are on a team, be captain or co-captain. If you are in orchestra, be first string or concert master.

College Application

Your college application is a necessary evil that all of us have to endure. Luckily for you, the college application process is largely electronic now. Imagine having to fill out all that info by hand for every application you need to fill out. The best thing you can do for yourself in regards to the application.,is START EARLY. I know its tedious, I know you like to procrastinate, I know this is something that you would love to leave for last, but if there is one time you don't procrastinate, this is the time. The application will take longer than you anticipate for certain, but there may also be hold ups in rounding up documents you need for the application. Start early so you know what you need.
Make a timeline for yourself and do a different section of the application each week, so you never have to sit and do the whole thing all at once. Make it a ritual that if you finish one section, you give yourself a treat or watch a movie or something so that its not so incredibly unmanageable.

College Essay

Your college essay is your way to really show your individuality. There are some tried and tested strategies for the college essay: People love to find some great obstacle they've overcome, write a sob story about all that they've learned and how they've grown, and send it in. Consider this: How many college essays like that is the admissions officer reading? How many stories about how your parents' divorced made you value family, or your grandmother getting sick made you want to be a doctor, etc essays are they reading? The essay is the way for you to STAND OUT in a process that is formulaic and uniform by nature. Write about something that you really care about and the seriousness of the subject matter will not matter in the end. You can tell when a topic is personally significant to someone. Keep a journal of things that you think will make good essay topics. Think outside the box: I attended Harvard and my college essay was about my addiction to Starbucks. Write about something that has changed you, has helped you grow, has taught you something. But keep away from things that are cliche.
Some great ways to think of essay topics are:

  • A person in your life who you've had issues with but has tought you something imoprtant in the end.
  • An experience that has contributed to your identity.
  • An extracurricular that you hated at first and then grew to love.
  • A passion that you have found for something uncommon and why its so important to you.
  • Something you love to do and why its important to your identity.

Brainstorm topics and write them down. Try writing a few different ones. College essay have a limit of 500 words, which is only about three-fourths of a page.

After you've written it, here is the key step. READ THE ESSAY OUT LOUD. You never notice grammar or syntax mistakes as clearly as when you hear things out loud. Read to friends and family and ask them to explain to you what they think your paper is about to make sure that your point will get across to others. Revise your essay several times. Leave it for a week or two and revisit. Seeing something with a fresh pair of eyes is illuminating and will help you. If you wrote multiple, as others which they think is the most significant. Which represents you, your talents, your strengths to the reader?

College Bound
College Bound

The Interview

The interview can be extremely nerve racking and scary. Don't worry: an interview is a conversation, a conversation where it is not tacky if you brag. A conversation that is all about you, which is fun. Here are some tips for the interview.

  1. Do your homework. Know about your university and perhaps majors or extracurriculars you may be interested in pursuing there. Have a question or two to ask to show that you are indeed interested and excited about this university. Don't go to an interview for Stanford and say "I am so excited to be applying to Columbia!"
  2. Dress to impress. This is the first time your interviewer is seeing you, they are seeing if they think you should come to the school the represent. DO yourself a favor: Shower. Put on deodorant and perfume/cologne (MODERATELY!). Brush your hair. Don't overdue your makeup if you are a girl. Dress up formally. Ladies, you're not trying out for MTV so you can leave the crop top and mini skirt at home. Gentlemen, tie, shirt, pant, and please, MATCH YOUR SHOES AND SOCKS! Do not wear white socks with black shoes! Know your resume. Your interviewer will have a copy of your resume. They will ask you. If you lied, learn your lies (although you really shouldn't lie). If you exaggerated, know your exaggerations. Be ready to talk about why you do/love the activities you do. If you have a bad grade in a class, be ready to be asked about it/explain. Be ready to talk about awards you've gotten that are written on your resumes and places you've done internships at.
  3. Prepare for questions. Although every interview is different. There are certain questions that colleges tend to ask. One of the most important things to know whether they ask or not, is what YOU have to bring to that school's community. What can you offer that others can't? You can find common college interview questions online. Practice answering them.\
  4. Practice your hand shake. Your hand shake should be firm to show you are confident, or at least look like you're confident. If you suffer from faucet hands, i.e. sweaty hands like me, practice casually wiping your hand on your pant as you lift to shake.

Interview Advice


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