- Conquer the Fundamentals
Get a high GPA and a solid SAT (and/or ACT) score. Check your target school’s average GPA and test scores to make sure that it’s a realistic opportunity for you.
But remember, even if you have an average or even an above-average GPA and SAT/ACT score, that doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to be admitted. Conquering the fundamentals merely gives you a fighting chance to compete for a spot. But good scores tell the school that you are able to perform under pressure, that you will grow in a competitive environment rather than shut down. There is no makeup to cover up poor fundamentals.
- Make Sense Out of Your Extracurricular Activities
Ivy Leagues want to admit people who can perform well both in academics and outside of academics. However, they’re not looking for a laundry list of extracurricular activities.
Extracurricular activities tell stories of your passions, talent, and even growth. A consistent pattern or theme to your extracurricular activities is more telling than having ten unrelated ones. Are you athletic? Do you love intellectual puzzles? Is your passion caring for the environment? Don’t just join a random bunch of clubs or charities. Stay true to your talents and interests. If you write down a list of all your extracurricular activities, do you see a coherent story?
- Stretch Yourself
Challenging yourself with harder subjects is equally important as holding a high GPA. If you speak Spanish at home, taking AP Spanish is probably not a sign of your ability to excel at difficult tasks.
As you select your classes in high school, don’t take “safe” courses that have a higher chance of landing an A. Take courses that resonate with your career goals and show your growth in that field of interest through time. If you enter the Ivy Leagues, the curriculum will be harder every year; schools want to see evidence that you can maintain a high performance while progressing to tougher challenges.
- Get Recommendation Letters that Shine
To see whether you have a well-rounded personality, some Ivy League schools not only encourage but require you to provide recommendation letters from both a science teacher and a humanities teacher. Forging relationships from early on, through coursework, volunteering, and projects can have large dividends. Select your recommenders before your senior year of high school and work with them so they can truly give insight to your talent and passions.
- Keep Track of Your Accomplishments
Did you win a scholarship? Did you help the football team fundraise? Keep a journal and list all the things that you have accomplished, whether academic, extracurricular, or personal. Write down why you were involved in the activity, your role, and your impact. Look back through your journal once in a while—have your contributions evolved through time? Or have your contributions remained stagnant and lacked significance?
- Draw a Timeline
Time is a limited, fixed resource, with no option for a refund. Understand the required steps for admission, then plan ahead and manage yourself against that timeline. If you want to be ahead, don’t wait until your senior year to take the SAT. Take it in the spring or summer of your junior year instead. At the very least, you will know where you stand, and whether you’ll need to retake the test. Applying as an early decision candidate is probably a good idea if you have a target school.
Excelling at all of the items on this list will take careful planning and rigorous discipline. Don’t fall behind!
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