Let me start off by saying, I don’t believe you have to go to an elite college. The pressure to get into elite schools is adding to an already challenging mental health situation for teens. I’m a proud state school grad. My four siblings range from state schools to brand name privates to a military academy. We have all had great college experiences and have done well in our careers. I steer my own children to schools that will be a good fit-not necessarily a brand name, elite college.
Yet, many of you who follow my blog want to help your child or students get into what you consider a “top school”. Based on the students I worked with, here are my takeaways:
- Take the strongest curriculum your high school offers, and get all A’s. My students who got into Ivies or top colleges had almost all AP classes junior and senior years. While Dual credit is ok, AP is seen as more rigorous. IB is also considered rigorous. Students had all A’s.
- Take four years of the same foreign language or at least through AP if you started in middle school
- Take four years of math, preferably at least AP Calculus A/B. AP Stats is not considered as strong a course as AP Calculus
- Be involved in something deeply. Whether it’s sports, music, astronomy, or social justice—find your interest, and explore it thoroughly through clubs, volunteerism, research projects, employment, and coursework (if your high school doesn’t offer take it at a community college or online). Some students even start their own not-for-profits but you truly need to show an impact. Then have some other activities you are also involved in to show diverse interests.
- Demonstrate sincere intellectual curiosity. Highly selective colleges are full of very smart people. But there is a difference between getting your school work done with good grades, and truly having a passion for learning. Sometimes it can be a passion for one area (I had a student obsessed with astronomy), it can be a love of reading everything and anything, it can be wanting to address systemic racism and understanding its causes. Whether you conduct research in partnership with a Ph.D. student or professor (I’ll be writing a blog on how to do that soon), create your own blog, YouTube videos, or self-publishing a book—there are many ways to demonstrate your intellectual curiosity.
- Volunteer–find a cause that is important to you and dedicate some time, not including the time you spend getting hours for the National Honor Society. This should be different from the hours you spend on your “deep interest” above.
- Do incredibly well on the SAT or ACT, or apply test optional. My students who were admitted to the Ivies did submit scores and they were incredibly high. But I had students apply test-optional to other top schools and were admitted (but they had everything else listed above).
If you read all of the above and think “these kids have to be superheroes”, you are not wrong. Which again, is why the pressure is so high on these students. But more than 80% of colleges admit more than 80% of their students. And many of those will give you merit aid. Many of the highly selective colleges only offer need-based aid.
If you have a child considering the Ivies, it is something they have to start early. It is very difficult to get the things above accomplished if they start later in their junior year.
If you need help with the college search, increasing your admissibility, or completing applications please schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs.