I work with students every day who constantly ask me how to get into the acceptance pile of the schools they’re applying to. You can imagine their frustration when my answer is, “That depends.” Because the truth is, there’s no one size fits all for college admissions. The advice I regularly give here boosts your chances and will put you on the right track.
But applying for a state university and applying for MIT are two vastly different experiences with two very different ideas about admissions standards. So today, we’re going to talk about those differences and how to get to be one of the students the admissions committees want at their schools.
What State Universities Look for in Students
When I talk about state universities, I mean the schools that have a higher acceptance rate with admissions standards most of you can achieve. This does not mean they are a “lesser” establishment; it just means their focus is on educating as many of you as possible. So if you’re looking at a school like UCLA, skip to the section that covers the top competitive schools. But if you're looking for how to get to a state school, they’re generally looking for:
- well-rounded students with good academic standing
- strong standardized test scores
- a variety of extra-curriculars
You can improve your chances of being accepted into a state or public university by making sure your high school career encompasses all of these categories. If you’re having difficulties or aren’t sure if you’re on the right track, partnering with a college consultant will help you identify any weak spots in your application and how to fix them.
Generally, these are some good rules to follow:
- develop good study habits and work with a tutor if you’re struggling in your classes
- take AP and IB classes and pass the tests at the end of the year
- participate in test prep with someone who earned a high score
- show leadership skills in your extra-curriculars by being a president of a club or creating your own volunteer project
- balance a sport or part-time job with your extra-curricular activities
Typically, these schools provide a minimum GPA and standardized test score for you to be accepted. And while knowing these numbers is important, you also need to look for information on the students these schools actually accept. Because there are so many more students applying to college, space is limited and it will help you to see what kind of students make it through the doors in terms of GPA and test scores.
Preparing and knowing how to get into extremely competitive schools like MIT or the Ivy League takes a different approach.
What the Ivy League Looks for in Students
Even though I’m calling this section Ivy League, these tips work for any of the Top 10 and ultra-competitive, big name universities like Stanford and University of Chicago. Some things overlap, but overall, applying to these kinds of schools and knowing how to get to be considered by an Ivy League, you should know they look for:
- a strong pursuit of a passion unusual for a high school student
- going against the grain of being well-rounded
- academic achievement that shows an interest in learning and ability to handle intense courses
- competitive standardized scores
It’s a bit of a contrast, isn’t it?
Because of how competitive these schools are, following the crowd isn’t enough to catch the admissions committee’s attention. Well-rounded students are great, but it’s very difficult to really stand out as an individual. And since these schools have the ability to be more selective about whom they admit, individuality and uniqueness becomes the focus.
Some good tactics for developing an ideal application are:
- tapping into your passion and developing it as much as possible
- only having extra-curriculars that support your passion or are a continuation of it
- not being a well-rounded student and truly excelling in one area, preferably your selected passion
- having a college preparatory high school curriculum with advanced classes you do well in
- earning top scores in the standardized test you choose by working with someone who had a test score in the 99th percentile and applying the 5 Why’s technique to figure out why you’re answering questions incorrectly
Because this goes against what you’re usually taught in school about college prep, it can be really difficult to figure out where to start when you’re creating this kind of angle. Let’s focus on identifying your passion and chasing after it:
- consider what you’re naturally good at and enjoy doing
- figure out ways to show your passion for this at a local, but impactful level
- take it to the next level through competitions or by raising awareness of your passion (you can do this through social media) or by gaining recognition
- keep going and don’t stop until your name and your passion are synonymous
- stop wasting time on things that don’t contribute to this passion (if math is your thing then take advanced math classes, but don’t pack your schedule with all advanced classes)
- focus on extra-curriculars that fit in with your story (tutoring kids in math is great, raising money through a social media campaign to start a math camp for area kids is better)
I know it sounds contradictory, but if you’re willing to put in the work to stand out from the crowd and distinguish yourself, your application will get noticed and your chances of being accepted can increase.
Knowing how to get to the school of your dreams or even a college you can afford is a daunting task. No matter where you’re planning to apply, hard work and dedication are required if you want the payoff to be attending college. Remember to prioritize and keep yourself focused on your goal: college.
What do you think of the different approaches to applying to college? Do you agree or disagree with anything we covered? Comment below and let us know your thoughts!