Getting into Ivy League colleges and so-called Top-25 schools in the US is tough and it takes long-range planning.
There is an incredible rush of applicants for the top schools as every year a disproportionate number of high school students from across the world try to get into a very small group of schools.
To get through, students 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 and long-range college admission plan, which both students and parents should consider, might look something like this:
Encourage reading and broad-range interests. Look for signs of special talents. Get involved with your school’s guidance program. Start developing computer skills.
Continue reading at all levels. Begin to emphasise writing and general communication skills. Watch for emerging leadership traits. Increase involvement with teachers and administrators.
GPA and class rank begin to accumulate. Schedule only the most challenging courses and excel in academics and extracurricular pursuits. So, don’t waste your summer vacations.
You need to identify career interests, explore subject options, discuss career prospects and identify country interests. Knowledge building regarding college applications and discussion on profile as well filling the gaps need to be considered as well.
Students need to take mandatory exams like the SAT 1 and Test of English as a Foreign Language (Toefl) for students applying to colleges in the US.
The SAT 1 is an assessment of a student’s mathematical and verbal proficiency and 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 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 are one-hour tests on specific subjects and have 22 separate tests covering five subject areas like math, history, literature, science and languages scored on a scale of 200-800. Not all schools require subject tests, but it’s mandatory for most top schools and they specify the number of subject tests ie two or three.
The subject tests opted for should be in tandem with the basic study program you would like to opt for ie science or humanities.
If you have not scored a perfect 800, as many students tend to do, don’t give up. There are a number of things you can do to improve. The SATs, especially the SAT I, can be coached. If you are unsatisfied with your score, you can improve it through some structured study.
You can also take other comprehensive preparation for exams like SAT II, PSAT and AP and add these to your regular SAT preparation to have that extra edge during your college applications.
Advanced Placement exams (AP)
The AP exam 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 a student’s preparedness to take on challenges as well his ability to handle college-level course work.
AP exams in India are offered in 24 subjects like 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 (ACT)
ACT is an alternative to SAT 1 and like the SAT, it is a paper and pen test, for college admissions in the USA. It is scored out of 36 points and there are four sections - English, Math, Reading and Science.
It is the weak link in many college applications. It is 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 which is a big mistake as they are an extremely important part of the application.
Most applications for competitive colleges ask applicants to write a reasonably significant 500-750 words essay about what is usually a broad topic. What colleges are looking for in the essay is an insight into how well the student thinks and how well s/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 that the admissions committee has to get to know who you are and how you will be able to contribute to their student body.
The main requirement for writing a convincing essay, apart from a command of the English language, is presenting who you really are. It is about finding your voice or the writing style that lets your readers “hear” who you are. The key is to write what you want to say, and not what the college wants to hear.
You should make your essay approachable as you are more than the sum total of your test scores, school marks, and other achievements. It should be a personal statement to make an impression and demonstrate the special qualities that make you. The strongest applicants are those who have the strongest stories.
Fortunately some Ivy League colleges are need-blind colleges. This means an applicant’s ability to pay has no effect on his admission. While most colleges are need blind only for domestic students, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Dartmouth consider international students as well.
Harvard and Yale are committed to meeting 100% of admitted students demonstrated financial need. Families with income between $65,000 and $1,50,000 are expected to pay 0 to 10%. Families with annual income over $1,50,000 are expected to pay proportionally more.
There are need-aware colleges for international students as well. There are various parameters that the colleges consider before being given financial aid. Usually, the strongest applicants in terms of academics, SAT scores and profile make the cut.
(The writer is the co-founder of Collegify, an educational institute for study abroad. Views expressed by the author are personal.)