A High Schooler’s Guide to Preparing for the Ivy Leagues

It is no secret that Ivy League schools are looking for unique individuals to join their communities. They are seeking students that contribute value not only to the university, but also to the greater good of the world. While there is no set guideline that will lead you to a successful admission into your Ivy League school of choice, there are concrete decisions you can make now during your high school career that will increase your chances of getting in.

During the admission process, Ivy Leagues want to know what type of potential you have for making an impact throughout the rest of your life. The best way for an admission officer to predict your future accomplishments is to examine your past accomplishments. Think of your application as a roadmap to convincing Ivy league schools that your achievements thus far are evidence that you will continue to succeed and achieve amazing endeavors in college and thereafter.

Let’s discuss the key parts you need to develop in high school in order to prepare for admission into an Ivy League school:

High School Course Work

Ivy leagues are looking to identify students that have growth and potential. One way you can demonstrate these abilities is by selecting academically demanding coursework in high school. Early on in your high school career, map out the curriculum you hope to take and how you will participate in all of the academic opportunities available to you.

Ivy League schools do not have a set list of specific courses required for admission. Most Ivy Leagues do propose that students, who excel in advanced placement courses and challenging curriculum in a breadth of areas and subjects, typically are best suited for the rigorous demands of Ivy League academics. The following is an example of an Ivy League worthy curriculum:

  • Four years of English courses with significant emphasis on writing and literature.
  • Four years of Mathematics with fundamental mathematical skills highlighting algebra; trigonometry; plane, solid, and analytic geometry.
  • A minimum of two years, preferably three or more of History/Social Studies. Courses should include American history, European history with proficiency in writing essays and one additional advanced history course.
  • Three or more years of laboratory science including biology, chemistry and physics and preferably one of these at an advanced level.
  • Four years of studying the same foreign language.

We are not suggesting that only students who take advanced AP or IB courses and Honors or Accelerated classes will be the only ones who get into an Ivy League school. Ivy Leagues aspire to admit students who thrive learning and who take initiative to broaden their intellectual passions.

Interests and Extracurricular Activities

Ivy league schools are interested in knowing about how you spend your time outside the classroom. In the application process, they will want to see what type of commitment or leadership roles you had, what type of success or failures you encountered and how you learned from those experiences.

This is not to say you should enroll in every sport or volunteer in every cause. Unless those activities bring true value to your life, you should participate in what is authentic to you. The quality of your activities is much more relevant than the quantity of your activities. Ivy Leagues want to understand the impact you had on that cause, team or community and how the experience impacted your life.

For example, Princeton says it perfectly on their admissions website:

“We are interested in the talents and interests you would bring to Princeton outside the classroom. We don’t value one type of activity over another. Rather, we appreciate sustained commitment to the interests you have chosen to pursue.”

Character Qualities and Ambitions

No two students at an Ivy League school are the same, each person in unique. Based on all the opportunities you have access to, Ivy Leagues want to see your commitment, dedication and interest to your future endeavors. It’s important that you demonstrate initiative and seek out opportunities that expand your perspective.

Ivy leagues are looking for students that carry certain energy and enthusiasm.

During your time in high school discover topics and industries that excite you and get involved in them. What are you curious about? What makes you unique? How will you standout in a meaningful way?

Develop Meaningful Relationships

As part of your admissions application, you will be required to submit two recommendation letters. Teachers, counselors, coaches and also mentors write these letters. Ivy Leagues want to hear from those teachers/instructors who know the most about your performance in an academic setting. They build a bridge from you to the school, showing admissions officers what role you would assume on their campus. It’s important that during your time in high school you build strong – yet transparent academic relationships with your professors and advisors.

Through your letters of recommendation, universities hope to uncover specific evidence of your intellectual vitality, personality and life story. Your letters of recommendation should reveal personal traits that test scores and grades cannot.

For more information about Ivy League school preparation, please read our articles about the differences between AP and IB courses, how you can decide which standardized test you should take and how you can maximize your college visits.

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