5 Things to Know When You're Applying to an Ivy League School
When I applied to Princeton and Columbia, I wasn't sure whether or not I would make the cut (since there was no way I was going to get through this post without a #humblebrag, I'll say that I ended up getting accepted to both). My competition included students who'd attended pricey boarding schools in Switzerland, students who'd written books that sold on Amazon, and students who'd invented time travel (probably), and I was just a dude who generally got A's in his classes. If you're feeling the same way that I did, here are five things you should know as you work on your Ivy League applications.
1. Pick one standardized test and ace it.
Ivy League schools (and most prestigious colleges, for that matter) will convert one of your standardized tests to the other one—so a 2200 on the SAT is a 34 on the ACT, even if you actually only got a 29. You don't need to cram for two very different tests; instead, choose which test you feel more comfortable with, and exclusively prep for that one until you can earn a top-notch score.
2. Don't be afraid to spread a wide net.
Ivy League schools have a mutual respect for each other—even Cornell (looking at you, Andy Bernard). They know that a degree from any of the schools is a big deal. In other words, Harvard won't take it personally if you also apply to Yale or Brown. It's actually the reason the Common App started up a few years ago: they want you to apply to as many schools as you can. Doing so makes it more likely that you'll end up in a place where you fit in well. Which brings us to our next point...
3. Know the culture of the schools you're applying to.
Do some research and find out which Ivies are offering things that will make your college experience amazing—cool clubs (Harvard has Quidditch!), awesome study abroad programs (Yale has a killer one), or all-you-can-eat fro-yo in the cafeteria (Stanford's meal plan is ranked as one of the 25 best in the country). Location is important, too: Dartmouth's campus is basically one big treehouse (great if you're into insanely gorgeous scenery), while Columbia is smack in the middle of Manhattan (perfect if you love the fast-paced city life). Try to figure out which college cultures appeal to you, and how they'll help you grow as a person, and then apply to those.
4. Make yourself unique.
One advantage I had when applying was that I was a West Virginian. In my class of 2,000, there were only two of us. My background helped me stand out, and you probably have similar idiosyncrasies; maybe you dabbled in bull-riding for a time, or played bagpipes on the latest Weezer record, or built a to-scale model of Hogwarts in your backyard using only popsicle sticks. Whatever that quality is, play it up in your application. Ivies love to know that you're going to bring something different and special to their community, because, let's be honest, they've probably already got a dozen future Noble laureates.
5. It's not all about the academics.
Ivy League colleges are, without a doubt, full of people who are just good at school. You'll get to know the type: even though they've lost years of their life writing 40-page papers and studying for 6-hour final exams, they want to keep going to school for 12 more years to get a Ph.D., and then they want to spend the rest of their career teaching and grading other students in school. These people certainly exist at Ivies, but they're the exception, not the rule.
Plenty of applicants have exemplified intelligence in different ways, either on a basketball court, or doing community service in Latin America, or running for office in student government. If you've excelled in something that you're passionate about, Ivy League schools will be content with the occasional B on your high school transcript. They want a large, diverse group of students—so don't try to be anyone but yourself.
Keep these tips in mind as you get to work on your applications, and who knows, maybe I'll see you visiting Columbia in the spring!