The secret to successful elite-college admission is not what you think. It is not about having an exceptionally high GPA and test scores. It is not about having 100 activities squeezed into 10 spaces on the Common Application. It is not about having 10 AP test scores of 5. It is not even about having excellent teacher recommendations. All of these things are already assumed if you are applying to an elite college. However, you should understand that every serious candidate for these elite colleges has also accomplished these things. Therefore, these factors only get you into the game; they do not get you in the door. If your dream is to enter the Ivy gates of Harvard, Dartmouth, Cornell, U Penn, Columbia, Princeton, Brown, or Yale, the secret of success comes down to three words that you should memorize and never forget: “Prove your passion.”
There are approximately 40,000 high schools in the United States. In every one of these high school are anywhere between 1 and 100 students who feel that they deserve to get into an Ivy League college. Even further, they believe that all their work over the past four years of high school, all their extracurricular activities, and all their wonderful accomplishments provide virtual guarantees of admission. However, all you have to do is consider the numbers to understand why this is not the case.
- Ivy League colleges receive a total of around 350,000 applications each year.
- Ivy League colleges accept a total of roughly 25,000 students each year.
- Six of the eight Ivy League colleges accept around 2000 students each year.
- U Penn and Cornell accept between 3000 and 5000 students each year.
- Of the 40,000 high schools in the United States, a handful have a significant number of students attend Ivy League colleges, while a far greater number have no students attend Ivy League colleges.
Whether you are the valedictorian of your high school, or simply someone who has worked hard for years to attain an excellent record, your odds of getting into an Ivy League college based solely on your academic record is small. That is because, virtually everyone who’s applying also has an excellent academic record. Far more valedictorians are rejected than are accepted. Far more students with perfect test scores are rejected than are accepted. Far more students with perfect GPAs are rejected than are accepted. The most important factor that differentiates successful applications from those that are rejected is a demonstrated proof of passion.
The operative term here is “proof.” It is easy to say that you are passionate about something. It is easy to write about it in your college essay. It is easy to tell your interviewer how much you love science, or math, or writing, or economics, etc. Is quite another thing to prove your passion. Colleges want you to backup your words. They want to see that you have followed your passion into several activities. They want to see that you have dedicated significant time to pursuing your most cherished interests. Only in this way can you begin to prove your passion.
Many, many years ago, college admission was far different. It was much more about the objective things, or who you know, or who your parents were, that determined where you would go to college. Nowadays, with so many applications coming in from every corner of the globe, colleges are looking for exceptional students who specialize. They are looking for students who are likely to succeed, rather than those who are academic powerhouses. They made the determination that those who follow their passion are much more likely to succeed in one particular area than those who have excelled across a wide spectrum. Therefore, if you want an elite college to take a serious look at your application, it had better contain a deep pool of activities that provide them with certainty and an undisputable proof of passion.
So how do you prove your passion? That is a difficult question to answer for a large group such as those who are reading this article. Proof of passion is a personal pursuit. However, if you are truly passionate about something, chances are that your chosen activities will prove it for you. If you are passionate about math, chances are you have engaged in extracurricular math activities, have joined the math club at your school, and have read articles or books about particular mathematical concepts. If you are passionate about biology, you have likely taken high-level biology courses, have engaged in internships or college classes, or have read widely about concepts that catch your interest. If you are passionate about writing, chances are you have a portfolio of articles that you have written, that you have written articles for the school newspaper or science magazine, or that you have entered writing contests. Needless to say, it is helpful if your SAT or ACT essay score supports your stated passion for writing. (This will be the subject of next week’s article.)
So, if your intention is to apply for admission to Ivy League and/or other elite colleges, be 100% certain that you can look your interviewer in the eye with certainty, clarity, and honesty, as you discuss your passion. Be sure that your essays support your passion. Above all, be sure that every single page of the common application, or of each and every college-specific application, provides ample proof that your passion far exceeds anything you could ever write about, or claim. Proof of passion is undeniable and undisputable. So, make sure no one can deny or dispute your passion, and you stand a reasonable chance of admission that America’s top colleges.