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What Does it Really Take to Get Into Ivy League & Other Highly Selective Colleges?

by Rudy Miller, studioD

An admissions officer for an Ivy League school takes about 10 to 15 minutes to review an application, according to Business Insider. You have to make those minutes count. That means preparing years in advance by building a stellar transcript, participating in select activities and drafting a thoughtful admissions essay. It takes hard work and attention to detail to claim a coveted spot in an Ivy League or selective college classroom.

It's Never Too Early to Plan

The best applicants plan well in advance, starting as far back as elementary school to nurture a special talent that could prove exceptional later in life, according to admissions expert Dave Berry. He encourages heavy reading and enrolling in the toughest courses available. Students who apply for early decision have an advantage despite what the universities say, according to Business Insider. An ex-admissions adviser who talked to Business Insider said an application might look more impressive if it’s among the first read rather than after 600 have been read. Thirty to 35 percent of the class is admitted during the early admissions process, according to Business Insider.

Grades and Test Scores

Most Ivy League and selective colleges don’t have a threshold GPA or SAT score to meet, but the statistics show that most students admitted have elite grades and perfect or close-to-perfect SAT scores. Three-quarters of Harvard students scored 2,350 out of 2,400 on the SAT in 2013. About three quarters of Stanford University freshmen admitted in 2013 scored at least 700 on each individual SAT test, and 74 percent had a 4.0 GPA or better. On the website College Confidential, admissions expert Berry recommends taking your SAT reading and math tests in ninth grade. If your scores are low, coaching can help raise them. You should take your SAT subject tests as close to the end of the related school subject as you can.

Crafting an Essay

Most schools, such as Stanford, say a sincere essay will top one written with what you think admissions officers want to hear. Business Insider advises you to shy away from regurgitating what’s on your transcript and to try to stand out from the pack without projecting an inflated ego. The magazine encourages you to take risks to get yourself noticed. Former Dartmouth admissions office Joie Jager-Hyman told "Forbes" magazine the essay isn’t as important as applicants think. It can’t overcome three years of lackluster academic performance.

The Right Activities

Elite schools want to ensure that you maximize your time outside of school and assume leadership posts in clubs or volunteer posts. Admissions adviser Berry recommends diving into extracurricular activities in ninth grade, making use of every summer and really blossoming by your junior year. The number of activities isn’t as important as the quality of participation. According to Stanford University’s website, the school is looking for passion and commitment to two or three activities, not necessarily taking part in an assortment of many. Harvard University asks applicants whether they took leadership roles in their activities and maximized their time available to those endeavors.

About the Author

Rudy Miller has been writing professionally since 1996. Miller is a digital team leader for lehighvalleylive.com, a local news website and content provider to the Express-Times newspaper in Easton, Pa. Miller holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Miami.

Photo Credits

  • Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images