3 Tips For Applying To Ivy League Schools (And Other Competitive Programs)

If you’re considering applying to an Ivy League university, or to a similarly competitive undergraduate program,  you should know what you’re in for. To impress these prestigious institutions and programs, you must give your absolute best. The good news is that you can start as early as you like developing your personal interests and experience.

Here are three guiding concepts to bear in mind as you make the choices that will shape your Ivy League college applications.

1. Develop a Niche

You’ve probably heard the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” used to describe those individuals who try for too many skills and activities. This is a particular pitfall in competitive college admissions. In college, you plan to pursue excellence and mastery of a specialized field, correct? Therefore, it’s in your best interest to concentrate your attention on your intended field as early — and as seriously — as possible.

In other words, though we frequently hear that a person is supposed to be “well-rounded,” that is not always a good thing. Sometimes, being well-rounded means knowing a little bit about a lot of things, rather than knowing a lot about one or two things.

Elite Ivy League institutions seek candidates who will be successful in their programs. The best way to demonstrate your abilities is to display expertise in your desired field, rather than mediocrity across many areas.

2. Don’t Expect Results Overnight

True professionals, true masters of their craft, will invariably tell you that excellence is not easily achieved. You WILL need to put in the work. Consider this quote from Malcolm Gladwell: 

The 10,000-hours rule says that if you look at any kind of cognitively complex field, from playing chess to being a neurosurgeon, we see this incredibly consistent pattern that you cannot be good at that [task] unless you practice for 10,000 hours, which is roughly ten years, if you think about four hours a day.

Take it from Malcolm: You will need to put in the work to achieve the results.

3. Understand What Ivy League Universities Value

Competitive colleges know that prospective students (and their parents) research rankings. Reputation matters to these schools; therefore, you need to offer them some value. Your application should show an institution the ways in which you will add to its community.

In addition, schools are looking to maintain or improve their yields. If a student receives an offer of admission from a given school, it is best for that school if the candidate actually enrolls. The higher the percentage of admitted students who attend an institution, the better the school’s yield. Yield factors into an institution’s reputation, and is also why “demonstrated interest” is important — school representatives are encouraged by your attention and sincerity when you engage in conversation with them. Opportunities to demonstrate your interest include college fairs, your applications and correspondences, and campus tours.

Lastly, your standardized test scores also matter for an Ivy League school’s reputation. If your scores are higher than most other students’, you will raise the school’s average score. Inversely, if your scores are lower than most, you may lower the school’s score.

Final Thoughts

Following these three tips for Ivy League admissions will take serious commitment, patience, and aptitude. This is not something that you can begin addressing in your senior year of high school after perusing a few colleges online. To review tip #2, preparing early can be to your benefit. If you know what your passion is, and you know what drives you, then you can channel that interest into your class selections, volunteer opportunities, internships, summer activities, and more.

Prepare yourself properly for the best chance of acceptance to any school, no matter how competitive.

Related Ivy League Admissions Resources: