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Ready for the Ivy League?


Your strategy for getting into the top U.S. universities must be planned well ahead, combining exams and self-appraisal.

Here’s a thought that bears repeating about getting into Ivy League and the so-called Top-25 schools: It’s harder than you think and it takes long-term planning. There is an incredible crush of applicants for the top schools. They’re the institutions with the lowest acceptance rates. Although there are many high-quality colleges and universities in the United States, every year, a disproportionate number of high-school students from across the world try to get into a very small group of schools. You’ll need several essential tools for success at the top: a strong strategic admissions plan, an outstanding student profile and good advice along the way.

A good, general, long-term college admissions plan might look something like this (suggestions for both students and parents):

The elementary years: Encourage reading and broad-range interests. Look for signs of special talents. Get involved with your school’s guidance programme. Start developing computer skills.

Middle-school years: Continue reading at all levels. Begin to emphasise writing and general communication skills. Watch for emerging leadership traits. Increase involvement with teachers and administrators.

Ninth grade: GPA and class rank begin to accumulate. Schedule only the most challenging courses. Excel in academics and extracurricular pursuits. Don’t waste the summer holidays. Students in Classes IX and X can create a road map as to what should be incorporated in their academics and extracurricular activities to get them into the Ivy League.
Career mapping

> Identify career interests

> Explore subject options

> Discuss career prospects

> Identify country interests

> Build knowledge regarding college applications

> Discuss the profile, fill the gaps

There are mandatory exams like the SAT1 and TOEFL to be given for students applying to colleges in U.S. The SAT1 is an assessment of the student’s mathematical and verbal proficiency and is primarily in the multiple choice format. It is 2,400-mark paper. An Ivy League college will definitely require a SAT score of 2,200 and above.

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is the most widely accepted English Language exam to check an examinee’s proficiency and comfort in understanding, listening, speaking, and writing English.

SAT 2 consists of one-hour tests on specific subjects. Check the individual college website for the SAT2 requirement. The subject tests opted for should be in tandem with the basic study programme you would like to opt for, that is, science or humanities.

Perfect scores

You may be surprised to learn how many applicants to America’s top colleges have scores approaching perfection on the SAT I. An equally surprising number also have perfect 800s on their subject tests. Now, don’t give up just because your scores are not in this range. There are a number of things you can do to improve your score. The SATs, especially the SAT I, can be coached.

Advanced Placement Exams (AP)

The AP tests cover more than 30 university-level courses that are taken by high school students to improve their chances at getting admission into an Ivy League college. Taking AP exams and scoring in them is a sure shot way of impressing college admission counsellors, as it indicates the students’ preparedness to take on challenges as well the ability to handle college-level course work. AP exams in India are offered in 24 subjects including World History, Human Geography, English language and Composition, United States History, Computer Science, Calculus, Statistics, Environmental science, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Psychology, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, etc.


American College Testing is an alternative to SAT1. Like the SAT, it is a paper and pen test, for college admissions in the USA. It is scored out of 36 points. There are four sections: English, math, reading and science.


Here’s the weak link in many college applications. It’s unfortunate because the essay can tip the scales when a college is trying to decide between two otherwise equally qualified applicants. Some students don’t put much thought into their essays. This is a big mistake. Essays are crucial.

Most applications for competitive colleges ask the applicant to write a reasonably significant essay usually about a broad topic. What colleges are looking for in the essay is an insight into how well the student thinks and how well she or he can articulate a point of view. Colleges require applicants to submit a personal statement, which is literally an essay about you. This may be the one chance the admissions committee has, to get to know you and what you will contribute to their student body.

The main requirement for writing a convincing essay, aside from a command of the English language is to be who you really are. Find your “voice.” Your voice is that writing style that lets your readers “hear” who you are. The key to finding your voice is to forget trying to write what you think the admissions people want to hear. Write what you want to say. You are more than your test scores, school marks and other achievements. You have a unique personality, sense of humour, funny little habits that only your best friend knows about… the personal statement is your chance to make an impression.

Financial aid

Fortunately, some Ivy league colleges are Need Blind colleges. This means an applicant’s ability to pay has no effect on his admission. If the applicant is good enough to be selected, he will be accepted into the college regardless of his ability to pay the fee. Most colleges are Need Blind only for domestic students. Some Ivy league colleges which are Need Blind for international students are Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Dartmouth.

Harvard and Yale are committed to meeting 100 per cent of admitted students’ demonstrated financial need.

There are Need Aware colleges too for international students. There are various parameters considered before being given financial aid. Usually, the strongest applicants in terms of academics, SAT scores and profile make the cut.

The writer is a co-founder of Collegify, a college-consulting firm for study abroad.
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