Ivy League schools look for careers, not another “I went to Sri Lanka to build homes” college essay
Very very important. Just because you went to Africa for 2 months to promote AIDs awareness does not make you a global citizen. It does not make you a committed public servant. You need to show more than short stints like that to impress admissions offices.
So just because you have one impressive highlight, I wouldn’t focus too much on it. After all, that volunteer trip to Sri Lanka was 2 months. You’ve been in high school for 4 years – what else do you have to show?
It’s much better to talk about commitments that you’ve had for many years, where over time you’ve gradually built up a record of achievements. It shows schools like Yale that you really care about a particular topic, and you’re not just resume-padding for college admissions.
Ivy League schools look for a balanced class, not perfectly balanced students
I’ve said this again and again. Colleges may want a well-rounded class, but they certainly don’t need every student to be perfectly well-rounded Renaissance men and women.
99% of applicants do it wrong. Why? Because they want to be good at everything. As a result, they have no focus, no personality, no clear story of why they deserve to go to an Ivy League school.
While it’s important to do well in most areas (such as academics, standardized tests, and high school extracurriculars), you need to focus on one or two areas where you’re really passionate, whether science or math, painting or calligraphy, wrestling or waterboarding. Try to be the best in the world at that one thing! I guarantee your chances of getting into Harvard will be much higher.
Ivy League schools look for demonstrated interest
Demonstrated interest is important – so visit the campus if you can. If you can’t, here are a few things you can do:
1) Connect with friends or people you’ve met that go to your target schools. You can talk about these conversations in your essays and college admissions interviews, and you’ll learn more about the university during the process
2) Ask the admissions office to speak with student ambassadors. Sometimes they’ll refer you to current undergraduates who are willing to speak with high-potential applicants
Ivy League schools look for a good fit
Culture matters. Every school is different – think Princeton vs Yale, Columbia vs Cornell. Clearly they have different student bodies, different histories, different strengths, and so forth. Sometimes you may just be a great fit for one school and not another – depending on your passions, your accomplishments, where you’re from, and the personality of your college essays.
A good fit is important – if you care enough, it’s important to tailor your college essays to each school. As an example, if you apply to Wharton I would focus on your interest in global business. Princeton loves worldly people who have artistic and athletic strengths, so play to those in your Princeton app. Customize and stand apart in college admissions!
Ivy League schools look for a lifelong record of achievement, not one lucky year
This is extremely important. You can’t expect to have a great freshman year and then slack off the rest of high school. Simultaneously, you can’t expect to have a bad freshman year and think that by working harder the next 3 years, you’ll get into Stanford. You need to always be working hard – while you can make up for occasional lapses, you’ll need to DOUBLE your efforts.
My general advice is that you need to start early, and you need to show a consistent record of success over the years in everything – from academics to extracurriculars, from athletics to community service.