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Applying to an Ivy League School Takes Years of Planning

Admission into an Ivy League school, or equally competitive college, is a lofty goal. It requires years of dedication from both parents and students. These high-powered, historic institutions receive thousands of applications each year yet reject more than 85 percent of candidates. While there is no formula for gaining one of the coveted places, there are a number of strategies, techniques, and hints that give applicants an edge.

Students determined to get into a competitive college must begin their preparation well before their senior year of high school. For example, high powered schools look for students that have completed four years of math, science, and language courses. They expect applicants to maintain straight Aís while taking the most difficult course load their school has to offer. Students who go above and beyond academically by acing end-of-year Advanced Placement (AP) tests not only gain college credits but favor with admission boards as well.

All college-bound students are required to take the SAT I and II and submit the results to their selected schools. However, those applying to Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Brown, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale, and the like should aim for higher than 1400 on the SATs to stay competitive. There are a variety of test preparation classes and materials available in bookstores and on the Web to streamline the studying process Ė a process that should take place well before the end of a studentís senior year.

Because top-flight universities strive to create an atmosphere of diversity on their campuses, they are interested in students that are academically gifted but mature, confident, and motivated as well. They review applicantsí extra-curricular pursuits, particularly those that showcase a unique ability or leadership position. These activities set applicants apart from the crowd and are not necessarily limited to school sponsored sports. Initiating a food drive, becoming class president, or getting a part-time job can go a long way in illustrating strong ethics, enthusiasm, and perseverance.

The formal application process takes place during senior year and requires a great deal of planning and forethought. Applications must be filled out completely and define the applicant as a whole person, not just as an athlete or a star student. Remember, top-tier colleges want the most well rounded individuals. Students should provide letters of recommendation and write a personal essay that illustrates their ability to handle the strenuous pace of Ivy League life while augmenting campus variety.

If a student is really counting on their first choice school, they are encouraged to apply through early action or early decision programs. These programs require the application to be sent in months in advance and result in a much higher percentage of acceptance. Some programs stipulate that students may only apply to one school through the program and require a deposit, while others are not as binding. Research is crucial, as each school has a different policy.

Whatever you do, donít assume that an Ivy League education is out of reach. Often, high school seniors are discouraged by the overwhelming number of students that donít get the opportunity to walk the hallowed halls of Harvard; but, admissions committee members are quick to remind students that they stand no chance of admittance unless they try. You never know what an Ivy League school is looking for. It may just be you.

About the Author: Dana Matas is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. Dana has a nose for research and writes stimulating news and views on school issues. For more on schools visit

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