Everyone's dream is to gain admissions to the IvyLeague schools like Princeton or Harvard or similarly selective universities such as MIT OR Stanford.Out of the 3500 accredited universities and colleges in the United States of America, only 30-40 universities can be classified as “highly selective”.
Highly selective universities have acceptance rates of below 10%. Therefore, schools such as Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, etc will fall in this category.
So, it is obvious that there will be a lot of competition to get admission in these colleges. However, it gets worse before its gets better.
As you can see, the acceptance rates have gone down over the years and might continue to do so.
I probably will need to write an entire book (I probably will someday) to explain this question in detail. In interest of time, here is the heh level gist:
Most schools use a process of “holistic review” in which individual officers assess every part of the application. There is no algorithm to determine who is accepted or rejected. Most schools read every single page from every single student. Thus, regardless of your SAT/ACT score, your application will be reviewed.
There is a person on the other side of the application, if you don’t impress them, they won’t advocate for you. Thus, if you don’t make an impression on the admissions officer who is assigned to your file, he/she will not take your application to the committee and as a result you will not be admitted.
In 2018, the UCLA admissions office read approximately 14,70,000 pages of applications. Most schools have one officer reading thousands of applications. Last year, in 2018, 1 admissions officer in Boston University was appointed to read applications from Connecticut. Boston University received over 60,000 applicants last year.
Thus, your application will be approximately 13 pages long, and it will be in a stack of applications as tall as a 20 - floor building. In general, you will be compared to all the applicants from your region, and that is your competition. Therefore, if you don’t stand out you will not be remembered by the admissions officer.
So, if there are so many applicants and all of them have great applications, how do you make yours stand out?
This chart displays all the factors needed for an impressive application. Everything around the chart shows where all these factors are found on the application.
All of these are combined and considered for academic factors. Although all your grades are important, but the strength of your curriculum is given higher considerable importance over your admissions test scores. Getting a high score will give you a chance of getting in but it does not guarantee admissions. Academic excellence goes far beyond grades and scores. It embodies educational growth and potential, intellectual curiosity and vitality. Therefore, all the other factors along with a good score will make your application impressive.
All these factors together would contribute towards academic excellence.
Your application needs to stand out within the crown of applications that it’s placed in. There are some colleges such as Stanford where the application reviewers will mark an application as “Standard Positive” despite the good academic record of that candidate. It is done mainly because the profile of such a student does not have anything special that makes the resume unique. To get selected to highly selective colleges like Stanford, it is not sufficient just to be good academically.
To stand out, look at INITIATIVE and IMPACT as two areas that make your application positively different than others.
INITIATIVE means the areas or subjects that you have shown a keen interest in and done something tangible in. Even if something might seem small or inconsequential, it always has a potential to make a significant difference not just to your life but also to your application.
Diversity is something that sets you apart from the rest. It is anything special about you that brings a unique perspective in a classroom and in your dorm. Diversity is something that will help you stand out.
As we have mentioned before, you should pick one or two activity/activities and excel in that. (application persona)
Your College Essays, and in particular your Personal Statement, talks about you – the real you and not about your grades and such other statistics about you. It is the single document in your application that communicates naturally without putting down cold figures by which you can be assessed. This is the only route available to you to speak to the college admissions staff about yourself so that they see you as a person and not just someone with a bunch of numbers.
The personal statement connects the dots in the application. Connecting the dots is the second most important step, because it creates a picture of who you are and what you have to offer. Colleges look for 3 things in your essay – honesty, specificity and eloquence.
Colleges want to know more about the applicant, they want to learn about the applicant beyond their grades and extracurricular activities, and essays help them with that. The best way to get a clear picture of the student’s goals, achievements and character is to hear it directly from the student. The most efficient way to write an essay/personal statement is to write information that is unique – something that cannot be found anywhere else on the application.
Most of my students spend hundreds of hours trying to boost their school grades or SAT/ACT scores, or racking up internships or activities, but only spend a few hours on their college essays. This is where they go wrong.
These are good ways to show colleges that you excelled in this field and are interested in pursuing it further.
In conclusion, SHOW don’t TELL.
Take an action on your interest, either by creating something unique or develop a skill that allows you to be compared to other applicants.
All these combined together will create an impressive personality and will encourage admissions officers to choose you. It will give them confidence that you will fit in their university culture.
In short, when it comes to getting into the most selective universities like the Ivy Leagues, you need to develop a spike(apart from acing your academics).
So, what is a spike? A spike is “what sets you apart from all other applicants. It goes against the spirit of simply being well rounded. By nature of being unique, you don't fit in with all of the other well-rounded applicants; you do something that truly stands out in a meaningful way. It’s another way of saying while other applicants will go for the average, you aim for the amazing.
Therefore, it has gotten harder to get admissions in colleges but using all these resources makes it easier to form a good application that will give you a fair shot at getting admission.